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Q: Exact, authoritative definition of "science"? ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: Exact, authoritative definition of "science"?
Category: Science
Asked by: donogh-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 01 Mar 2006 12:45 PST
Expires: 31 Mar 2006 12:45 PST
Question ID: 702572
I'm looking for an exact, authoritative detailed definition of science
from a reliable source. I'm aware of brief dictionary definitions and
wikipedia's and's entries for science, but I need a more
solid source that I can cite academically. I like this definition from
the American Natural Heritage Dictionary: "The observation,
identification, description, experimental investigation, and
theoretical explanation of phenomena.". However, I'd prefer more
detail and a definition from a more "reputable" source; reputable in
terms of academia or the scientific field.

Subject: Re: Exact, authoritative definition of "science"?
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 01 Mar 2006 16:48 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars

Thanks for a most interesting question.

There are numerous authoritative sources of information online that
define or discuss the meaning of 'science'.

However, one of the most well-known dictionaries/encyclopedias of
science is the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, and
I'd like to start with that, even though its content is only partly
accessible online.

You can find the encyclopedia here:
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology 

[You may be tempted to try the "Free Trial" option on the front page,
but it is only for institutions]

Entering [ science ] in the search box will bring up a long list of
search results, the first one being the opening text from their
encyclopedia article on Science:
Article preview from the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology Online 

which begins:

"Science...The study of nature and natural phenomena. Application of
the term did not begin with any formal definition; rather the various
disciplines arose independently, each in response to some particular
need. It was then observed that certain of these disciplines had
enough traits in common to justify classifying them together as one of
the sciences..."

Another entry covers the "scientific method", and includes this
amazingly long sentence describing its essence:

"...[the scientific method] may be summarized as the following
sequence of steps: identification of a knowledge problem; precise
formulation or reformulation of the problem; examination of the
background knowledge in a search for items that might help solve the
problem; choice or invention of a tentative hypothesis that looks
promising; conceptual test of the hypothesis, that is, checking
whether it is compatible with the bulk of the existing knowledge on
the matter (for it might be a wild conjecture not worth pursuing);
drawing some testable consequences of the hypothesis; design of an
empirical (observational or experimental) test of the hypothesis or a
consequence of it; actual empirical test of the hypothesis, involving
a search for both favorable and unfavorable evidence (examples and
counterexamples); critical examination and statistical processing of
the data (for example, calculation of average error and elimination of
outlying data); evaluation of the hypothesis in the light of its
compatibility with both the background knowledge and the fresh
empirical evidence; if the test results are inconclusive, design and
performance of new tests, possibly using different special methods; if
the test results are conclusive, acceptance, modification, or
rejection of the hypothesis; if the hypothesis is acceptable, checking
whether its acceptance forces some change (enrichment or correction)
in the background knowledge; identifying and tackling new problems
raised by the confirmed hypothesis; and repetition of the test and
reexamination of its possible impact on existing knowledge.

The online version also includes a concise dictionary definition of science:

...A branch of study in which facts are observed and classified, and,
usually, quantitative laws are formulated and verified; involves the
application of mathematical reasoning and data analysis to natural

Many libraries carry the full 20-volume encyclopedia on their shelves
-- or have access to the online version -- and I would encourage you
to peruse the articles in full.


As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of online sources as well,
and these are also considered quite authoritative.  Here are a few
worth looking over:

This lengthy entry from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica is in the
public domain, and fully accessible.  Though almost a century old, it
has aged quite well, and still seems to stand the test of time:

"...SCIENCE (Lat. scienhia, from scire, to learn, know), a word which,
in its broadest sense, is synonymous with learning and knowledge.
Accordingly it can be used in connection with any qualifying
adjective, which shows what branch of learning is meant. But in
general usage a more restricted meaning has been adopted, which
differentiates science from other branches of accurate knowledge. For
our purpose, science may be defined as ordered knowledge of natural
phenomena and of the relations between them; thus it is a short term
for natural science, and as such is used here technically in
conformity with a general modern convention..."

The 2005 Columbia Encyclopedia is also freely available online, and
its extensive entry on Science can be found here:

Take note of their bibliography as well, as it's a good one, in case
you're interested in further reading on this fascinating topic.

I trust these sources provide you with just the sort of information
you were seeking.

But if not, please don't rate this answer until you have everything
you need.  Just post a Request for Clarification to let me know how I
can assist you further, and I'm at your service.



search strategy -- Used bookmarked sources for science.
donogh-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
I spent quite some time searching for the definition myself and its
seem that it can't be defined in an exact way. The Scientific Method
is exact, so perhaps that should be the basis for the definition.

Thanks pafalafa!

Subject: Re: Exact, authoritative definition of "science"?
From: the_best_answer-ga on 02 Mar 2006 00:11 PST
   From Encyclopaedia Britannica:
"Science" -
any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and
its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic
experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge
covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.

   From American Traditional Dictionary
"Science" is from Latin scientia.

n.Abbr. sc., sci. sc.? sci.

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin scientia,
from scient-, sciens having knowledge, from present participle of
scire to know; probably akin to Sanskrit chyati he cuts off, Latin
scindere to split -- more at SHED
1 : the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance
or misunderstanding
2 a : a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study
<the science of theology> b : something (as a sport or technique) that
may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge <have it down to
a science>
3 a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or
the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested
through scientific method b : such knowledge or such a system of
knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena :
4 : a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws
<culinary science>
5 capitalized : CHRISTIAN SCIENCE
Subject: Re: Exact, authoritative definition of "science"?
From: helpfulperson-ga on 06 Mar 2006 05:27 PST
One can look at many complex definitions of science.  My favorite
which is succinct and to the point is:

Science answers the question  How?
Philosophy (and religeon) answers the question  Why?
Subject: Re: Exact, authoritative definition of "science"?
From: robjewell-ga on 19 Mar 2006 15:21 PST
I agree with donogh-ga in that I always rate how "scientific"
something is by how well those enacting it followed the scientific
method.  So I would say for a definition: science is the art of using
the scientific method.  I bet you didn't know science was an art, did
Subject: Re: Exact, authoritative definition of "science"?
From: alittlegreek-ga on 10 Apr 2006 09:06 PDT
On the subject of definitions, it is a universally recognised logical
principle that the term being defined must not be included in the
definition! This is known as a 'circular definition', or, a tautology.
So, defining science in terms of the 'scientific method' is NOT

Here is my definition of science (modern sense):

The study of how the natural world works by cause-and-effect. ('How
things work', for short).

Eg 1, biology - photosynthesis in green leaved plants - light is
absorbed by the chlorophyll molecules held in the chloroplasts. The
energy captured is used to combine carbon dioxide and water to form
glucose. Glucose is used in the plants respiration to release energy
as required for growth and normal metabolism. It is also stored as
non-soluble polymers such as starch in seeds for reproductive
purposes. This is all mechanical - 'how things work' in the biological

Eg 2, chemistry - water molecules are formed from one atom of oxygen
and one molecule of hydrogen with release of energy when hydrogen
burns in oxygen. This is 'How the compound water is formed from its
constituent elements'.

Eg 3, physics - molecules are formed from atom of the elements. Atoms
are composed of quarks. Quarks are just quarks, they are not made from
anything (except energy).

NB, the definitions have a theme - energy.

So, Science is 'how things work'.

DEFINITION: 'Technology' is the appliance of science to make man made things.

Negative definition: science is NOT the study of meaning. Water does
not 'mean', it just is. Eg, Science does not study justice (try a
moral philosopher or a theologian, or a judge, or the man next door
who has just been robbed, or yourself if you have ever been robbed),
and science does not study knowledge in the abstract, there is no
science of the arithmetic average, the average is used in science to
do science.

Logic is not science, it is correct deduction by the mind about things
like justice, averages, or cause-and-effect generally. Eg, if A > B
and B > C, then A > C. We do not need to know what A, B, and C are.
So, meanings are brought to the study of science, and any 'meaning'
derived from it was inherent in the meaning brought to it. Before
there was any science, there was meaning. Meaning is prior to science,
and will outlive it. God says.

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