What is science?

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The Science Council's definition of science

Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.


Why define science?

The Science Council has ‘’science’ in its name but had not previously clarified what this actually meant.  In addition to developing a better understanding of what types of organisations might become member bodies, it was felt that the recent inclusion of the advancement of science as a charitable activity in the 2006 Charities Act suggested that in that context a definition would be useful; and finally, the Science Council agreed that it wanted to be clearer when it talked about sound science and science based policy what it was actually describing. 

Scientific methodology includes the following:

  • Objective observation: Measurement and data (possibly although not necessarily using mathematics as a tool)
  • Evidence
  • Experiment and/or observation as benchmarks for testing hypotheses
  • Induction: reasoning to establish general rules or conclusions drawn from facts or examples
  • Repetition
  • Critical analysis
  • Verification and testing: critical exposure to scrutiny, peer review and assessment

When we looked into this we found that definitions of science were not readily available, and were not easily accessible on the Internet.   

Leading philosopher A C Grayling commended the Science Council’s definition

“Because 'science' denotes such a very wide range of activities a definition of it needs to be general; it certainly needs to cover investigation of the social as well as natural worlds; it needs the words “systematic” and “evidence”; and it needs to be simple and short. The definition succeeds in all these respects admirably, and I applaud it therefore”

Read the full article in The Guardian Science Blog (4th March 2009)

Comments please

We would welcome feedback and comments on our definition.

Please contact Oliver O'Hanlon