Science Me - that's an order. Enjoy explainer articles, cartoons, reviews and opinion on all aspects of biology, physics, technology, futurism and a dab of philosophy.
Science is more than lab coats and test tubes and Einstein's bad hair day. It's a system of developing knowledge, based on what we can measure through direct observation. And it comes from the Latin word scientia, which means knowledge.
"Wait a second," you say, "this already sounds terribly boring, just what kind of website is this?"
"Don't worry," I say, patting you reassuringly on the head. Science comes to life when you apply these admittedly dry principles to the real world. Then you can make cool discoveries about it.
Science demands measurable observations of reality on which we scaffold our way to enlightenment. The past 500 years have seen humanity develop widescale industry, technology and medicine thanks to people of science.
It's how we've invented warm houses and the internet and birth control and brain surgery and self-driving cars. You have to agree all of these things make our existence that much more fun and considerably less deathy.
Imagine your day without the inventions of science. You wouldn't get very far at all. (Unless you currently thrive semi-naked in the wilderness. My congratulations if you do. For narrative purposes I'm assuming you don't.)
The Four Principles of Science
Principle #1. Empiricism
Knowledge comes from direct observation.
There's no scientific validity to things we can't measure - like ghosts, telepathy and homeopathy. They might just as well be made up.
Principle #2. Testability
Scientific ideas are falsifiable.
Hypotheses must be framed in such a way that other scientists can verify or disprove their claims. Faith-based systems lack testability.
Principle #3. Parsimony
Avoid making unfounded assumptions.
When you're confronted with two possible explanations, choose the simplest explanation that makes the fewest unproven assumptions.
Principle #4. Determinism
The universe is bound by cause and effect.
Your world - down to the neurons firing inside your brain - is a complex web of interactions. Every event has a mathematically predictable outcome. This renders notions like fate, karma and even free will moot, because they imply multiple causes for singular effects, and that's not how reality works.
Science is Open Minded
It's a common and terribly blinkered misconception among non-scientists that science is rigid and dogmatic.
In fact, the spirit of science is that it's open-minded and eternally open to change. We see this in action when scientists assimilate new evidence to expand (or overhaul) established theories.
This willingness to throw out old ideas and embrace the new is how we progress in science. It contrasts to religion which by its nature dwells in ancient dogma and strongly resists change.
It's an important distinction to make. The modern world is driven by science - and it has a lot more to offer than the superstitious, indoctrinated world that existed before this.
But that's another article. For now, start building up your own cache of scientific enlightenment. Go ahead and wrangle with science, pull it apart, try to prove it wrong.
See? You're already sciencing.
"Science is different to all the other systems of thought. You don't need faith in it, you can check that it works."
Brian Cox, author of Why Does E=MC2?
Why Fox Pokes Cats
My son, Fox, loves animals. He went through a phase of poking and pestering cats to see their reaction.
Psychologists call this bottom-up processing. In other words, we can make no assumptions about cats: only scaffold our way up to new conclusions.
Eventually the cat would scratch him and run away. Fox learned the cat had sharp claws and didn't much enjoy the interaction.
Now when Fox meets a cat, he doesn't have to go through the whole experimental rigmarole of poking it senseless to see what will happen. Now he's top-down processing: we start with an already-established conclusion.
Children adopt this scientific framework naturally, because it's intuitive. The problem is, we get cocky.
We begin to think we know everything already. We cut corners and automatically top-down everything. As adults, we then fail to gather basic data in the light of new situations. We forget our invaluable open-minded schema which would have led us to empirical truth.
Science solves this problem by being course-correcting. It teaches us to go back to basics and build truth from the ground up.
So I'm proposing we put on our science filter to make better choices: an empirical lens to navigate the media minefield of pseudo-science and ideological indoctrination.
Let's make good decisions about education, medicine, climate change, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and any area of our lives where evidence-based science can light our way.
Let's cast off our top-down assumptions, adopt a questioning approach, and play in ways we haven't done since we were five years old and poking cats.
"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge."
Carl Sagan, author of Cosmos