Science is not an idea, it is a process. My definition of science is a process in which humans attempt to answer questions through observations in nature and unbiased testing. The key points in any scientific theory must adhere to a strict standard. These points include: observations, forming a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis, making predictions, ensuring the hypothesis is falsifiable, the claim is subject to peer review/can verified by independent researchers, and it remains objective/avoids confirmation biases.
The golden rule of science is that the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim. If someone wants to prove a theory, they must use supporting evidence. These methods listed are used to ensure the supporting evidence is correct and as arbitrarily true for all observers. Things like eyewitness testimony, hearsay, unfalsifiable predictions, non-testable claims, a lack of peer review, and reliance on negative evidence belong to the realm of pseudoscience. And perhaps the most important thing to remember is that a scientific theory is never proven correct, but rather it has never been proven incorrect.
People who adhere to this process are called scientists. This list includes anyone involved with medicine, physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, and many more fields of study. People who do not adhere to the standards of science include: ufologists, cryptozoologists, creationists, and astrologists.
Another distinction between true science and its pretenders is the shredder of irrationality, Occam’s Razor. First a theory must fit the evidence. If there exists two theories that explain the phenomenon equally well, it is better to choose the theory which is the simpler. The theory that answers the most questions with the fewest explanations and complexities is superior than the other theory.
A great example of this is the geocentric model first hypothesized by Aristotle and later modeled by Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D. Ptolemy’s model was incredibly complex because it contained many circles to explain the retrograde motion of planets. Essentially the orbits were very complex and required a good knowledge of mathematics to construct. This all changed when Copernicus offered his heliocentric model which explained all the motions of the planets equally well, except it was extremely simple. The orbits of the planets were circular and thus the retrograde motion they exhibit was simply an illusion due to the Earth’s position in the solar system. The simpler model explained the data equally well and became the preferred theory of the solar system.
But what about the theory of relativity you may ask? At first glance Einstein’s theories of relativity seem beyond any comprehension and ludicrous to the tenth degree. However, the main thing Einstein did was make pinpoint predictions which explained minute variations in Mercury’s orbit and the deflection of light from distant stars. If it could be shown that his predictions were correct, then his theory would gain tremendous acceptance because his predictions would match the observations. These predictions were proven correct by scientists and to this day have not be falsified, but only further substantiated. As ridiculous as his theory sounds, it has endured and explained various phenomena in the cosmos. In other words as long as a theory matches the observations, is testable, and makes predictions, it makes no difference how complex it is.
A great modern day example which illustrates the difference between science and pseudoscience is the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) community vs. the UFO phenomena. At SETI many independent researchers and astronomers are constantly checking data of signals and ensuring a strict standard of peer review and testing their observations and evidence. They gather radio signals, infrared readings, image transiting stars, and essentially collect as much evidence as possible. In the UFO community eyewitness testimony supplants material evidence. There is no evidence to actually test. There are no radio wave signals, no alien artifacts/bodies, and no traces of anything alien in origin. The greatest pieces of evidence is often ‘negative evidence.’ This means instead of relying on supporting evidence like an ET body or craft, UFO adherents usually point out the blacked out letters of government documents or how a group of officials refused to offer an investigation into supposed UFO crash sites. This is not evidence for their theory, in fact it only proves that governments cover things up. There are other possible explanations for covering things up such as national security or top secret military experiments. In fact the only ‘real’ evidence usually comes in the form of photographs. I shouldn’t have to mention how easily one can fake a photograph of ‘alien origin.’ The scientific community requires much harder evidence to be convinced of such an outrageous hypothesis. In the words of the immortal Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
Perhaps the best aspect of science is the fact that is rational and is constantly held to such rigorous testing and editing. The scientific theories that hold up over time are the ones that have been questioned the most. Only after centuries of trial and error have humans found the most logical, thoughtful, inquiring, and fascinating method for discovering the most difficult of answers present in our world. Science derives from the human mind because we are a curious species. Curiously enough, not enough people adhere to the scientific process. In my mind this is only further vindication that, according to Dr. Andy Thomson, “we are arisen apes, not fallen angels.”