I’d like to see scientific theories labeled either “Science One” or “Science Two,” because it seems to me that there are two different activities going on under the name of Science, and the second one is getting a free ride on the reputation of the first. Since both of them are practiced by reputable scientists, it’s confusing for the layman who wants to know what’s what.
Science One is my name for science that is squarely based on observation. If you’re studying a fish you can put that fish on your laboratory table and dissect it to see what it’s made of; you can look at various parts of it through a microscope; you can measure it and weigh it and subject it to chemical and physical tests. You can compare it to other fish. Or you can take a live fish and watch it carefully to see how it behaves, either in a tank or in its natural habitat. You can devise experiments to see what happens under various conditions. On the basis of these observations you can make educated guesses about the nature and behavior of the fish and see if your predictions are borne out.
All this is based solidly on observation, using your five senses and whatever instruments you have to enhance them, and reasoning carefully from these observations. This is the kind of science that has earned scientists a well-deserved reputation for being able to discover new truths and to use these discoveries to enhance our lives, or at least to change them dramatically. This is the kind of science that has brought us modern medicine, computers, space exploration, nuclear power (for war or peace) and all the technology of the modern world.
Science Two is something else: it uses direct observation only a little, and builds vast constructions of speculation on that tiny foundation. Its object is not something the scientist can see before him, or use in experiments-or not very much. This kind of science is concerned with things very far away in space, very distant in time, or even things that may or may not happen in the far future.
Some examples of Science Two are: astrophysics in its wilder reaches, attempts at scientific cosmology, the study of the origins of the universe, the earth, or living things, the origins of language or religion or other basic human behaviors, and much of the recent speculation about global climate change.
It’s not that these activities are unscientific, or that we don’t need them; they are just much more speculative and uncertain and based much less on direct observation than Science One practices. You can tell Science Two by the fact that scientists themselves disagree strongly about its conclusions, and that the conclusions change at a much quicker rate than the conclusions of Science One.
Yes, there are in-between cases, but I think there’s an awful lot of Science Two in the headlines and it’s enjoying unearned public esteem by hanging on to the coattails of Science One. People are spending billions of dollars (often of somebody else’s money), making grandiose political decisions, deciding which side young children should take in controversies wise men have disagreed about for millennia, losing their faith or thinking it’s finally proven, and filling simple folk with groundless anxiety and terror-and all on the basis of “science” that may be discarded two months from now.