SCIENCE- Nature and Methodology

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A (Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D.

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V. (P.G) College, Roorkee, India

The word `Science ` is derived from the Latin word termed as “Scientia” which has the meaning ` to Know `. Science can be defined in a number of ways.

Science has been defined as a body of knowledge obtained by scientists. The body of knowledge includes facts, concepts, theories and laws that are subjected to rigorous testing. Scientific information is constantly modified, rearrange and reoriented in the light of recent developments.

According to the Columbia dictionary “Science is an accumulated & systematized learning, in general usage restricted to natural phenomenon.”

According to ‘Science Manpower Project’, “Science is a cumulative and endless series of empirical observation which result in the formation of concepts & theories, with both concepts & theories being subject of modification in the light of further empirical observation. Science is both a body of knowledge & the process of acquiring & refining knowledge.”

According to Griggs, “In the literal sense science means the pursuit of knowledge but it has a wider connotation for our purpose, and can be said to mean a knowledge of nature in the widest possible form.”


Six Criteria of Science: Consistent, Observable, Natural, Predictable, Testable, and Tentative.

1. Consistency: The results of repeated observations and/or experiments concerning a naturally occurring  phenomenon are reasonably the same when performed and repeated by competent investigators.

2. Observability: Evidence of the occurrence of the event, can be observed and explained. The observations are limited to the basic human senses or to extensions of the senses by such things as electron microscopes etc.

3. Natural: A natural cause  must be used to explain why or how the naturally occurring event happens. Scientists may not use supernatural explanations as to why or how naturally occurring events happen because reference to the supernatural is outside of the realm of science.

4. Predictability: The natural cause  of the naturally occurring event can be used to make specific predictions. Each prediction can be tested to determine if the prediction is true of false.

5. Testability: The natural cause  of the naturally occurring event must be testable through the processes of science, controlled experimentation being only one of these. Reference to supernatural events or causes are not relevant tests.

6. Tentativeness: Scientific theories are subject to revision and correction, even to the point of the theory being proven wrong. Scientific theories have been modified and will continue to be modified to consistently explain observations of naturally occurring events.

Basis of Science

Science share certain basic beliefs and attitudes about what they do and how they view their work.

The World Is Understandable

Science presumes that the things and events in the universe occur in consistent patterns that are comprehensible through careful, systematic study. Scientists believe that through the use of the intellect, and with the aid of instruments that extend the senses, people can discover patterns in all of nature.

Science also assumes that the universe is, as its name implies, a vast single system in which the basic rules are everywhere the same.

Scientific Ideas Are Subject To Change

Science is a process for producing knowledge. The process depends both on making careful observations of phenomena and on inventing theories for making sense out of those observations. Change in knowledge is inevitable because new observations may challenge prevailing theories.

Scientific Knowledge Is Durable

Although scientists reject the notion of attaining absolute truth and accept some uncertainty as part of nature, most scientific knowledge is durable. The modification of ideas, rather than their outright rejection, is the norm in science, as powerful constructs tend to survive and grow more precise and to become widely accepted

Science Cannot Provide Complete Answers to all  matters

There are many matters that cannot usefully be examined in a scientific way. There are, for instance, beliefs that—by their very nature—cannot be proved or disproved (such as the existence of supernatural powers and beings, or the true purposes of life).


Fundamentally, the various scientific disciplines are alike in their reliance on evidence, the use of hypothesis and theories, the kinds of logic used, and much more.

Scientific inquiry is not easily described apart from the context of particular investigations. There simply is no fixed set of steps that scientists always follow, no one path that leads them unerringly to scientific knowledge.

Science Demands Evidence

Sooner or later, the validity of scientific claims is settled by referring to observations of phenomena. Hence, scientists concentrate on getting accurate data. Such evidence is obtained by observations and measurements taken in situations that range from natural settings (such as a forest) to completely contrived ones (such as the laboratory

Science Is a Blend of Logic and Imagination

The use of logic and the close examination of evidence are necessary but not usually sufficient for the advancement of science. Scientific concepts do not emerge automatically from data or from any amount of analysis alone. Inventing hypotheses or theories to imagine how the world works and then figuring out how they can be put to the test of reality is as creative as writing poetry, composing music, or designing skyscrapers.

Science Explains and Predicts

The essence of science is validation by observation. But it is not enough for scientific theories to fit only the observations that are already known. Theories should also fit additional observations that were not used in formulating the theories in the first place; that is, theories should have predictive power. Demonstrating the predictive power of a theory does not necessarily require the prediction of events in the future. The predictions may be about evidence from the past that has not yet been found or studied.

Scientists Try to Identify and Avoid Bias

When faced with a claim that something is true, scientists respond by asking what evidence supports it. But scientific evidence can be biased in how the data are interpreted, in the recording or reporting of the data, or even in the choice of what data to consider in the first place. Scientists’ nationality, sex, ethnic origin, age, political convictions, and so on may incline them to look for or emphasize one or another kind of evidence or interpretation.

Bias attributable to the investigator, the sample, the method, or the instrument may not be completely avoidable in every instance, but scientists want to know the possible sources of bias and how bias is likely to influence evidence. Scientists want, and are expected, to be as alert to possible bias in their own work as in that of other scientists, although such objectivity is not always achieved.

Science is not Authoritarian

It is appropriate in science, as elsewhere, to turn to knowledgeable sources of information and opinion, usually people who specialize in relevant disciplines. But esteemed authorities have been wrong many times in the history of science. In the long run, no scientist, however famous or highly placed, is empowered to decide for other scientists what is true, for none are believed by other scientists to have special access to the truth. There are no pre-established conclusions that scientists must reach on the basis of their investigations. When someone comes up with a new or improved version that explains more phenomena or answers more important questions than the previous version, the new one eventually takes its place.

Domains of science

Science as an enterprise has individual, social, and institutional dimensions. Scientific activity is one of the main features of the contemporary world and, perhaps more than any other, distinguishes our times from earlier centuries.

Science Is a Complex Social Activity

Scientific work involves many individuals doing many different kinds of work and goes on to some degree in all nations of the world. Men and women of all ethnic and national backgrounds participate in science and its applications.

As a social activity, science inevitably reflects social values and viewpoints.

The direction of scientific research is affected by informal influences within the culture of science itself, such as prevailing opinion on what questions are most interesting or what methods of investigation are most likely to be fruitful.

Science goes on in many different settings. Scientists are employed by universities, hospitals, business and industry, government, independent research organizations, and scientific associations.

Science Is Organized Into Content Disciplines and Is Conducted in Various Institutions

Organizationally, science can be thought of as the collection of all of the different scientific fields, or content disciplines. From anthropology through zoology, there are dozens of such disciplines. They differ from one another in many ways, including history, phenomena studied, techniques and language used, and kinds of outcomes desired. With respect to purpose and philosophy, however, all are equally scientific and together make up the same scientific endeavor

Universities, industry, and government are also part of the structure of the scientific endeavor. Universities, are also particularly committed to educating successive generations of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. Industries and businesses usually emphasize research directed to practical ends, but many also sponsor research that has no immediately obvious applications, partly on the premise that it will be applied fruitfully in the long run

There Are Generally Accepted Ethical Principles in the Conduct of Science

Most scientists conduct themselves according to the ethical norms of science. The strongly held traditions of accurate recordkeeping, openness, and replication, buttressed by the critical review of one’s work by peers, serve to keep the vast majority of scientists well within the bounds of ethical professional behavior. Sometimes, however, the pressure to get credit for being the first to publish an idea or observation leads some scientists to withhold information or even to falsify their findings. Such a violation of the very nature of science impedes science. When discovered, it is strongly condemned by the scientific community and the agencies that fund research.

The Nature of Science

The nature of science is a multifaceted concept that defies simple definition. It includes aspects of history, sociology, and philosophy of science, and has variously been defined as science epistemology, the characteristics of scientific knowledge, and science as a way of knowing.

The “Nature of Science” consists of those seldom-taught but very important features of working science, e.g., its realm and limits, its levels of uncertainty, its biases, its social aspects, and the reasons for its reliability. Popular ignorance of these features of science has lead to many misuses, misrepresentations and abuses of science.

Science has its limits; it cannot be used to solve any kind of problem. Science can only address natural phenomena (not supernatural phenomena, as such), and only natural explanations can be used in science. Supernatural or magical explanations cannot be definitively or reliably tested . Natural explanations are testable (open to being disproved) by being shown not to consistently follow the rules of nature. The fact that the most highly credible concepts in science today have survived such critical testing attests to the practical reliability of scientific knowledge and the processes of science that created that knowledge.

Problems that require subjective, political, religious, ethical or esthetic judgment are generally beyond the power of science. Science can be used to shed light on such issues, but it seldom provides any final answers.

Scientific knowledge is inherently uncertain. What we know in science is only with a relative level of confidence – a particular degree of probability. Many ideas in science have been extensively tested and found to be highly reliable, as close to a fact as an idea can be. Others are merely speculative hunches, awaiting suitable testing to measure their respective probabilities.

Science can be done poorly, and it can be misused. There are many variations of medical quackery, false advertising and other types of “pseudoscience,” where unconfirmed claims are presented as “scientific fact” to “prove” a flood of discredited assertions about a whole range of seemingly mysterious phenomena.

Science is a very social process. It is done by people working together collaboratively. Its procedures, results and analyses must be shared with the scientific community, and the public, through conferences and peer-reviewed publications. These communications are critically assessed by the science community, where errors, oversights and fraud can be exposed, while confirmation and consilience can be achieved to strengthen its findings. Being done by people, science is also subject to any of the biases that its workers have, but its openness to critical science community oversight tends to expose those biases when they have been allowed to creep in.

Relating the Nature of Science Education and Methods of Teaching

Science is a body of knowledge developed through the process of investigation that is combined with thoughtful reflections guided by critical thinking skills. In its more restricted contemporary sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on scientific method and to the organized body of knowledge gained through such research. Science and science literacy requires acquiring knowledge about the natural world and understanding its application in society, or in other words, the nature of science. An understanding of the nature of science is an important part of science literacy. The nature of science has four basic themes or dimensions:

1. Science as a body of knowledge,

2. Science as a way of thinking,

3. Science as a way of investigating and

4. Science with its interaction with technology and society

Science is not only hands-on; it is ‘minds-on’ as well. When hands are on, the students are allowed to perform science as they construct meaning and acquire understanding. Similarly minds are on with the activities which focus on core concepts, allowing students to develop thinking processes and encouraging them to question and seek answers, enhance their knowledge and thereby help to acquire an understanding of the physical universe in which they live (NCISE, 1991 and NCTM,.

Reasons for teaching the nature of science

Here are some compelling reasons.

The curriculum requires it

Accurately conveying the nature of science is common to most science education curricula worldwide. There is a clear message that understanding the nature of science is crucial for effective science teaching, for valuable science learning and for responsible participation in society.

Research supports it

Research shows that students often have significant misconceptions about science. Students’ views about science have been picked up from what they learn via popular media as well as from classroom experiences. Science is often misrepresented in the media, and classroom teaching can overemphasize what we know rather than how we know it. Consequently, many students see science as a boring enterprise – the tedious accumulation of facts about the world.

Therefore, we need to include the nature of science in planning and teaching. We want our students to gain an understanding of the nature of science so that they can see how science is  connected to their real world. Science education research over recent decades has also shown that teaching about the nature of science:

  • Enhances students’ understanding of science content
  • Increases students’ interest
  • Helps show the human side of science.

Reasons for the individual

We live in an increasingly scientific and technological society in which many personal decisions involve scientific understanding.

The relevancy of scientific knowledge is based on

  • how reliable the knowledge is
  • how the knowledge was generated
  • the limits of the knowledge
  • how much confidence we can have in that knowledge.

To be able to make use of science in their daily lives, students need to have an understanding of the nature of science.

Reasons for society

A fundamental reason for teaching about the nature of science is to help our students to think for themselves and reach their own explanations and conclusions in ways that consider the scientific dimensions of socio scientific issues.

The cultural argument

The modern world would not be modern at all without science. Science is deeply woven into our daily lives. The ability to think with a scientific point of view helps students to appreciate science as a major element of contemporary culture in the same way that they can appreciate art or music as cultural achievements.

The Scientific Method:

The method or procedure which the scientists use in the pursuit of science may be termed as scientific method. Basically scientific method is a problem solving method. In other words it is a method of solving problem scientifically and systematically. This is the one of the important contributions of science and students should be taught and well trained in the method of attacking a problem.

Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on observable, empirical, measurable evidence, and subject to laws of reasoning.

Steps of scientific method:

1. Sensing the problem : The teacher should provide situations in which the students feel the needs of asking some questions. The teacher may also put such questions which require reflective thinking and reasoning. the teacher should take into consideration the interest of the students, the availability of the material on the problem and its utility to the students in promoting reflective thinking ant training in the method.

The problem fit in to the school curriculum and should appeal to the majority of students in the class. This will foster group work which makes for greater reflective thinking.

2. Defining the problem :  Soon after the problem is noticed students are to be encouraged to define the problem. The problem has to be defined in a concise, definite and clear language.

There should be a keywords in the statement of the problem, which may help in better understanding the problem. The teacher should help the student in stating the problem. The students may be asked to write down the statement of the problem and read it in the class for discussion. The most appropriate statement should be accepted.

3. Analyzing the problem : Immediately the problem has been defined, the problem has to be analyzed in bits. The keywords help in finding out the required information. Here the general concepts are divided into the specific concepts. In this stage teacher becomes a guide.

4. Collecting the data : The information about the analyzed concepts are to be collected. the teacher suggests references on the problem. It is good opportunity for the teacher to guide the students in developing a verity of skills and techniques. The teacher calls upon the students to use devices such as experiments, textbooks, models, pictures, fieldtrips etc. which require special technique and skill.

5. Interpretation of the data : Here both the teacher and student should work together for the manipulation of data collected. this stage involves reflective thinking. the teacher must guide children in arranging the information in a logical and sequential order.

6. Formulation of Hypothesis: Hypothesis is an intellectual guess or a tentative solution expected to the problem. Here in this step the teacher must encourage the students to guess the probable solution for the problem defined and analyzed. there is no restriction to formulate the number of  hypothesis.

7. Testing the Hypothesis : Out of many hypothesis formed, few appears to be most appropriate for the solution formation. such hypothesis have to be selected and tested through experimentation. This testing must go till the satisfactory results are obtained by rejecting others. the generalized idea must be applicable and accepted by all in similar conditions.

8. Generalization  : The generalization can be made by arranging a set of experiments, which also show the same conclusion already reached at. usually in science the generalization are written in the form of a theory, law, statement, formulae, derivation etc.

9. Application: The students should apply the generalization to their daily life.. Here children are to be trained to apply the learnt scientific knowledge in the class room to the new situations of the similar condition.

10. Conclusion: It involves a definite and set procedure of attacking the problem, finding out its solution, inductively and testing the adequacy of generalization by deductive approach.

Process Skills in Science teaching

Observing - using the senses to gather information about objects and events; more precisely, taking information about all things around, using the senses as appropriate and safe; identifying similarities and differences; noticing details and sequences; ordering observations

Classifying – grouping or ordering objects or events into categories based on properties or criteria. There are several different methods of classification such as serial ordering, binary classification and multistage classification.

Measuring - using both standard and non-standard measures/estimates to describe the dimensions of an object or event. A measurement statement contains two parts, number to tell him how much or how many, and a name for the unit to tell him how much of what.

Using spatial relationships – identifying shape and movement. It is also important because the position of an object or the occurrence of a phenomenon (event) can only be observed, measured or predicted if we know time. Accurate measurement of time is important to conducting scientific investigations.

Communicating - using the written and spoken word, graphs, drawings, diagrams, or tables to transmit information and ideas to others. Sometimes, arbitrary scales are considered to use when instruments are not available.

Predicting –making educated guesses about the outcomes of future events.

Predictions are based on both what students observed, and also their past experiences and the mental models they have built up from those experiences. So, predictions are not just guesses. Sometimes, they must be based on observations and measurements of space time relationships recognition of trends and patterns.

Inferring – suggesting explanations or making interpretations for an event after they have been observed or measured using critical thinking and scientific principles.

Formulating hypotheses - making educated guesses based on evidence that can be tested. A hypothesis links two variables in a measurable relationship and is based on some kinds of observable, reliable and repeatable evidence.

Experimenting - investigating, manipulating variables and testing to determine a result. It involves planning, designing, carrying out an investigation, and evaluating the result of the investigation. Example: The entire process of conducting the experiment on the effect of the length of the vibrating string, on the loudness of the sound.

To be effective instruction, teachers need to understand how children develop intellectually and learn. Thus, learning theories developed by psychologists have broad implications for what should be taught, how it should be taught, and the sequence in which it should be taught.

Training in scientific method

Student of science get training in the use of scientific method by performing experiments themselves in the laboratory; and by observing experimental demonstrations arranged by the teacher for them. The scientific method involves:

• The appreciation of the existence of a problems and a desire to solve it.

• The accumulation of the facts and data which are pertinent to the problem.

• The formation of hypothesis as partial explanations, their testing and their acceptance and rejection.

• Logical interpretation of the data supported by adequate valid experience.

As a result of science education, the student should habitually and skillfully employ sound thinking habits, in meeting problem situations in the daily life. He should be able to adopt following steps in solving a problem in any sphere of his life.

Many teachers accepts it as an important contribution of science. It involves reflective thinking, reasoning and results from the achievements of certain abilities, skills and attitudes.

Critical Appraisal

The following considerations about the nature of  scientific method should be evaluated.

The scientific method imposes operational limitation on science. It does not help us to make aesthetic or value judgment. For example, frequency of the colour of paintings may be determined but there is no scientific method to label the paintings of two artists as great or not so great. . Besides intuition, informed guesswork, creativity, an eye for an unusual occurrence, all play significant role in developing new theories, and thereby in the progress of science.

Scientific method is not a prescribed pathway for making discoveries in science. Very rarely the method has remained a key to a discovery in science. It is the attitude of inquiry, investigation and experimentation rather than following a set steps of a particular method that leads to discoveries and advancement in science.

People keep floating all kinds of theories. Often they couch their arguments in scientific terms. This confuses a large number of people, and hoodwinks them, but we should remember that a theory is valid only if it passes the test of experimentation, otherwise it may just be a matter of faith. The theory of evolution advanced by creationists is not based on scientific argument and is not consistent with scientific method; it is based entirely on faith.

Sometimes a theory may suggest a new experiment; at other times an experiment may suggest a new theoretical model. Scientists do not always go through all the steps of the method and not necessarily in the order we have outlined above. Investigation in science often involves repeated action on any one or all steps of   the scientific method in any order. Many important and path breaking discoveries in science have been made by trial and error, experimentation and accidental observations

The validity of a hypothesis depends solely on the experimental test and not on the prestige, stature, faith, nationality or any other attribute of the personality of the person who proposes the hypothesis. There is no authority in science that tells you what you can criticise and what you cannot criticise. In this sense, science is a highly objective discipline.

A scientific method with its linear steps makes us feel that science is a ‘closed box approach’ of thinking. However, in practice science is more about thinking ‘out of the box’. There is tremendous scope of creativity in science. Many times in science, an idea or a solution to a vexing problem (a problem that causes lots of discussion) or an interpretation of observation appear to arise out of creativity and imagination. Following scientific method does not ensure that a discovery can be made. However, the skills learnt in making observation, analysis, hypothesis, prediction from a hypothesis and its testing by experimentation help us in developing scientific attitude.

All of us will benefit immensely if we imbibe the spirit of scientific method in our personal lives. The scientific method tells us to be honest in reporting our observations or experimental results, keep an open mind and be ready to accept other points of view if our own view is proved wrong. These values form what is called the scientific temper or scientific attitude, or rational thinking. The adoption of these values is very important for an individual as well as for a society to get rid of superstition and prejudice. In fact, it will make the world a much better place to live if individuals and societies often examine their beliefs and prejudices in the light of the modern scientific knowledge and try to get rid of those beliefs and prejudices which are not in consonance with this knowledge.

Scientific method is a logical approach to problem-solving and repeating or replicating other scientist’s work. We should be sceptic and accept something only when we are convinced that it is logical or has passed the test of experimentation.  We should keep our ears, eyes and minds open. We should be ready to appreciate others’ point of view. We should try to convince others or get convinced by them without rancour and ill feeling.

Accept an idea only when we are sure that it is logically sound. If you do not have the expertise, you could consult experts or reliable scientific literature on this matter. The point is that we should not accept anything uncritically without investigation/verification/convincing argument in its favour. Persons possessing scientific temper think rationally and do not fall easy prey to superstition and prejudice

According to the Radhakrishnan Commission (1948-49),

“The most important and urgent reform needed in education is to transform it, to endeavor to relate it to the life, needs and aspirations of the people and thereby make it the powerful instrument of social, economic and cultural transformation necessary for the realization of the national goals. For this purpose, education should be developed so as to increase productivity, achieve social and national integration, accelerate the process of modernization and cultivate social, moral and spiritual values.”

If we can understand well this message and can convey to the growing generation about the significance of it then the development of science and technology and acquisition of the proper education is not far away from us in the country.






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