Nature of Science – Ethical Practices

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Introduction to Science

Science is an important field of knowledge dealing with observed facts and the relationships among those facts. It deals with the workings of the world and covers myriad branches –

Physical sciences – include astronomy, chemistry, physics, geology and meteorology

Life sciences – includes botany and zoology, anatomy, physiology, genetics, medicine and related areas

Mathematics and logic – includes arithmetic, algebra, calculus, geometry, statistics, logic and others

Social sciences – includes anthropology, archaeology, economics, political science, psychology, and sociology

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How Scientists Work

Scientists use systematic methods of study to make observations and collect facts. These methods enable them to make discoveries or to develop theories. Scientific methods can be any of the following –

  1. Observing Nature – such as studying the motion of heavenly bodies to predict the seasons, or studying plants and animals to evolve the Theory of Evolution.
  2. Classifying Data – for example, the classification of elements into the Periodic Table.
  3. Using Logic or Reasoningto to draw conclusions, such as deducing Gravitational Force from an object falling to earth.
  4. Conducting experiments–which is the major tool for developing and testing scientific theories. The laws of nature, the circulation of blood, the properties of light, all these are examples of experimental outcomes.
  5. Forming a hypothesis – based on talent, skill and creativity, scientists first form a hypothesis and then use experimentation to test the hypothesis. The discovery of Neptune as a planet was the result of a hypothesis based on the movement of Uranus.
  6. Expressing findings mathematically – Galileo, Newton, Einstein, to name just a few, propounded mathematical equations to establish various relationships in nature such as for falling bodies and the relation of mass and energy.

Scientific methods can, therefore, vary from reporting based on Direct Observation and Recording of phenomena based on Experimentation and Testing to Inference and Prediction based on Logic and Hypotheses.

Ethics in Science

One very unique aspect of science (unlike fine arts or humanities) is the Scientific Rigor applied to repeated testing and verification of results of a scientific theory before it can be accepted as part of the scientific body of knowledge. Scientific progress takes place through new ideas expanding or replacing old ideas. New theories revise many of the previous ideas of earlier scientists only through repeated observations and experiments. Scientific knowledge is therefore constantly growing and improving upon itself.

This calls for Honesty and Integrity in all stages of scientific practice, from accurately reporting results to attributing the contributions of other scientists and collaborators. This is the foundation of Scientific Ethics. Some of the principles of scientific ethics are –

  1. Professional competence and professional discipline of the researchers
  2. Obtaining consent without discrimination or exploitation of research participants
  3. Respecting the privacy and confidentiality of research participants
  4. Integrity and objectivity in conducting scientific inquiry including removal of biases in observations and reporting
  5. Duty to society – whether the scientific inquiry benefits research

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Check Point

  1. Which of the following is NOT a branch of science?
    1. Physics
    2. Botany
    3. Humanities
    4. Anthropology
  2. Which of the following is NOT a systematic scientific method?
    1. Classifying Data
    2. Using Logic or Reasoning
    3. Expressing findings mathematically
    4. Guesswork
  3. Which of the following is NOT an ethical practice in scientific inquiry?
    1. Obtaining the consent of research participants
    2. Manipulating data to suit the theory
    3. Removal of biases in observations and reporting
    4. Professional competence and discipline

Answer Key

  1. c) Humanities
  2. d) Guesswork
  3. b) Manipulating data to suit the theory

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