What Is Science?

  • Martin Goldstein
  • Inge Goldstein


We have not yet said what we mean by the term science, and indeed it has many definitions. For some, the term applies only to the “exact” sciences, such as physics, which are characterized by laws of great generality and scope from which numerically precise predictions can be made. Isaac Newton, for example, discovered a way of describing motion in a few simple mathematical equations which could be used to describe all the different forms of motion in the then-known universe—the motion of the planets around the sun, the fall of an apple, the tides and waves of the ocean, and the vibration of a violin string. These motions can be described with great precision; we would not be able to design satellites, send them into predictable orbits around the earth, and predict when they will fall back to the earth as well, without Newton’s Laws. If laws of great generality and accurate predictive power are taken as essential to what we define as science, then none of the social or behavioral sciences satisfies the criterion, nor for that matter do many branches of natural science, such as biology and geology. Such “laws” as have been found in psychology or sociology, unlike the laws of physics, are of very limited scope, are imprecise in prediction, and are often quite controversial within the field.


Great Generality Term Science Glacier Retreat Observational Investigation Considerable Leeway 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Reference Note

  1. 1.
    Ernest Nagel, The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1979).Google Scholar

Suggested Reading

  1. Cohen, Morris R., and Ernest Nagel. An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1934.Google Scholar
  2. Conant, James B., and Leonard K. Nash, et al., eds. Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science. 2 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957.Google Scholar
  3. Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.Google Scholar
  4. Nagel, Earnest. The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1979.Google Scholar
  5. Popper, Karl R. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Harper Torchbooks, Harper and Row, 1965.Google Scholar
  6. Quine, W. V., and J. S. Ullian. The Web of Belief. 2nd ed. New York: Random House, 1978.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Goldstein
    • 1
  • Inge Goldstein
    • 2
  1. 1.Yeshiva UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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