I think I'm becoming a HUGE fan of Helen Quinn.
I highlighted one of her writings in Physics Today a while back, and flat out wrote that you must read her article. That advice still stands, but now, add another one that is written by her that you MUST read.
The article is titled "What Is Science", published in the July 2009 issue of Physics Today. IT IS AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE, and practically mirrored almost 100% of my own opinion (maybe that's why I like her writings so much! :)). She wrote it in a very sensible manner, and accessible for the general public that isn't trained in science. For example, she tries to describe the process of science that is typically covered in what we normally call the "scientific method" that is taught in elementary education:
Readers of PHYSICS TODAY know that science is a process, based on interpretation of experimental or observational data using models and theories, within a tightly constrained logical structure. The constraints arise from needing a logically self-consistent explanation of multiple phenomena. Any apparent contradiction between different theories or models, between evidence and theory, or between different sources of evidence must be examined and resolved. Asking questions is a big part of doing science, and choosing to pursue answers to the more compelling and productive ones helps shape a given field. Eventually, something resembling an answer might emerge, only to be tested against further observations, models, or theories, a process that often leads to further questions. The work continues, iteratively refining both the theory or model and the questions being examined. Iterations are essential because the process is inherently messy. There are many false starts, with misinterpretations and incomplete information sometimes sending science off on a wild goose chase for a while. We scientists could well be more forthright about the fits and starts of research; after all, clearing up the inconsistencies is what confers much of the authority on the results.
But I think what is even more important is when she addressed the differences between asking WHY about something when asked by a scientist, versus that of the general public:
In everyday usage the question “Why?” can be either about the mechanism by which something occurred or about the reasons for or purposes behind an action. Thus the distinction between reason and mechanism, or between effect and purpose, is often blurred. Religion and philosophy are interested in reasons and purposes, but science cares only about mechanisms. That apparent reduction of the goal is a powerful step that separates modern science from its ancestor, natural philosophy. Modern science focuses our attention on just those questions that can have definitive answers based on observations. Where science does find a path to compare theory with observations, the theories so developed provide a powerful way to understand the world and even to make some predictions about the future. Science offers us new options that may be applied—for example, in technology and medicine—to change the way we live and extend our capabilities. However, scientists tend to forget that issues of reason and purpose are central to many people’s questioning, so the answers they get from science seem inadequate.
Excellent! If you've followed this blog for any considerable period of time, you would have seen several entries on similar topic, where the use of the same word can mean different things in science, and for the general public (example: "theory").
If you have a subscription to Physics Today, you may access it directly here. PT should really make this available for free, since this is one of those article that everyone should read.
Highly, highly, recommended reading.