Principles Unifying the Branches of Science

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Scientists of different disciplines look to compete with one another. But they have more in common than you might think. Learn about the basic principles that all scientists share, and why they're important.

Which Science Is Best?

Scientists love to compete with one another. That's true even of scientists within the same field, but it's certainly true between scientists of different fields. Every scientists loves their own subject and has a reason for why they chose it. Scientists will be happy to tell you why their science is the best in the world.

Biologists will tell you that they are more down to earth, focusing on what really matters most to humans: life. Chemists will tell you that you can't understand life without understanding chemistry, that every process inside your body is based on chemical reactions and that they can explain things in ways that biologists overlook. Physicists will tell you that physics is the study of everything - the goal of physics is to come up with laws that explain the whole universe, including biology and chemistry. They'll tell you that physics is the most fundamental of the sciences. And then mathematicians point out that none of the scientists could do their job without math anyway.

Scientists at work
Scientists at work

The rivalry is all in good fun, but the sciences are really not all that different. They have some of the same basic principles behind them, and scientists get along pretty well. So, what are those fundamental principles? What are the things that all scientists share?

Principles that Every Science Shares

Science is the study of the natural world through a process of systematic experimentation and observation. It's not really a body of knowledge, it's more of a way of trying to gain knowledge. Since all sciences have the same definition, there are automatically a lot of similarities between them.

Scientists have a lot more similarities than differences
Scientists have a lot more similarities than differences

Data & Observations

Perhaps the most important principle on which science is based is that the world can be understood best through collecting data and doing observations. We all have beliefs about the world, and those beliefs can be valuable to us, but not in any way helpful in science. Science is all about the data that you have. Your idea about something might be perfectly correct - you might have the foresight of the next Albert Einstein - but it's worth absolutely nothing to scientists unless you can prove it. This is just as true in biology as it is in physics.

Nothing Is Certain

Another important principle is that nothing is ever certain, only highly probable. The whole idea of calling something a theory in science doesn't mean that there's a great deal of uncertainty about it. We still call it the theory of gravity after all. In science, a theory is a set of scientific ideas and laws that is backed up by a huge amount of scientific evidence, and generally regarded as true. But every idea in science is open to being refuted. Newton's laws of motion worked great, and if you want to calculate how fast a ball falls, or how and why a cart rolls down the hill, that's all you need. But it turns out that they don't work when an object is moving close to the speed of light. That's why we need Einstein's special relativity. Newton's laws weren't wrong, they were just incomplete. So, scientists have to be used to the idea that nothing is ever set in stone, and anything can be disproved if the right evidence presents itself.

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