Scientific Explanation: Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
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.

What makes an explanation scientific? Learn what a scientific explanation is, how it's evaluated, and some examples of scientific explanations. See how well you can explain the things you've learned with a quiz.

Definition

Thousands of years ago, our explanations about how the world worked were not very good. Things we couldn't understand were attributed to praise or vengeance from gods, or thinking the world was random. Thanks to science, we have a much better idea about why things are the way they are.

Science is the study of the natural world through observation and experiment. A scientific explanation uses observations and measurements to explain something we see in the natural world. Scientific explanations should match the evidence and be logical, or they should at least match as much of the evidence as possible.

Examples

We have good, scientific explanations for most of what we see in the natural world. For example, why do objects fall to the ground? Well, there is a force called gravity that attracts every object in the universe to every other object.

The scientific theory says that bigger objects produce larger forces of gravity, and that the closer two objects are together the larger the force of gravity. The earth's gravity is really easy to observe because the earth is huge, and it's nearby.

Another example of a scientific explanation is the answer to the common question, 'Why is the sky blue?' It's all about light scattering. We receive white light from the sun, and that light fills the earth's atmosphere. Most of the light that passes overhead keeps going and doesn't reach our eyes at all. But some of it is scattered by the air molecules and bounces into our eyes. Blue light scatters more than any other color, so the sky appears blue to us.

Both of these are scientific explanations because they use all the observations and data we humans have collected. But, let's talk about how we evaluate scientific explanations - how we figure out whether a scientific explanation is a good one or not.

Evaluation

A really good scientific explanation should do two main things:

1. It should explain all the observations and data we have
2. It should allow us to make testable predictions that we can check using future experiments

This is a major part of the scientific process.

For example, the explanation for why things fall to the ground explains the behavior of things we see on Earth, but it also makes predictions.

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