The Role of Scientific Knowledge in Research & Peer Review

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.

Learn about how research and peer review leads to scientific knowledge through the scientific process, and discover some of the key elements and themes in science.

What a Scientific Knowledge?

Science is about understanding the world, but it's a process rather than a body of knowledge. Scientific knowledge is what we learn from the scientific process, which involves experimenting and collecting data.

Scientific research is the collecting of data to investigate and explain a phenomenon. The idea of science is that you can only learn about a phenomenon in a reliable and accurate way through collecting empirical data. The scientific process is designed to reduce human bias as much as possible, and make our conclusions as accurate as they can be.

Overview of the scientific method
Overview of the scientific method

Part of the scientific process concerns what you do after data has been collected. Once you've collected the data, it is analyzed, often using statistics and calculations, and then conclusions are made from those results. But how do we know that those conclusions are accurate? One way is through a process called peer review, which is where research is scrutinized and critiqued by fellow scientists. This process has to be completed before any scientific paper is published, and it weeds out a lot of flawed research. It's a big part of why science has been so successful in explaining the world.

To be published in a scientific journal, your work must be peer-reviewed
To be published in a scientific journal, your work must be peer-reviewed

Let's take a look at some of the key elements and themes in scientific knowledge.

Key Elements and Themes in Scientific Knowledge

Systems are sets of interconnected parts forming a complex whole. In science, systems are a way of separating the world into sets of parts to be studied. For example, you may study the oil inside an engine and how it is affected by heat. If your system is the oil itself, you might not concern yourself with any effects on the engine. On the other hand, you may study the variation in temperature across the entire engine including the oil, meaning that the whole engine and its contents is your system. The way you define your system has an impact on how you conduct your research.

Models involve representing a real life phenomena in a way that makes it easier to understand or study. For example, you might create a physical clay model of a landscape, or you might create a 3-D computer model of a skyscraper, or you may come up with a set of equations that describe the motion of clouds in the sky (a mathematical model).

3-D computer model of an influenza virus
3-D computer model of an influenza virus

Constancy and change is the idea that things in nature can change or stay the same. The earth continues to orbit the sun in a particular pattern, but we humans move across the earth and our brain patterns change constantly. Aspects of the same thing can change and stay the same, or things can seem constant on one timescale, but be changing on another. For example, it might not seem like the ground itself is changing, but we now know because of plate tectonics the ground does move over time - just very slowly. In the context of a day, the ground is a constant, but in the context of 10,000 years, there is significant change.

Equilibrium is where a system reaches a final, balanced state. For example, if you put some ice cubes into a cup of hot tea, that system is no longer in equilibrium. Heat is being transferred from the tea into the ice. When the temperatures balance out and the ice has melted, it could be said that the contents of the cup have reached thermal equilibrium. A final, balanced state.

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