APS News

POPA Proposes Statement on What is Science?

The APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA), concerned by the growing influence of pseudoscientific claims, has been exploring ways of responding. As a first step, POPA prepared a succinct statement defining science and describing the rules of scientific exchange that have made science so successful. The definition was adapted from E.O. Wilson's book, Consilience.

At its November meeting, the APS Council accepted the statement as a proposal to be shared with other scientific societies. It is hoped that the statement will serve to initiate a dialogue within the scientific community about the best way of dealing with the problem. In a letter to the Presidents of other societies, Past President Andrew Sessler invited comments on the statement. Some societies, including the American Association of Physics Teachers, have already endorsed it.

In his letter, Sessler remarked that: "Those of us fortunate enough to have chosen careers in science have an obligation to help non-scientists distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit... Our intention in this statement is to provide a template against which claims can be compared, not to see if they are right, but to see if they belong in the realm of science." APS members are invited to comment on the proposed definition printed at right.

PROPOSAL: What is Science?

Science extends and enriches our lives, expands our imagination and liberates us from the bonds of ignorance and superstition. The endorsing societies wish to affirm the precepts of modern science that are responsible for its success. Science is the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories.

The success and credibility of science is anchored in the willingness of scientists to:

  1. Expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by other scientists. This requires the complete and open exchange of data, procedures and materials.
  2. Abandon or modify accepted conclusions when confronted with more complete or reliable experimental evidence. Adherence to these principles provides a mechanism for self-correction that is the foundation of the credibility of science.

Accepted as a proposal by the Council of The American Physical Society 11/15/98

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette