How is science different from other ways of understanding the world?
If someone asks you, “What is science?” you might say that it’s a bunch of facts and explanations. But that’s only part of the story. Science is a knowledge base. But science is also a way of learning about the world. Earth science is about our planet and its environments. Earth scientists study Earth’s surface and interior. They study why volcanoes erupt and why some places are mountainous and some are entirely flat. Some Earth scientists are interested in the weather. Others want to know about the oceans. There are even Earth scientists who apply what they know about Earth to learning about space. Some Earth scientists do a lot of their work in the field, as seen above.
Science is different from other ways of understanding the world. Science has a rigorous method of getting information. A scientific idea must be testable; it must be falsifiable. Scientific ideas are not the result of opinion, gut feelings, or faith. Ideas that are not supported by observations and data are revised or thrown out. Scientists use the scientific method to answer questions about the natural world. The scientific method is not linear. A step may need to be revised or thrown out. New data send the scientist back to the beginning. Still scientific inquiry takes on this basic structure: Ask a question. Do background research. Propose a hypothesis. Test the hypothesis using data from observations and experiments. Continue testing the hypothesis if it holds up or find a new hypothesis if it does not. Eventually create a theory. A theory is an explanation of a complicated set of phenomena. A theory fits virtually all of the available data. The theories of evolution, plate tectonics, and climate change are crucial to understanding Earth. These theories may be revised, but they will almost certainly hold up. Earth scientists learn about the world by using a lot of amazing tools and scientific principles. To understand things that are small or far away, scientists use a microscope or a telescope. To learn about things on the ground, they use a map. Rocks and other Earth materials are analyzed in the lab. Technology allows us to learn more about the oceans and space. One of the most important principles—and the most important for understanding Earth history—is that "the present is the key to the past."