Fact: are statements that we know to be true through direct . In everyday usage, facts are a highly valued form of knowledge because we can be so confident in them. Scientific thinking, however, recognizes that, though facts are important, we can only be completely confident about relatively simple statements. For example, it may be a fact that there are three trees in your backyard. However, our knowledge of how all trees are related to one another is not a fact; it is a complex body of knowledge based on many different and reasoning that may change as new is discovered and as old evidence is interpreted in new ways. Though our knowledge of tree relationships is not a fact, it is broadly applicable, useful in many situations, and synthesizes many individual facts into a broader framework. values facts but recognizes that many forms of knowledge are more powerful than simple facts.
CORRECTION: This is far from true. A 2005 survey of scientists at top research universities found that more than 48% had a religious affiliation and that more than 75% believed that religions convey important truths.1 Some scientists are not religious, but many others subscribe to a specific faith and/or believe in higher powers. Science itself is a secular pursuit, but welcomes participants from all religious faiths. To learn more, visit our side trip .
CORRECTION: Because of some vocal individuals (both inside and outside of science) stridently declaring their beliefs, it's easy to get the impression that science and religion are at war. In fact, people of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. Because science deals only with phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of entities like God. To learn more, visit our side trip .
CORRECTION: It's true that some scientific research is performed without any attention to its applications, but this is certainly not true of all science. Many scientists choose specific areas of research (e.g., malaria genetics) because of the practical ramifications new knowledge in these areas might have. And often, basic research that is performed without any aim toward potential applications later winds up being extremely useful. To learn about some of the many applications of scientific knowledge visit
CORRECTION: The feats accomplished through the application of scientific knowledge are truly astounding. Science has helped us eradicate deadly diseases, communicate with people all over the world, and build that make our lives easier everyday. But for all scientific innovations, the costs must be carefully weighed against the benefits. And, of course, there's no guarantee that solutions for some problems (e.g., finding an HIV vaccine) exist though science is likely to help us discover them if they do exist. Furthermore, some important human concerns (e.g. some spiritual and aesthetic questions) cannot be addressed by science at all. Science is a marvelous tool for helping us understand the natural world, but it is not a cure-all for whatever problems we encounter.
CORRECTION: Scientists do strive to be unbiased as they consider different scientific ideas, but scientists are people too. They have different personal beliefs and goals and may favor different hypotheses for different reasons. Individual scientists may not be completely objective, but science can overcome this hurdle through the action of the scientific community, which scrutinizes scientific work and helps balance biases. To learn more, visit in our section on the social side of science.
CORRECTION: Perhaps because the last step of the Scientific Method is usually "draw a conclusion," it's easy to imagine that studies that don't reach a clear conclusion must not be scientific or important. In fact, scientific studies don't reach "firm" conclusions. Scientific articles usually end with a discussion of the limitations of the tests performed and the alternative hypotheses that might account for the phenomenon. That's the nature of scientific knowledge it's inherently tentative and could be overturned if new evidence, new interpretations, or a better explanation come along. In science, studies that carefully analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the test performed and of the different alternative explanations are particularly valuable since they encourage others to more thoroughly scrutinize the ideas and evidence and to develop new ways to test the ideas. To learn more about publishing and scrutiny in science, visit our discussion of .
CORRECTION: The scientific community value individuals who have good intuition and think up creative explanations that turn out to be correct but it values scientists who are able to think up creative ways to test a new idea (even if the test ends up contradicting the idea) and who spot the fatal flaw in a particular or test. In science, gathering evidence to determine the accuracy of an explanation is just as important as coming up with the explanation that winds up being supported by the evidence.
CORRECTION: This misconception likely stems from introductory science labs, with their emphasis on getting the "right" answer and with congratulations handed out for having the "correct" hypothesis all along. In fact, science gains as much from figuring out which hypotheses are likely to be wrong as it does from figuring out which are supported by the evidence. Scientists may have personal favorite hypotheses, but they strive to consider multiple hypotheses and be unbiased when evaluating them against the evidence. A scientist who finds evidence contradicting a favorite hypothesis may be surprised and probably disappointed, but can rest easy knowing that he or she has made a valuable contribution to science.
CORRECTION: When scientists are portrayed in movies and television shows, they are often ensconced in silent laboratories, alone with their bubbling test-tubes. This can make science seem isolating. In fact, many scientists work in busy labs or field stations, surrounded by other scientists and students. Scientists often collaborate on studies with one another, mentor less experienced scientists, and just chat about their work over coffee. Even the rare scientist who works entirely alone depends on interactions with the rest of the scientific community to scrutinize his or her work and get ideas for new studies. Science is a social endeavor. To learn more, visit our section on the .
CORRECTION: When newspapers make statements like, "most scientists agree that human activity is the culprit behind global warming," it's easy to imagine that scientists hold an annual caucus and vote for their favorite hypotheses. But of course, that's not quite how it works. Scientific ideas are judged not by their popularity, but on the basis of the evidence supporting or contradicting them. A hypothesis or theory comes to be accepted by many scientists (usually over the course of several years or decades!) once it has garnered many lines of supporting evidence and has stood up to the scrutiny of the scientific community. A hypothesis accepted by "most scientists," may not be "liked" or have positive repercussions, but it is one that science has judged likely to be accurate based on the evidence. To learn more about , visit our series of pages on the topic in our section on how science works.