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Scientific Laws and Theories

Scientific Laws and Theories
SCIENTIFIC LAWS and THEORIES I've had a student ask me to clarify the difference between a scientific "law" and a "theory". This person asked, in part: ".. Is a law, in essence, something which has no detractors --> a unifying 'concept' for which scientists (at the present time) are in accordance with? Is a law a single idea by which all scientists, regardless of discipline, conform?" " Can a theory be looked at as a 'transitory' law (i.e., a law in waiting)? Such questions are very common. As used in science, I think that it is important to realize that, in spite of the differences (see below), these terms share some things in common. Presumably the acceptance of laws/theories also applies across disciplines, although most "Laws" or "Theories" are discipline specific. As far as "detractors", the nature of science is to question things, nothing is (or should be) sacrosanct. Here are a couple of definitions of each word. 4) 1. Literature Cited Futuyma, D. Krimsley, V. Lincoln, R. Moore, J. Related:  Misconceptions about laws and theoriesNature of Science

Myths of the nature of science People have ideas about science based on personal experiences, previous education, popular media and peer culture. Many of these ideas are commonly held misconceptions or myths about the nature of science. Here are some of the more common myths that are problematic in science education. Myth: The scientific methodMyth: Experiments are the main route to scientific knowledgeMyth: Science and its methods can answer all questionsMyth: Science proves ideasMyth: Science ideas are absolute and unchangingMyth: Science is a solitary pursuitMyth: Science is procedural more than creativeMyth: Scientists are particularly objectiveMyth: Scientific conclusions are reviewed by others for accuracyMyth: Acceptance of new scientific knowledge is straightforwardMyth: Science models ‘are real’Myth: A hypothesis is an educated guessMyth: Hypotheses become theories that, in turn, become laws Myth: The scientific method In reality there is no single method of science. Myth: Science proves ideas

Scientific Hypothesis, Theory, Law Definitions Words have precise meanings in science. For example, 'theory', 'law', and 'hypothesis' don't all mean the same thing. Outside of science, you might say something is 'just a theory', meaning it's supposition that may or may not be true. In science, a theory is an explanation that generally is accepted to be true. Here's a closer look at these important, commonly misused terms. Hypothesis A hypothesis is an educated guess, based on observation. Example: If you see no difference in the cleaning ability of various laundry detergents, you might hypothesize that cleaning effectiveness is not affected by which detergent you use. Theory A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. Example: It is known that on June 30, 1908 in Tunguska, Siberia, there was an explosion equivalent to the detonation of about 15 million tons of TNT. Law A law generalizes a body of observations. Example: Consider Newton's Law of Gravity.

Study Unit : When Does a Theory Become a Law? This is something that comes up quite frequently in discussions between scientists and the general public. How much proof does it take for a theory to graduate to being a law? Theory Law Because the words theory and law have such different meanings in the language of science, it is often a difficult question to answer, so instead, I'll start by giving you a few similar questions to answer. How perfectly do you have to build a house so that it will become a single brick? If you are thinking that those questions don't make much sense, then you are feeling very much like a scientist who has been asked "How much proof does it take for a theory to graduate to being a law?" Ohm's Law In science, laws are simple facts and formulas that are so basic that they apply universally. So just as houses don't become bricks, theories don't become laws. Laws tell us what happens. But what if a theory turns out to be wrong? Albert Einstein The same is true for new explanations of how and why things work.

News Question Why do we have a “Law of Gravity” but not a “Theory of Gravity?” Is anyone working on one? Mike Todd, MAT Student, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa Answer Before tackling your question let’s first get at the distinction between law and theory. In general terms a law in science is a description of what happens or an understanding of events under similar circumstances. A theory is the current interpretation of the body of evidence that has been gathered about a specific event and represents the best explanation of how the mechanisms in the event work. Now back to gravity. Sir Isaac Newton published the “Law of Universal Gravity” in Principia Mathematica on July 5, 1687. Law and theory go hand in hand. While a great deal is known about the laws of gravity, the ultimate cause of the gravitational force—that is, development of a more complete theory of gravity—remains an important topic of scientific research. Ronald A. How does sunscreen work? For further research:

Science Teaching Reconsidered: A Handbook image of a sun that moves about the earth. In school, students are told by teachers (years after they have already formed their own mental model of how things work) that the earth rotates. Students are then faced with the difficult task of deleting a mental image that makes sense to them, based on their own observations, and replacing it with a model that is not as intuitively acceptable. The example of the earth rotating rather than the sun orbiting the earth is one of many that teachers refer to collectively as misconceptions. Preconceived notions are popular conceptions rooted in everyday experiences. Although vernacular and factual misconceptions can often be easily corrected, even by the students themselves, it is not effective for a teacher simply to insist that the learner dismiss preconceived notions and ingrained nonscientific beliefs.

What is the Difference about theory and law This is a common question, and a common misconception. Unfortunately, most people are taught a hierarchy of certainty: hypothesis becomes theory and then, with more support, a theory becomes law. This is WRONG. The current consensus among philosophers of science seems to be this: Laws are generalizations about what has happened, from which we can generalize about what we expect to happen. William McComus lists gravity as a modern example of a well-established law for which no really satisfying theory is available. Oddly enough, I searched the MadSci site and came up with a carefully- written wrong answer along the hierarchical lines you describe above. We shouldn't blame our experts; as you and I have seen from our own experience, scientists may have fuzzy notions about this sort of distinction because they don't normally have to make the distinction! I am unable to recommend much specific for further reading, although McComus' bibliography looks to be a good place to start.

Laws and Theories Among the Common People | Staring at the Ceiling, Among Other Things I guess it’s fair to say that the scientific community has not done so well in constructing its jargon vocabulary. That being said, it’s actually kind of sad how little people know outside of the scientific community, but are so prepared to argue for or against topics that they don’t know much about. I came across an article today that talks about the discovery of a new dinosaur, from which birds may have evolved. You can read about it here: I always like to scroll through the comments just to read what others have to say about the topics I’m reading; but reading these comments was worse than nails on a chalkboard. “Technically reality itself is a theory. Just stop for a second and read those comments. FALSE. A scientific law is a description of an observed phenomenon. This law describes how point masses will interact with each other by the force of gravity. Stay educated my friends. Like this:

Position Statement: The Nature of Science Preamble All those involved with science teaching and learning should have a common, accurate view of the nature of science. Science is characterized by the systematic gathering of information through various forms of direct and indirect observations and the testing of this information by methods including, but not limited to, experimentation. The principal product of science is knowledge in the form of naturalistic concepts and the laws and theories related to those concepts. Declaration The National Science Teachers Association endorses the proposition that science, along with its methods, explanations and generalizations, must be the sole focus of instruction in science classes to the exclusion of all non-scientific or pseudoscientific methods, explanations, generalizations and products. The following premises are important to understanding the nature of science. Scientific knowledge is simultaneously reliable and tentative. References Moore, J. 1993. National Academy of Sciences (1998).