Faculty Senate Statement on Science
(February 2007)


Science pervades every aspect of our lives, from energy use, transportation, communication, our own health and that of the environment in which we live, to the production and distribution of food and the underpinnings of civilization itself. Some of the great scientific discoveries upon which our technology is based include the atomic theory (Physics and Chemistry), quantum theory, electromagnetic theory, Newton’s theory of gravity, and the theory of relativity (Physics), the theory of plate tectonics (Earth Science), and the theory of evolution (Life Sciences).


In popular speech, the word 'theory' means 'a guess' or ‘hypothesis.’ However, in science, 'theory' refers to an explanation tested by observed facts. A well-tested hypothesis rises to the level of theory when it has been tested repeatedly without being falsified. Thus, a theory is as close to the truth as science can come. This is because scientific theories are rigorously subjected to the test of new knowledge, often gained by advances in technology that were unavailable when the explanations were first proposed. Hence, although even the most successful theories are, by definition, never proven, any scientific theory can be refuted by facts that are at odds with its predictions. It is this quality that most distinguishes a scientific concept from a non-scientific one. Because science relies only on explanations that have the property that they can be falsified by testing, other kinds of explanations are beyond the scope of science because they cannot be falsified by empirical data.


Practical applications of scientific theories include assembly of the periodic table of elements (atomic theory), development of nuclear energy (quantum theory and theory of relativity), global positioning systems (theory of relativity), electronics and nanotechnology (quantum and electromagnetic theories), early space travel ultimately leading to satellite technology (Newton’s theory of gravity, later superseded by Einstein’s theory of general relativity), understanding of the global distribution of volcanoes and earthquakes and the hazards they pose (plate tectonic theory), and the development of effective vaccines and drugs to combat ever-changing viruses, such as flu and HIV, as well as methods to make pathogens evolve to be less virulent (theory of evolution). All of the above theories share a common element—despite thousands of independent tests of each, none of them has yet to be falsified by factual and repeatable evidence, which gives us great confidence in their potential for further technological application. Because science is the fundamental way in which we gain knowledge about the natural world, it is critically important that we strengthen science education at all levels. This is particularly true given the compelling scientific evidence for global climate change and the profound economic, social, and political ramifications that climate change will have for societies worldwide.


We, the Faculty Senate of the University of Oklahoma, oppose any attempt to weaken standards in any field of science, to redefine the scientific process so as to exclude the requirement that explanations be falsifiable, or to weaken the scientific curriculum to include non-scientific explanations. In this, we stand with our colleagues in the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other scientific organizations worldwide.



* See also http://www.ou.edu/cas/zoology/evolution.htm