STEM Revisited

Science: Part 1 of a 4 part series.

Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics are four very broad fields of education and profession. Linked together through their collective use of logic, research and innovation, the importance of quality STEM educational environments has only grown as society becomes more and more dependent on technology.

So why are school administrators, politicians and bureaucrats always talking about STEM? The simple answer is that schools at all levels require dedicated funding to create quality STEM education, especially as schools all over the world put more and more emphasis into STEM.

The advantages of STEM education are many. Science and technology have played major roles in the past several hundred years in revolutionizing methods of production, fighting disease, dealing with environmental issues, creating new and useful materials and gaining a deeper understanding of nature.

What a strange, wonderful and misunderstood word, science! When we think of this word, we think of planets, stars, and galaxies; medicine and microbes; funny chemicals and exotic animals; and, of course, strange men in white lab coats doing top-secret experiments. But what is science, really?

Science has been the most recognized tradition of observing and understanding nature for the past several hundred years—at least since the Italian astronomer Galileo observed funny patterns between the ocean tides and the movement of the stars and declared that the earth orbited the sun, contrary to the prevailing belief of the time (that the sun orbited earth). In a nutshell, science is simply a process based on the principles of logic and objective truth.

The scientific process involves asking specific questions—for example, why does a certain group of rabbits get a certain disease while another similar group doesn’t get the disease? The next step in the scientific process involves forming a hypothesis. Our hypothesis could be “one group of rabbits has a gene that allows it to resist the disease, and the other group doesn’t have the gene.” To test the hypothesis, we would need to design and conduct an experiment and measure
and analyze the results of the experiment. We use these results to determine whether our hypothesis was right or wrong or inconclusive, and then we publish these results for other scientists and the public to analyze. (These published experiments can be found in peer-reviewed scientific journals such as Nature and Science.)

Scientists use experiment results and observations to draw wider conclusions and make predictions about the world through logical reasoning.

Even though we don’t know it, we are all scientists. We all make predictions all the time based on previous observations and experiences. For example, it is a safe and reasonable assumption that the next time we go to the supermarket, the cucumbers in the produce aisle will be green. Why is that? We can’t say that we are 100 percent certain that all cucumbers are green, because we have not seen all cucumbers in the world, nor will we ever be able to. But based on our own personal observations, it is reasonable to predict that all of the cucumbers will be green the next time we go to the store.

If we go to the store and see that all the cucumbers are red, then we will have to rethink our previous assumptions and conduct further experiments—in this case, we should go to another supermarket, or ask the produce manager about the strange new cucumbers.

That is how science works. And, believe it or not, scientific conclusions are constantly being challenged, rethought and disproven by other scientists through experimentation and observation.
Where do scientists work? Oftentimes you will find scientists working in universities doing research that is funded by government grants. Other organizations, such as foundations, also provide grants for scientists. Scientists also work for private companies, including biotechnology firms and pharmaceutical companies, which conduct research and development (“R&D”) to create and sell new products.

This article on STEM will be continued in future issues of Rip magazine.