Is Cosmology a Science?

The following excerpt is from the article (“A Singular Conundrum: How Odd is Our Universe?”) found in the respected journal Science [317, 1850 (2007)],

“Cosmology may look like a science, but it isn’t a science” says James Gunn of Princeton University co-founder of the Sloan survey. “A basic tenet of science is that you can do repeatable experiments, and you can’t do that in cosmology.”

Truth be told the article wades into far deeper waters than most people are accustomed to, myself included (Give me a good SUMOylation paper any day of the week).

But it doesn’t take someone with the good professor’s credentials in astronomy to see that his words can also be extrapolated to other scientific fields, whose very nature make repeatable experiments an impossibility.

That this impossibility is ignored is not surprising given the philosophical underpinnings…


3 Responses to Is Cosmology a Science?

  1. I agree. I’ve been monitoring science articles and plan to do a bit on this idea that most sciences – are not sciences.

    The Pharma industry is the best example. Take this pill. Oh wait.. that’s not good. take this other one… oh wait… maybe take this one… and of course, the side effects

    It sounds more trial and error. Compare that with Math. That is a SCIENCE.

  2. Bill Nettles says:

    Au contraire! Doing science does involve trial and error, not perfecting a performance (math?). Science is a cycle: observe a behavior, develop a testable hypothesis for explaining a behavior, collect data which tests the hypothesis (may be observational or deterministic), analyze the data, update or replace hypothesis, repeat….and never stop testing.

    Math is NOT a science. It is a system of systems in which very rigid criteria are established for the manipulation of symbols. Depending on what rules you choose to follow 1+1=2 or 1+1=10, and sometimes A*B is not the same as B*A. It’s a language that is very expressive for scientists, but it is not science.

    Cosmology is a science because there are tons of data that can be gathered to test hypotheses. And there are multiple directions to gather the data from. I disagree with Gunn’s statement because you can gather data multiple times from a single experiment, especially one as big as the universe.

  3. Laz says:

    Thanks Bill for checking in. I think that the good prof. was referring to the impossibility of observing the beginnings of the universe.

    Here is another quote from the article,

    The goal of physics is to understand the basic dynamics of the universe,” Turner [Michael Turner a cosmologist at the Univ. of Chicago] says. “Cosmology is a little different. The goal is to reconstruct the history of the universe.” Cosmology is more akin to evolutionary biology or geology, he says, in which researches must simply accept some facts as given.

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