Scientific Laws and Theories
Science concepts can often be quite simple or extremely difficult to understand. There are many science-related concepts and ideas. For example, the three states of matter can easily be understood: solid, liquid, and gas. On the other hand, a person may not fully understand why some matter can turn into a solid, and other substances can never turn into a liquid or gas.
There are many other scientific concepts and they are labeled as facts, theories, hypotheses, laws, or beliefs. Each term has a different meaning in the field of science and must be understood by all scientists. However, there are differences between scientific facts, laws, hypotheses, theories, and beliefs.
A fact is a basic statement proven to be true by experiment or observation. If rain is coming from the sky, it is a fact that it is raining. All facts are true under specific conditions, but in science, they may later be proven false when re-tested using better instruments or more thorough observation.
A law is a logical relationship between two or more things, based on a variety of facts and proven hypothesis. It is often shown using a mathematical formula or statement of how two or more quantities are related to each other. An example is Newton's Law of Gravity, which is used to predict the behavior of a dropped object but does not explain the why an object drops. It is like knowing 4 is the answer to 2 + 2, but not understanding why.
Next, there is a hypothesis, which is an educated guess about what will happen before an experiment and what will be observed. It is a prediction of cause and effect. A hypothesis can be supported or disproved through additional experimentation and observation. For example, a scientist may hypothesize that all cleaning products are the same, and one is no better than another. The experiment may prove their hypothesis to be true, however, another person tests the hypothesis and learns there is a better cleaning product and the hypothesis is now proven false.
A theory is the 'why' in science. It is an explanation for why certain laws and facts exist that can be tested to determine its accuracy. Theories have been supported with repeated testing and remain valid if there is no evidence to dispute them. Many times, a theory may be labeled as an accepted 'hypothesis'. For example, it is a theory that a large crater on the Earth may have been caused by a meteor strike. However, it is not a proven fact but is accepted to be true based on the collected evidence. On the other hand, it can also be disproven and found to be false.
Finally, a belief is a statement that is not scientifically provable in the same way as facts, laws, hypotheses, or theories. Beliefs that are proven to be false today can later be proven as true using scientific experimenting and observation. For example, many people have the belief that there are certain lucky numbers and the position of the planets affect how people behave. However, they cannot be proven true and are only unproven beliefs. Later, only scientific experimentation and observation can change the belief to a fact.
An example to show the differences can be as follows: As a person awakes, and light shines through the window, the observance of the day leads to the fact that it is bright outside. The hypothesis is: It's bright outside because the sun is probably out. Through testing and experimentation, a theory is created: When the sun is out, it tends to make it bright outside. A law may then be formulated to identify the exact rising and setting of the sun. Finally, someone may have the belief that a sunny day will lead to people becoming much kinder.
Understanding the difference between laws, theories, facts, beliefs, and theories added to the correct application of the scientific method and the applicable use of the science process, will help young learners become effective scientists whether in the classroom or as part of a career.
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