Descriptive science

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Descriptive science is a category of science that involves observing, recording, describing, and classifying phenomena. Descriptive research is sometimes contrasted with hypothesis-driven research, which is focused on testing a particular hypothesis by means of experimentation.[1]

David A. Grimaldi and Michael S. Engel suggest that descriptive science in biology is currently undervalued and misunderstood:

"Descriptive" in science is a pejorative, almost always preceded by "merely," and typically applied to the array of classical -ologies and -omies: anatomy, archaeology, astronomy, embryology, morphology, paleontology, taxonomy, botany, cartography, stratigraphy, and the various disciplines of zoology, to name a few. [...] First, an organism, object, or substance is not described in a vacuum, but rather in comparison with other organisms, objects, and substances. [...] Second, descriptive science is not necessarily low-tech science, and high tech is not necessarily better. [...] Finally, a theory is only as good as what it explains and the evidence (i.e., descriptions) that supports it.[2]

A negative attitude by scientists toward descriptive science is not limited to biological disciplines: Lord Rutherford's notorious quote, "All science is either physics or stamp collecting," displays a clear negative attitude about descriptive science, and it is known that he was dismissive of astronomy, which at the beginning of the 20th Century was still gathering largely descriptive data about stars, nebulae, and galaxies, and was only beginning to develop a satisfactory integration of these observations within the framework of physical law, a cornerstone of the philosophy of physics.[according to whom?]

Descriptive versus design sciences[edit]

Ilkka Niiniluoto has used the terms "descriptive sciences" and "design sciences" as an updated version of the distinction between basic and applied science. According to Niiniluoto, descriptive sciences are those that seek to describe reality, while design sciences seek useful knowledge for human activities.[3]

See also[edit]

Sources and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Casadevall, Arturo; Fang, Ferric C. (September 2008). "Descriptive Science". Infection and Immunity. 76 (9): 3835–3836. doi:10.1128/IAI.00743-08. 
  2. ^ BioScience Volume 57, Issue 8 (September 2007) article Why Descriptive Science Still Matters by D.A. Grimaldi & M.S. Engel
  3. ^ Heikki J. Koskinen et al. (eds.) Science – A Challenge to Philosophy? - Peter Lang GmbH, Frankfurt am Man, 2006. article The scope and limits of value-freedom in science - Panu Raatikainen