Biology For Dummies
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The knowledge gathered by scientists continues to grow and change slightly all the time. Scientists are continually poking and prodding at ideas, always trying to get closer to “the truth.” They try to keep their minds open to new ideas and remain willing to retest old ideas with new technology. Scientists also encourage argument and debate over ideas because the discussion pushes them to test their ideas and ultimately adds to the strength of scientific knowledge.

Following are some of the facts about scientific ideas that illustrate how science is ever-evolving:

  • Today’s scientists are connected to scientists of the past because new scientific ideas are built upon the foundations of earlier work. For instance, a scientist working in a particular area of biology reads all the scientific publications he can that relate to his work to be sure he has the best understanding possible of what has already been done and what’s already known. That way, he can plan research that will advance the understanding in his field and add new knowledge to the scientific knowledge base.
  • Some scientific ideas are very old but still applicable today. Occasionally, new technology enables scientists to test old hypotheses in new ways, leading to new perspectives and changes in ideas. Case in point: Up until the 1970s, scientists looking through microscopes thought only two main types of cells made up living things. When scientists of the ’70s used new technology to compare the genetic code of cells, they realized that living things are actually made up of three main types of cells — two of the types just happen to look the same under a microscope.

Of course, old ideas aren’t always proved completely wrong — for example, scientists still recognize the two structural types of cells — but big ideas can shift slightly in the face of new information.

  • When many lines of research support a particular hypothesis, the hypothesis becomes a scientific theory. A scientific theory is an idea that’s supported by a great deal of evidence and hasn’t been proven false despite repeated tests. Scientific theories don’t change as often as scientific hypotheses due to the significant evidence backing them up, but even scientific theories can shift in light of new evidence. Ideally, scientists always keep an open mind and look at new evidence objectively.

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René Fester Kratz, PhD, teaches biology at Everett Community College. Dr. Kratz holds a PhD in Botany from the University of Washington. She works with other scientists and K?12 teachers to develop science curricula that align with national learning standards and the latest research on human learning.

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