Philosophy of science
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“”Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.
| —Usually attributed to Richard Feynman
(or somebody else who has never heard of songbird habitat preservation.)
Philosophy of Science is a branch of formal philosophy dedicated to questions about science and the scientific method. It is not an attempt to "do" science, but to ask questions about how science is done or why science is done and how and why it may be a good method.
In the practical sense, "the" philosophy of science is almost synonymous with the scientific method - it is the philosophy and ideal that scientists hold and that they believe they should ascribe to.
 Philosophical issues
Philosophy of science asks about numerous issues.
- What is a theory and what is a law of science? The two are often conflated but have well defined meanings; a "law" is unbroken, such as the law that gravity causes things to fall, but might not be totally proved, such as the laws of thermodynamics which are mostly observed empirically and aren't necessarily true all of the time in all conditions.
- What is falsifiability? Falsifiability is often taken to be a "litmus test" of science - it means that a claim can be falsified, or shown to be not true. Atomic theory could be falsified by showing a chemical reaction that wasn't stoichiometric, for example. Supernatural explanations on the other hand cannot be falsified; as by definition proponents of supernatural explanations will put themselves outside the realms of actual testing.
- What is and is not "scientific"? This is known as the Demarcation problem. Many people defer to Karl Popper on this, who was a great proponent of the idea the science rests entirely on falsifiability. Within the philosophy of science community, Popper's falsificationism is widely criticized. Work in contemporary philosophy of science largely ignores the demarcation problem.
- What is the definition of Direct observation? For instance, how many layers of theoretical observation can be applied, before you are no longer directly observing and before the theory laden tools compromise the term "direct observation". For instance: I see a leaf. I use a single lens magnifying glass to see the leaf. I use a double lens Microscope to see the leaf. Based on theory of electrons, I look at the leaf with electron microscope. Based on other theories, I look at the light under UV scopes... this could be taken down to the atomic level, as atoms are too small to be observed by visible light, so their existence must be inferred from other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum; X-Rays for diffraction or NMR to observe the magnetic moment of the nucleus.
- What are, if any, the ramifications of theory laden observation?
- What defines the natural world?
- What is the limit of scientific reasoning? Where (if anywhere) does "science" cross into "non-science" when talking about things like Chaos Theory, String theory, and other non-empirical driven science. This is a special case of the demarcation problem.