Dr. Adam Rutherford, science writer and broadcaster who works at the journal Nature, writes:
It helps me to think of why science is important by identifying two common errors that people, scientists and non-scientists alike, make when thinking about science.
The first mistake is to view science as a subject. It’s not a subject. Science is a way of knowing. It’s a process of thought - derived and supported by experimentation and observation - that gifts us the potential to understand the universe and everything in it. There may be other ways of knowing, but none is as robust, rational and self-correcting.
(I say all things because I find it hard to be agnostic about scientific knowledge. All things are knowable, given infinite time. I recognise that this is a statement of metaphysics, and therefore beyond the remit of science.)
The second mistake that some people can make is to think that science is static, a thing or statement about how things are. Science is a continuum of knowledge, ever changing and being refined. Some who criticise say that the fact that we said something once, but now say something different demonstrates the fallibility of science. In fact, that is its very beauty. The essence of science is doubt. Being wrong is a crucial part of being a scientist, and a crucial way to propel knowledge for all humankind. The process of scrutiny, of falsification, renders science a constantly self-checking system, never looking to where it is right, but always looking to see how it is wrong, and correcting itself. Good theories - gravity, natural selection, the standard model - stand firm for long periods of time, possibly indefinitely. But we continue to refine them and test them and make them ever more perfect.
The practical applications of science are easy to list, and the benefit to humankind incalculably high. These, though, are the results of men and women over millennia using the process of science as inquiry, as a way of knowing.