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How does science maintain cohesion?

  1. Jul 18, 2012 #1
    There is so much information out there and new studies happening all the time. How is all of this information organized so that new discoveries are incorporated in standardized curriculums?

    I guess I'm wondering how all of the thousands of colleges and universities across the globe stay on the same page. Who sets the standards for education and what is the process for incorporating new information?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2012 #2
    I've read books about science curriculums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and heard stories of how tough it was to learn when groundbreaking discoveries were being made every day.

    These days, however, while discoveries are being made very frequently, most discoveries are being made at a level that doesn't affect most science below it. So you can teach a physics class without worrying (more than momentarily noting) current discoveries affecting the things you are teaching.
  4. Jul 18, 2012 #3
    Reason you have researchers for each scientific field whose full time profession is to keep up with all the new studies and come up with new discoveries.

    Going to the main question, as Vorde said, I believe it takes quite bit of time to incorporate discoveries in standardized curriculum.
  5. Jul 18, 2012 #4
    "And the continuity of our science has not been affected by all these turbulent happenings, as the older theories have always been included as limiting cases in the new ones." - Max Born
  6. Jul 19, 2012 #5
    It sounds like you're saying that university/college programs don't need to change with new discoveries because they are intended as a general foundation only. Do you really think that's true? I wonder what the point of science is, if not to also incorporate its new discoveries into our education. I mean, if our experiments don't move our EDUCATION forward, how useful can they really be?

    I guess I just think about how many science journals there are out there, publishing regularly throughout the year for years, and years. That adds up to A LOT of research and discoveries to keep track of. Maybe the researchers are somehow able to keep up on all of these things, but that information then needs to be disseminated in a useful way. Don't you think?

    I understand this, but does it mean our educational systems should stop at the old?

    Whatever the case, SOMEONE is certainly in charge of standardizing science education so that the world is on the same page. A Ph.D. from Germany will get you a job in the US, for example, because there is an agreement on what was taught, right? Is someone in charge of university textbooks or is there a free-for-all? I mean, if someone wants to publish a university text, don't they need specific approval? Isn't there some "umbrella" organization to keep science and its education organized?
  7. Jul 19, 2012 #6


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    Like everything else, things over time get more organized and more polished and are able to be clarified and delivered to others in less time with greater precision (not necessarily completely, but in terms of the majority of the details).

    When research is started, it is a very messy process and over time, people look at it, use it and it starts to become more organized in a way that people's experience and increased understanding of something aids this process.

    The other thing is the organization with respect to the field. Again just like the research, when fields are born, they are often very messy and after time, things become a lot more organized.

    Some examples of what become more organized are the communication mediums (journals, publication criteria, presentation criteria, indexing, jargon, notation, and other standards), as well as the standards of the actual field itself.

    As things grow this is done out of necessity since people will have a need to find things with enough ease as to allow them to do what they need to do, rather than having their focus spend time on something that takes away from that focus.

    It might help if you find some of these standards and see how they can impact search times for different examples of specific experiments, theory or even just broad ideas.
  8. Jul 19, 2012 #7


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    Science education is not standardised, that is why degrees and doctorates from different universities will carry more weight compared to others even with the same grade.
  9. Jul 19, 2012 #8
    Out of curiosity, I wonder where I could find this.
    And yet, this very statement implies a standard. After all, you can't "weight" different universities without a standard to weigh against. Also, I wonder if some of that weight is based on money before serious consideration to the actual curriculum.

    I also wonder how the NSF and NSES fit into the scenario. Are they essentially the same type of organization or do they have different roles? What other organizations are there along these lines?
  10. Jul 19, 2012 #9
    Additionally, new schools, in particular, must go through some process for having their curriculum accepted before being accredited, right?
  11. Jul 19, 2012 #10


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    There is no one standard. Universities get prestige and reputation from the successes of their alumni, the size and quality of their facilities and equipment, the research that is undertaken and published from them and an innumerable number of published surveys/rankings by private entities like the annual THE rankings.

    What I'm trying to get at is that universities are judged by a myriad of factors, many objective and many subjective, that lead to them earning a reputation of one sort or another.
  12. Jul 19, 2012 #11


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    Well things are always still developing, but you can pick up reference books like textbooks, scientific dictionaries, or journal articles to see the kinds of standards that are in place for the notation and expression of ideas (i.e. communication standards).

    Also you can look at any ISO or ANSI standards (these two groups are international standards organizations and all the big standards go through these two bodies), for industry wide standards.

    The other thing is to go to a professional body website and see if you can find guidelines that have been ratified by the professional organization themselves.

    But yeah in terms of standards being formed (and even more importantly being accepted and used), get the relevant ISO or ANSI standard and take a look at it. It will probably bore you, but it will give you an idea of how standards end up becoming standards in industry.
  13. Jul 21, 2012 #12
    I hope this doesn't sound insulting, but I just want to point out that this is similar to the reasoning used by creationists (and I do understand the intuitive attractiveness of the logical fallacy), the principle being: when confronted with a complex (yet stable) network, one intuitively assumes somebody has made it. However, much like evolution, in this case we can look at self-organisation (although using that term in this context might be pushing it a little bit). More exactly, I would think each university separately looks at the rest of the world to evaluate what certainly should be a part of the curriculum etc (and possibly decide to deviate from it if there are good reasons). Put differently, universities who would be way off (for example teaching nothing but 20th century physics) would not last. Survival of the fittest.
  14. Jul 21, 2012 #13
    I don't see a lot of evidence for coordination in the field that I am studying. Maybe I'm allowed to give one example about a missing ice sheet on Siberia during the last glacial maximum.

    Krinner et al., 2006 do some modelling assuming that impact of aeolian (wind blown) dust deposition on snow and ice albedos can restrict ice sheet growth. They cite a few lines of Hubberten et al 2004 about the conditions close to the rim of the fennoscandian ice sheet. However they overlooked a bit of a different area of paleo biologic research. Had they read all of that publication and for instance Kienast et al 2005, they would have discovered that that area was a rich mammoth megafauna steppe with very little winter snowfall, hardly suffering from albedo lowering dust on the snow

    Hubberten et al 2004 The periglacial climate and environment in northern Eurasia during the Last Glaciation, Quaternary Science Reviews 23 (2004) 1333–1357

    Krinner G. et al 2006; Ice-free glacial northern Asia due to dust deposition on snow, Climate Dynamics (2006) 27:613–625 DOI 10.1007/s00382-006-0159-z 123

    Kienast, F., et al, 2005. Palaeobotanical evidence for warm summers in the East Siberian Arctic during the last cold stage. Quaternary Research 63, 283e300.
  15. Jul 24, 2012 #14
    There needs to be order in science, and there are organizations that act as "creationists". The IAU is one example. They decided a new way of defining what a planet was and now Pluto is taught to be a "dwarf planet". That was an official decision "made by someone" that now needs to be respected and followed by educational facilities.
    With so many studies and discoveries, constantly, there needs to be systems for deciding which discoveries warrant moving up to our educational institutions. For example, when Grigory Perelman solved the Poincaré conjecture, who made sure our textbooks were changed? It seems there should be a "memo" that goes out to emphasize its importance and make sure action is taken.
    How frustrating! Without strong organization duplicate studies, that waste time and money, are certain to happen.
  16. Jul 24, 2012 #15
    I would say two things.

    First of all, as far as I am aware there is no real problem with the distribution of knowledge currently, so why is there a need to change something?

    Second, taking an example of the poincare conjecture. How many textbooks around the would will contain that as rigorous mathematics? If you are at the level to understand the proof, then you are almost certainly a graduate or post-doc student. You can just read the original proof?

    Even though there is no 'governing body', there are organizations that standardize things throughout science. In the case of the IAU, there wasn't a good universal standard on what a planet was, so they decided on one and it just so happened that Pluto did not fall within that category.
  17. Jul 24, 2012 #16


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    Each university has its own internal standards. The are numerous forums in which faculty can participate with respect to setting standards for education of particular subjects, and each department may adopt standards of various organizations representing the particular academic and professional field.

    Engineering programs are accredited by ABET (www.abet.org)

    There are numerous scientific/engineering/technical societies, many of which now have global reach, e.g., IEEE (www.ieee.org) or ASM International (www.asminternational.org), or ANSI (www.ansi.org) or ASTM (www.astm.org), and well as complementary international organizations, e.g., ISO.

    There are organizations such as IUPAC (www.iupac.org) and IUPAP (www.iupap.org).
    There is the The International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) (www.iugg.org) and the American Geophysical Union (www.agu.org).

    There are numerous publishers, e.g., Reed-Elsevier (www.reedelsevier.com), Knovel (why.knovel.com), Springer (www.springer.com - now including Kluwer), McGraw-Hill, Pearson (Prentice-Hall), Wiley (including Blackwell), and numerous others which publish scientific, technical and trade journals and textbooks.

    In general, it is up to the author to draft a text and revise as necessary. It is up to the individual university faculty member to determine what text, perhaps in conjunction with other facutly members, to select a text, and provide a syllabus and class notes to students.

    New disccoveries may be introduced within a year or two or more depending on how urgent is a revision to a text. Professors may elect to provide copies of papers or citations as needed.

    The basic fundamentals don't really change over a decade or decades. However, texts and courses do change as technology improves or replaces old technology. I dare say any modern text in computer science says much about punch tapes or punch cards.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2012
  18. Jul 24, 2012 #17
    First of all, I never said there was a problem with anything. I've just been wondering how, exactly, distribution works beyond the journals that initially bring us things. Second of all, based on Andre's example, I'd say improvements would be welcomed.
    Graduate students are still in school and still require textbooks. If their textbook does not reflect Perelman's contribution, then the textbook is outdated and needs to be changed. Even basic topology classes, available to undergrads, as well as found in layman's books, discuss the million dollar problem. Perelman was a big buzz early this millenium. But when it's all died down, the headlines are over, and people don't know his name anymore, our textbooks had better remind them.
    That's exactly what I've been asking about. There must be standards in education. I've just been wondering who does that and who enforces it. Is it possible that some school somewhere could be teaching a geocentric solar system? If so, IMO, that would be a problem. I'm just wondering who makes sure we teach things correctly. Is there an organization? Is it the schools choice? Does it matter? That's all I'm asking.
  19. Jul 24, 2012 #18
    Hey, Astronuc! Thanks so much for the info. That's the basics of what I hoped to find out. I appreciate the answer!
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