The central science

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Partial ordering of the sciences proposed by Balaban and Klein. Partial ordering of the sciences Balaban Klein Scientometrics2006 615-637.svg
Partial ordering of the sciences proposed by Balaban and Klein.

Chemistry is often called the central science because of its role in connecting the physical sciences, [1] which include chemistry, with the life sciences and applied sciences such as medicine and engineering. The nature of this relationship is one of the main topics in the philosophy of chemistry and in scientometrics. The phrase was popularized by its use in a textbook by Theodore L. Brown and H. Eugene LeMay, titled Chemistry: The Central Science, which was first published in 1977, with a thirteenth edition published in 2014. [2]

The central role of chemistry can be seen in the systematic and hierarchical classification of the sciences by Auguste Comte. Each discipline provides a more general framework for the area it precedes (mathematicsastronomyphysics → chemistry → biologysocial sciences). [3] Balaban and Klein have more recently proposed a diagram showing the partial ordering of sciences in which chemistry may be argued is “the central science” since it provides a significant degree of branching. [4] In forming these connections the lower field cannot be fully reduced to the higher ones. It is recognized that the lower fields possess emergent ideas and concepts that do not exist in the higher fields of science.

Thus chemistry is built on an understanding of laws of physics that govern particles such as atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, thermodynamics, etc. although it has been shown that it has not been “fully 'reduced' to quantum mechanics”. [5] [6] Concepts such as the periodicity of the elements and chemical bonds in chemistry are emergent in that they are more than the underlying forces defined by physics.

In the same way, biology cannot be fully reduced to chemistry, although the machinery that is responsible for life is composed of molecules. [7] For instance, the machinery of evolution may be described in terms of chemistry by the understanding that it is a mutation in the order of genetic base pairs in the DNA of an organism. However, chemistry cannot fully describe the process since it does not contain concepts such as natural selection that are responsible for driving evolution. Chemistry is fundamental to biology since it provides a methodology for studying and understanding the molecules that compose cells.

Connections made by chemistry are formed through various sub-disciplines that utilize concepts from multiple scientific disciplines. Chemistry and physics are both needed in the areas of physical chemistry, nuclear chemistry, and theoretical chemistry. Chemistry and biology intersect in the areas of biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, molecular biology, chemical biology, molecular genetics, and immunochemistry. Chemistry and the earth sciences intersect in areas like geochemistry and hydrology.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chemistry</span> Scientific discipline

Chemistry is the scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science that covers the elements that make up matter to the compounds composed of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, behavior and the changes they undergo during a reaction with other substances.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to chemistry:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Interdisciplinarity</span> Combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity

Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity. It draws knowledge from several other fields like sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics, etc. It is about creating something by thinking across boundaries. It is related to an interdiscipline or an interdisciplinary field, which is an organizational unit that crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought, as new needs and professions emerge. Large engineering teams are usually interdisciplinary, as a power station or mobile phone or other project requires the melding of several specialties. However, the term "interdisciplinary" is sometimes confined to academic settings.

Quantum chemistry, also called molecular quantum mechanics, is a branch of physical chemistry focused on the application of quantum mechanics to chemical systems, particularly towards the quantum-mechanical calculation of electronic contributions to physical and chemical properties of molecules, materials, and solutions at the atomic level. These calculations include systematically applied approximations intended to make calculations computationally feasible while still capturing as much information about important contributions to the computed wave functions as well as to observable properties such as structures, spectra, and thermodynamic properties. Quantum chemistry is also concerned with the computation of quantum effects on molecular dynamics and chemical kinetics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Philosophy of science</span> Study of assumptions/bases/implications of science

Philosophy of science is a branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth. Philosophy of science focuses on metaphysical, epistemic and semantic aspects of science. Ethical issues such as bioethics and scientific misconduct are often considered ethics or science studies rather than the philosophy of science.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emergence</span> Unpredictable phenomenon in complex systems

In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence occurs when an entity is observed to have properties its parts do not have on their own, properties or behaviors that emerge only when the parts interact in a wider whole.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Natural science</span> Branch of science about the natural world

Natural science is one of the branches of science concerned with the description, understanding and prediction of natural phenomena, based on empirical evidence from observation and experimentation. Mechanisms such as peer review and repeatability of findings are used to try to ensure the validity of scientific advances.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Reductionism</span> Philosophical view explaining systems in terms of smaller parts

Reductionism is any of several related philosophical ideas regarding the associations between phenomena which can be described in terms of other simpler or more fundamental phenomena. It is also described as an intellectual and philosophical position that interprets a complex system as the sum of its parts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Auguste Comte</span> French philosopher and sociologist (1798–1857)

Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte was a French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is often regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term. Comte's ideas were also fundamental to the development of sociology; indeed, he invented the term and treated that discipline as the crowning achievement of the sciences.

Vitalism is a belief that starts from the premise that "living organisms are fundamentally different from non-living entities because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than are inanimate things." Where vitalism explicitly invokes a vital principle, that element is often referred to as the "vital spark," "energy," or "élan vital," which some equate with the soul. In the 18th and 19th centuries vitalism was discussed among biologists, between those who felt that the known mechanics of physics would eventually explain the difference between life and non-life and vitalists who argued that the processes of life could not be reduced to a mechanistic process. Vitalist biologists such as Johannes Reinke proposed testable hypotheses meant to show inadequacies with mechanistic explanations, but their experiments failed to provide support for vitalism. Biologists now consider vitalism in this sense to have been refuted by empirical evidence, and hence regard it either as a superseded scientific theory, or, since the mid-20th century, as a pseudoscience.

In philosophy, emergentism is the belief in emergence, particularly as it involves consciousness and the philosophy of mind. A property of a system is said to be emergent if it is a new outcome of some other properties of the system and their interaction, while it is itself different from them. Within the philosophy of science, emergentism is analyzed both as it contrasts with and parallels reductionism.

The philosophy of chemistry considers the methodology and underlying assumptions of the science of chemistry. It is explored by philosophers, chemists, and philosopher-chemist teams. For much of its history, philosophy of science has been dominated by the philosophy of physics, but the philosophical questions that arise from chemistry have received increasing attention since the latter part of the 20th century.

Mathematical chemistry is the area of research engaged in novel applications of mathematics to chemistry; it concerns itself principally with the mathematical modeling of chemical phenomena. Mathematical chemistry has also sometimes been called computer chemistry, but should not be confused with computational chemistry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Positivism</span> Empiricist philosophical theory

Positivism is an empiricist philosophical theory that holds that all genuine knowledge is either true by definition or positive—meaning a posteriori facts derived by reason and logic from sensory experience. Other ways of knowing, such as theology, metaphysics, intuition, or introspection, are rejected or considered meaningless.

The history of the social sciences has origin in the common stock of Western philosophy and shares various precursors, but began most intentionally in the early 19th century with the positivist philosophy of science. Since the mid-20th century, the term "social science" has come to refer more generally, not just to sociology, but to all those disciplines which analyze society and culture; from anthropology to psychology to media studies.

19th-century science was greatly influenced by Romanticism, an intellectual movement that originated in Western Europe as a counter-movement to the late-18th-century Enlightenment. Romanticism incorporated many fields of study, including politics, the arts, and the humanities.

In philosophy of science, intertheoretic reduction occurs when a reducing theory makes predictions that perfectly or almost perfectly match the predictions of a reduced theory, while the reducing theory explains or predicts a wider range of phenomena under more general conditions. Special relativity, for example, can be reduced to Newtonian mechanics for speeds far less than c.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Branches of science</span> Overview of the disciplines of study

The branches of science, also referred to as sciences, scientific fields or scientific disciplines, are commonly divided into three major groups:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Academic discipline</span> Academic field of study or profession

An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of knowledge that is taught and researched at the college or university level. Disciplines are defined and recognized by the academic journals in which research is published, and the learned societies and academic departments or faculties within colleges and universities to which their practitioners belong. Academic disciplines are conventionally divided into the humanities, including language, art and cultural studies, and the scientific disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, and biology; the social sciences are sometimes considered a third category.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eric Scerri</span> American philosopher

Eric R. Scerri is a chemist, writer and philosopher of science of Maltese origin. He is a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles; and the founder and editor-in-chief of Foundations of Chemistry, an international peer reviewed journal covering the history and philosophy of chemistry, and chemical education.


  1. John M. Malin “International Year of Chemistry - 2011 Chemistry – our life, our future” "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-23. Retrieved 2011-01-31.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. Theodore L. Brown and H. Eugene LeMay Chemistry: The Central Science. Prentice Hall, 1977. ISBN   0-13-128769-9.
  3. Lobb, S. (1871). A Brief View Of Positivism, Compiled from the Works of Auguste Comte. Thacker, Spink and Co., Calcutta. p. iii and 22.
  4. ”Is chemistry ‘The Central Science’? How are different sciences related? Co-citations, reductionism, emergence, and posets” Alexandru T. Balaban, Douglas J. Klein Scientometrics2006, 69, 615-637. doi : 10.1007/s11192-006-0173-2
  5. Eric Scerri “Philosophy of Chemistry” Chemistry International, Vol. 25 No. 3 .
  6. Eric R. Scerri The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance. Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN   0-19-530573-6.
  7. Dennis R Livesay “At the crossroads of biomacromolecular research: highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of the field” Chemistry Central Journal 2007, 1:4 doi : 10.1186/1752-153X-1-4.