I am not sure I ever properly thought about the definition of science. I guess, as a scientist, I ‘know’, deep inside, what science is. Or at least I think I do. But the more I focused on specific aspects of my research, the more specialised I became, the less I wondered about the broad meaning of science. Sounds familiar? So, what is science? If I randomly pick a dictionary and look for the word ‘science’, here is what I get: ‘The systematic study of the nature and behavior of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.’ It seems like a very complete definition, however, what is fundamentally missing in this statement is the original meaning of the word ‘science’ itself. Science means knowledge. And this is what scientists are after: knowledge. Not just a systematic study. So it seems that defining science might not be such an easy task after all.

This has led Britain's Science Council, established by Royal Charter in 2003 and a membership organisation for learned and professional bodies across science and its applications, the opportunity to ponder on the definition of science. This quest for a new definition led the Science Council to give what they claim to be the ‘first official definition’ of science ever published. And here is what they came up with: ‘Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.’ Short, simple and general. It covers the natural and the social world, and includes the notions of systematic and evidence based thought. The only missing part is the formulation of laws to generalise the facts. But could a definition ever be complete?

Whatever the definition, science is at the forefront of political speech. World leaders understand that critical national goals can only be met if we renew our commitment to science, technology and innovation.

“We will restore science to its rightful place” announced Barack Obama in his inaugural address on January 20, 2009. “We will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.” The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, echoed Barack Obama's speech on February 27, and promised to invest record amounts of money into basic and applied science to supply the jobs of tomorrow. Whether it is to foster the economic growth, improve the quality of life, strengthen the national security or combat global warming, “Science alone gives us hope” said Brown.

Let us now hope that those sound promises will become a reality and foster the breakthroughs of tomorrow. All this they can do. All this will they do?

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(09)70097-5