The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method

The scientific method is the best way yet discovered for separating the truth from lies and delusion. Centuries of use of the scientific method have shown its stages to be very reliable way to solve problems. It is a strategy that guides you in not only scientific problems but any complex, ill-structured, real-world problem.

Many people have written on the subject and the scientific literature contains hundreds of formulas for the scientific method. Most are similar only differing slightly in length and terminology. The following outline is a well thought out description of the scientific method presented on the website called http://www.scientificmethod.com/.  This was developed by Norman W. Edmund of Edmund Scientific Catalog fame. It is based on the paper “Suggestions for Teaching the Scientific Method” published in a 1961 issue of American Biology Teacher, by Dr. Kenneth B.M. Crooks.

1. Curiosity

Discovery of new problems, ideas, theories, decisions needed, and problem prevention usually begin with curious observation using the five senses: smelling, tasting, hearing, feeling, seeing. Instruments and tools can be used to help extend these senses. Use your sense perceptions and projections visually and mentally. Turn thoughts over and over in your mind. Use reasoning, your imagination, and introspection.

2. Is There a Problem?

 An idea, problem, decision or tentative theory should be presented in the form of a question. Questions encourage you to keep an open mind, and thus seek the “truth” and not to prove a statement. A question is a tool and a guide for productive thinking about problem solving and investigation of a new subject. While working on scientific method problems, develop a passion to solve! Define the problem carefully so you know what direction to take and what scientific method activities to engage in.

3. Goals and Planning

Goals are the end results you want to achieve in solving the problem. Goals must be realistic, flexible, and subject to change. Consider methods, processes, technologies, systems, strategies, and formulas needed. Plan how to reach your goals. Planning speeds solutions and avoids wasted time and effort.

 4. Search, Explore and Gather the Evidence

 This step or stage is the heart of problem solving and contributes to the importance of the scientific method. You start to search everywhere, explore all angles, leads, clues, and sources of information. Pick out the basic principles of the material you read, see, or hear. Gather all the evidence that will help you solve the problem, always trying to use innovation and creativity, thus building your list of possible tentative solutions.

5. Generate Creative and Logical Alternative Solutions

 Search out other people’s ideas. Use these as they are or adapt them for your particular problem using your imagination and your creative abilities. Load your mind with data pertinent to your current problem. Take time to reflect on the problem as you acquire more information. Then, EUREKA!  Suddenly ILLUMINATION and INSIGHT blossom! Something has triggered your mind and you have an idea, lead, discovery or a tentative solution.

6. Evaluate the Evidence

 By now you should have a list of tentative solutions that are candidates for your educated guess or hypothesis. This is also the step or stage for experimenting and testing. The final choice will be your working hypothesis which is the goal of Stage #7. If data on any of these scientific method hypotheses is insufficient, gather additional information. Check against criteria and formulas you have established. Chart your analysis and weigh the evidence.

7. Make the Educated Guess (Hypothesis)

 Your educated guess, technically The Hypothesis, is a proposed solution to the most recent definition of your problem. It is your choice of the most-likely-to-be-successful solution from the list of contending ones which you have evaluated. It is only a “candidate for truth,” as it must always be challenged under Stage #8.

8. Challenge the hypothesis

 In testing your predictions, if you find something wrong, backtrack to Step or Stage #7, modify your hypothesis, change your predictions and test again. If it fails completely, backtrack to STEP OR STAGE #4 or #5. We learn from failures. With regard to controls and variables, vary one thing at a time – make notes on each.

Falsification: Sir Karl Popper advocates trying to prove a hypothesis to be false rather than trying to prove it right. This may save time and avoid bias.

Verification: Many disagree with his falsification theory and believe various methods should be used to verify the hypothesis.

Who Is Right?: This is an extremely controversial and difficult question to answer. Try both approaches mentioned above. Gather evidence both for and against your hypothesis.

9. Reach a Conclusion

 Your conclusion should be broad enough to fit all acceptable data; limited enough to meet special exceptions and consistent when tested by you (and others) again and again. There are many things to consider before finalizing your conclusion. Have you gathered all the evidence? Were the experiments properly performed and are they repeatable? Is the overall accuracy good? Are you sure no bias has crept in? Has anything been overlooked?

10. Suspend Judgement

Stick to your conclusion until it is proved wrong. On the other hand, keep an open mind and be ready to accept new evidence or speculations if sufficiently convincing. Be willing to change your views if they are conclusively shown to be wrong. Keep in mind that determining the truth is not simple, that knowledge is forever growing, and that opinions thought correct today in the light of present knowledge may be thought incorrect tomorrow because of new discoveries or the projection of new ideas.

11. Take Action

This is the part where you expose your findings to others so that they can be reviewed, tested and confirmed. You must work very hard to gain acceptance for your findings. Once your conclusions have been rigorously tested by independent researches and accepted as true, they become theory.

Science is an iterative process.

The Scientific Method is an Iterative Process

Keep in mind that although this method is presented in a stepwise fashion, it is really an iterative process.  If a step fails to produce the anticipated results, it is necessary to go back to a previous step and make some changes. Simply put, science circles back on itself so that mistakes are eliminated and useful ideas are built upon and used to learn even more about the problem being investigated. This often means that successive investigations of a topic lead back to the same question, but at deeper and deeper levels.

Hypothesis, Theory and Scientific Law

In my research of the scientific method, there were some sources where the word theory was used in place of hypothesis. This does a great injustice to the general public’s understanding of the scientific method. In many public discussions and debates various scientific theories have been criticized as if they were untested hypotheses. It is very important for everyone to understand what a hypothesis, theory, and scientific law are.

 Hypothesis

This is an educated guess based upon observation. It is a rational explanation of a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but which has not been proved. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation or continued observation.

 Theory

A theory is what one or more hypotheses become once they have been verified and accepted to be true. A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers.

Scientific Law

This is a statement of fact meant to describe, in concise terms, an action or set of actions. It is generally accepted to be true and universal, and can sometimes be expressed in terms of a single mathematical equation.

In general, both a scientific theory and a scientific law are accepted to be true by the scientific community as a whole. Both are used to make predictions of events. Both are used to advance technology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I’m a high school chemistry teacher and I really like the page you’ve put together for the scientific method. I’d like to use it on my own class website. Would that be alright? Please let me know when you get a chance…thanks!

    • I am so happy that you liked the post. I have a degree in Chemistry as well. The excellent education that I received while studying Chemistry will always have a major influence on my thinking and how I perceive the world. You are certainly welcome to reference and use the information I posted regarding the Scientific Method. My only request is that you give credit to the excellent resources I cited.

      Please let me know how your class is doing from time to time. I wish you the best of luck and skill as this year’s classes start up.

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