What is the Scientific Method?

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Offline Joe L. Ogan

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What is the Scientific Method?
« on: 07/01/2010 20:16:23 »
What is the Scientific Method?  Is it really effective?  Can it be used in every day life?  Thanks for comments.  Joe L. Ogan


Offline Madidus_Scientia

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What is the Scientific Method?
« Reply #1 on: 08/01/2010 08:56:31 »
The scientific method is the most important thing about science. If I could teach everyone in the world only one thing it would not be any specific part of our gathered scientific knowledge but the scientific method itself from which all else follows.

Galileo is often cited as one of the fathers of the scientific method. About 400 years ago he came up with an experiment to test his hypothesis that all objects accelerate at the same rate as they fall.

So he started with a hypothesis, that objects accelerate as they fall at the same rate regardless of their weight. Then he came up with an experiment to test this hypothesis. No matter how many times you do it or what the weight of the ball is, it indeed always accelerated over time at the same rate. And if the experiment is repeated by others, they all get the same data. All the evidence confirmed his original hypothesis. This is not intuitavely obvious, indeed many people today still tend to think that a heavy object will fall faster. But this experiment shows this to be false.

Wikipedia lists this as the steps of the scientific method:
   1. Define the question
   2. Gather information and resources (observe)
   3. Form hypothesis
   4. Perform experiment and collect data
   5. Analyze data
   6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
   7. Publish results
   8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

The iterative cycle inherent in this step-by-step methodology goes from point 3 to 6 back to 3 again.

Basically the scientific method ensures that any conclusion reached is based on evidence through experimentation or observation, and if the data from your experiment confirms your hypothesis then you can safely arrive at the conclusion that your hypothesis is true. And importantly, others can repeat your experiments to confirm that the data is correct.

Today when someone comes up with a new theory about something it will be subjected to peer review, other experts in the same field will do their best to rip your theory to shreds. But if you have followed the scientific method meticulously your theory will stand unless new evidence is presented to contradict it (and the new evidence/observation itself must be obtained by the same method)

If everyone had a proper understanding of the scientific method they would understand that theorys aren't "just a theory". For example, people say evolution is "just a theory". The theory of evolution is supported by all evidence and observation and refuted by none, and that's why it is still a theory. In the same way that nothing has contradicted the theory of gravity by falling into the sky.

Can it be used in everyday life? Well yes you are most likely using it without actually knowing it. For example, you come home one day and flick the light switch on, and the light does not come on. Immediately you might form the hypothesises that either the light bulb has blown or the power is out entirely. To test your hypothesis you go to turn on another electrical device in your house. If that device and all others work, you will change the lightbulb, and if the new lightbulb works, it confirms the hypothesis of the blown lightbulb. If nothing it your place turned on, you would come to the conclusion the power is out. Then you might come up with another hypothesis that maybe the power is out only in your place or it is out over the entire local area. So to test this hypothesis you go outside and see if your neighbours have their lights on, etc.

Of course that's a loose application of it, someone might come up with a revolutionary new theory that the reason nothing in your place works is not because the power is out, but because everything in the whole place is broken. This seems to be ridiculous and against common sense, but if they did the experiment and tested everything and showed everything to be broken, then your theory is busted. And this kind of counter-intuitiveness (is that a word?) does happen in science, whereas if we relied only on common sense instead of the scientific method we might never have discovered it.

The scientific method can take you from a wright brothers plane to walking on the moon in less than a hundred years (only 66 years, actually!). It is indeed the most powerful tool mankind has ever had.
« Last Edit: 08/01/2010 09:54:19 by Madidus_Scientia »


Offline PhysBang

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What is the Scientific Method?
« Reply #2 on: 08/01/2010 13:09:13 »
There are hundreds of thousands of scientific papers published every year. It would be hubris to claim that one method is used in each paper. The post above is a good start, though.


Offline JimBob

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What is the Scientific Method?
« Reply #3 on: 08/01/2010 16:14:35 »
Another very important Piece of the Scientific Puzzzel is The Multiple Working Hypothesis" paper written by T.C. (Thomas Chrowder) Chamberlin 

For me this is important because much of what I work with may - or may not - have various related causes, and the scientist must conclude which is the most probable of all of the different hypothesies. After the conclusion, there is a test to verify the chosen hypothesis. For me that is drilling a well for oil and/or gas.

The Full text of the 1890 paper outlining the method is found at http://www.escet.urjc.es/~ilopez/multipleworkinghyp.pdf
The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.  -- A. Einstein