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Scientific Method

By cecille2294 Jun 27, 2013 5060 Words
Scientific Method • scientific method is a process for creating models of the natural world that can be verified experimentally. The scientific method requires making observations, recording data, and analyzing data in a form that can be duplicated by other scientists. In addition, the scientific method uses inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning to try to produce useful and reliable models of nature and natural phenomena. Inductive reasoning is the examination of specific instances to develop a general hypothesis or theory, whereas deductive reasoning is the use of a theory to explain specific results. In 1637 René Descartes published his Discours de la Méthode in which he described systematic rules for determining what is true, thereby establishing the principles of the scientific method.

The scientific method has four steps

1. Observation and description of a phenomenon. The observations are made visually or with the aid of scientific equipment. 2. Formulation of a hypothesis to explain the phenomenon in the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation. 3. Test the hypothesis by analyzing the results of observations or by predicting and observing the existence of new phenomena that follow from the hypothesis. If experiments do not confirm the hypothesis, the hypothesis must be rejected or modified (Go back to Step 2). 4. Establish a theory based on repeated verification of the results.

The subject of a scientific experiment has to be observable and reproducible. Observations may be made with the unaided eye, a microscope, a telescope, a voltmeter, or any other apparatus suitable for detecting the desired phenomenon. The invention of the telescope in 1608 made it possible for Galileo to discover the moons of Jupiter two years later. Other scientists confirmed Galileo's observations and the course of astronomy was changed. However, some observations that were not able to withstand tests of objectivity were the canals of Mars reported by astronomer Percival Lowell. Lowell claimed to be able to see a network of canals in Mars that he attributed to intelligent life in that planet. Bigger telescopes and satellite missions to Mars failed to confirm the existence of canals. This was a case where the observations could not be independently verified or reproduced, and the hypothesis about intelligent life was unjustified by the observations. To Lowell's credit, he predicted the existence of the planet Pluto in 1905 based on perturbations in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. This was a good example of deductive logic. The application of the theory of gravitation to the known planets predicted that they should be in a different position from where they were. If the law of gravitation was not wrong, then something else had to account for the variation. Pluto was discovered 25 years later.

Limitations of the Scientific Method

Science has some well-known limitations. Science works by studying problems in isolation. This is very effective at getting good, approximate solutions. Problems outside these artificial boundaries are generally not addressed. The consistent, formal systems of symbols and mathematics used in science cannot prove all statements, and furthermore, they cannot prove all TRUE statements. Kurt Gödel showed this in 1931. The limitations of formal logical systems make it necessary for scientists to discard their old systems of thought and introduce new ones occasionally. Newton's gravitational model works fairly well for everyday physical descriptions, but it is not able to account for many important observations. For this reason, it has been replaced by Einstein's general theory of relativity for most celestial phenomena. Instead of talking about gravity, we now are supposed to talk about the curvature of the four-dimensional time-space continuum. Scientific observations are also subject to physical limits that may prevent us from finding the ultimate truth. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that it is impossible to determine simultaneously the position and momentum of an elementary particle. So, if we know the location of a particle we cannot determine its velocity, and if we know its velocity we cannot determine its location. Jacob Bronowski wrote that nature is not a gigantic formalizable system because to formalize it we would have to make some assumptions that cut some of its parts from consideration, and having done that, we cannot have a system that embraces the whole of nature. The application of the scientific method is limited to independently observable, measurable events that can be reproduced. The scientific method is also applicable to random events that have statistical distributions. In atomic chemistry, for example, it is impossible to predict when one specific atom will decay and emit radiation, but it is possible to devise theories and formulas to predict when half of the atoms of a large sample will decay. Irreproducible results cannot be studied by the scientific method. There was one day when many car owners reported that the alarm systems of their cars were set off at about the same time without any apparent cause. Automotive engineers were not able to discover the reason because the problem could not be reproduced. They hypothesized that it could have been radio interference from a passing airplane, but they could not prove it one way or another. Mental conceptual experiences cannot be studied by the scientific method either. At this time there is no instrumentation that enables someone to monitor what anybody else conceives in their mind, although it is possible to determine which part of the brain is active during any given task. It is not possible to define experiments to determine objectively which works of art are "great", or whether Picasso was better than Matisse. So-called miracles are also beyond the scientific method. A person has tumors and faces certain death, and then, the tumors start shrinking and the person becomes healthy. What brought about the remission? A change in diet? A change in mental attitude? It is impossible to go back in time to monitor all variables that could have caused the cure, and it would be unethical to plant new tumors into the person to try to reproduce the results for a more careful study.

Critical Thinking

The scientific method relies on critical thinking, which is the process of questioning common beliefs and explanations to distinguish those beliefs that are reasonable and logical from those which lack adequate evidence or rational foundation. Arguments consists of one or more premises and one conclusion. A premise is a statement that is offered in support of a claim being made. Premises and claims can be either true or false. In deductive arguments the premises provide complete support for the conclusion. If the premises provide the required degree of support for the conclusion then the argument is valid, and if all its premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. In inductive arguments the premises provide some degree of support for the conclusion. When the premises of inductive arguments are true, their conclusion is likely to be true. Arguments that have one or more false premises are unsound.


Arguments are subject to a variety of fallacies. A fallacy is an error in reasoning in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support. A deductive fallacy is a deductive argument where the premises are all true but reach a false conclusion. An inductive fallacy consist of arguments where the premises do not provide enough support for the conclusion. In such cases, even if the premises are true, the conclusion is not likely to be true. Common fallacies are categorized by their type, such as Ad Hominem (personal attack), and appeals to authority, belief, fear, ridicule, tradition, etc. An example of an Ad Hominem fallacy would be to say "You do not understand this because you are American (or Chinese, etc.)". The national origin of a person (the premise) has nothing to do with the conclusion that a person can understand something or not, therefore the argument is flawed. Appeals to ridicule are of the form: "You would be stupid to believe that the earth goes around the sun". Sometimes, a naive or false justification may be added in appeals to ridicule, such as "we can plainly see the sun go around the earth every day". Appeals to authority are of the form "The president of the United States said this, therefore it must be true". The fact that a famous person, great person, or authority figure said something is not a valid basis for something being true. Truth is independent of who said it.

Types of Evidence

Evidence is something that provides proof concerning a matter in question.

Direct or Experimental evidence. The scientific methods relies on direct evidence, i.e., evidence that can be directly observed and tested. Scientific experiments are designed to be repeated by other scientists and to demonstrate unequivocably the point that they are trying to prove by controlling all the factors that could influence the results. A scientist conducts an experiment by varying a single factor and observing the results. When appropriate, "double blind" experiments are conducted to avoid the possibility of bias. If it is necessary to determine the effectiveness of a drug, an independent scientist will prepare the drug and an inert substance (a placebo), identifying them as A and B. A second scientist selects two groups of patients with similar characteristics (age, sex, etc.), and not knowing which is the real drug, administers substance A to one group of patients and substance B to the second group of patients. By not knowing whether A or B is the real drug, the second scientist focuses on the results of the experiment and can make objective evaluations. At the end of the experiment, the second scientist should be able to tell whether the group receiving substance A showed improvements over those receiving substance B. If no effect can be shown, the drug being tested is ineffective. Neither the second scientist nor the patients can cheat by favoring one substance over another, because they do not know which is the real drug. Anecdotal, Correlational, or Circumstantial Evidence. "Where there is smoke, there is fire" is a popular saying. When two things occur together frequently, it is possible to assume that there is a direct or causative relationship between them, but it is also possible that there are other factors. For example, if you get sick every time that you eat fish and drink milk, you could assume that you are allergic to fish. However, you may be allergic to milk, or only to the combination of fish with milk. Correlational evidence is good for developing hypotheses that can then be tested with the proper experiments, e.g., drink milk only, eat fish only, eat fish and milk together. There is nothing wrong with using representative cases to illustrate an inductive conclusion drawn from a fair sample. The problem arises when a single case or a few selected cases are used to draw a conclusion which would not be supported by a properly conducted study. Argumentative Evidence consists of evaluating facts that are known and formulating a hypothesis about what the facts imply. Argumentative evidence is notoriously unreliable because anybody can postulate a hypothesis about anything. This was illustrated above with the example about the "channels" of Mars implying intelligent life. The statement "I heard a noise in the attic, it must be a ghost" also falls in this category. Testimonial Evidence. A famous football player appears on television and says that Drug-XYZ provides relief from pain and works better than anything else. You know that the football player gets paid for making the commercial. How much can you trust this evidence? Not very much. Testimonials are often biased in favor of a particular point of view. In court proceedings, something actually experienced by a witness (eyewitness information) has greater weight than what someone told a witness (hearsay information). Nevertheless, experiments have repeatedly demonstrated that eyewitness accounts are highly unreliable when compared with films of the events. The statement "I saw a ghost last night." is an example of testimonial evidence that probably cannot be verified and should not be trusted. On the other hand, the statement "I saw a car crash yesterday." can be objectively verified to determine whether it is true or false by checking for debris from the accident, hospital records, and other physical evidence.

Make full use of your senses.

Making use of your senses is the subjective part of the Methodology. This is the stage where your special sensory skills can be put to use. If you have extraordinary hearing, use it. If you have a photographic memory make sure that it gets used for most of your problem solving. Nobody else has your specific impressions of your environment. Your point of view and your observations are unique. Part of using your senses may involve using instrumentation or interaction with others. Lucky charms, divining rods, and other magical devices that do not have reproducible and verifiable functionality do not count as "instrumentation". If you don't have perfect eyesight and you need to see something clearly, use your glasses. Make observations from several points of view to get good depth perception and to confirm impressions. Take photographs if you need to remember something in great detail. Use a tape recorder or a notepad to record your observations for later review. Make sure that your senses are at their best by avoiding intoxicants that affect your perceptions. "Interaction with others" may involve using another being (not necessarily human) to make the observations for you. For example, a blind person may use a seeing-eye dog to get around, a truck driver may use directions from someone else when backing up into a tight spot, a hunter may use a dog's sense of smell for tracking game, or a miner may use a canary to warn him of pockets of unbreathable odorless gases. Whenever you trust someone else's perception more than your own you may find that the conclusions that you reach are unsatisfactory. How many hunters have been led astray by dogs that followed a rabbit's trail rather than the fox's? And how many truck drivers have crashed while backing up because they misinterpreted their helper's signals? Reliance on your own senses is the only way to avoid such problems, but you don't always have this choice. The application of logic may be necessary to determine which perceptions you can trust. Let us say that you are not under the influence of any drugs and you see an apparition of a dead person, what should you do? How do you distinguish hallucinations from real perceptions? How do you know if your senses fool you or if your observations are real? One time-honored test is to pinch yourself to make sure that you are not dreaming. If you should tell someone else about your experience and they don't observe the same things, does this mean that you are crazy or that something is wrong with you? Or does this prove that you have more refined perception that enables you to see things that others do not see? What would it be like to live in a world where only you have color vision and everyone else is colorblind? The difference between real perceptions and hallucinations is that you can repeat and reproduce results from real perceptions but not from hallucinations. In a world where you are the only person with color vision, you would eventually be able to prove to everyone else by objective means that colors, or at least different frequencies of light, do exist.

Apply your mind.

The application of your mind is the creative aspect of problem solving. In this step you want to grasp the whole problem and look at it from different perspectives without selecting a solution. This is an unstructured process of contemplating and writing down all ideas regardless of how sensible they are. You can stretch your imagination to the limit and use brainstorming techniques. Assimilate facts, enumerate impressions, explore your feelings. If some solution gives you a bad feeling, write down what that feeling is for further evaluation later. Use your dreams to get insights into the problem. You may even be able to experience "lucid dreaming" where you are in control of your dreams and can take them in any direction you wish. Make sure to write down any ideas that come in your sleep. Bertrand Russel, the mathematician and philosopher, reported that he was able to solve during his sleep mathematical problems that had been troubling him the evening before. Try meditation. Focus on the problem that you want to solve. Record any solutions that may occur to you while you are in a relaxed state. Try looking at the problem from someone else's perspective. How would they feel and why? How would you react in their place? How would they approach the problem? Putting yourself in someone else's shoes is not easy to do. You need to take their motivations, needs, and personalities into consideration, but if you manage to do it, you can sometimes get insightful solutions.

Evaluate solutions.

Evaluation of solutions is the analytical aspect of the reasoning process. This is the stage where the relative merits of every solution are calculated. You will need to use your past experience and logic. Some solutions may have some serious drawbacks or may not be ethical or legal. Other solutions may not take into account all the factors and may be incomplete. Incomplete solutions may be evaluated to see if they can be extended to fit the problem. Illegal solutions need to be examined to see if there are legal loopholes or whether the laws can be amended to make the solutions legal. Many successful solutions are sometimes found outside the framework of conventional thinking. The application of the mind without restrictions and the subsequent evaluation and adaptation of the solutions is a powerful method of problem solving. If you can determine some statistical basis for choosing a solution, use it. Many times, the problems that we are trying to solve have been solved by others before us. How is one solution better than another? If we know the results based on our experience, the solution with the better chance of success should be given greater consideration. However, sometimes statistics and our intuition are in conflict. We know that a particular solution worked well in a specific case, but our current problem has some new twists that may make that solution risky. The risk factors should be noted, and a guess should be made about the relative merit of the solution. The evaluation phase is where psychical laws come into play for problems dealing with interpersonal relationships. Suppose that you are trying to get a raise or promotion in your office. You could work hard on your current project and thus have some solid results on which to base your request. You could also try to befriend the boss without working harder on your project. Or, you could just ask the boss for a raise without doing anything else. The approach that you take will depend on how much time you want to invest to get your goal. The personality of your boss and the rules for raises, promotions, seniority, and fairness also play a major role. Many times the best way to get information is to ask the boss directly "What would it take for me to get a raise?" Make sure that you know all the facts before embarking on an approach, and evaluate your approach at regular intervals to make sure that you are still on target.

Draw conclusions.

The final stage of the Methodology is choosing a solution. This is the deductive portion of the reasoning process. We have listed possible solutions, we have evaluated them and ranked them, and now we make the final choice. For some problems we have the opportunity to go back and try other solutions. For other problems our choice of solutions is irrevocable. Once we have made a choice, the circumstances change and we can never go back to the initial state. If we made a wrong choice, we will regret it, and we will have a new and different problem to solve. Time also becomes a factor in selecting a solution. Our lifetimes are finite. If we want to accomplish something, the solution should not require more time than our expected life span. Lack of action, sometimes unwittingly, becomes another choice. You cannot think too long about which pedal to push to keep your car from falling in a ditch or to avoid a collision. Good luck is said to consist of preparation and opportunity. If we know which options we have, we are more likely to know what to do when the opportunity comes.
he scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.[1] To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.[2] The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as: "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses."[3]

The chief characteristic which distinguishes the scientific method from other methods of acquiring knowledge is that scientists seek to let reality speak for itself,[discuss] supporting a theory when a theory's predictions are confirmed and challenging a theory when its predictions prove false. Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methods of obtaining knowledge. Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses via predictions which can be derived from them. These steps must be repeatable, to guard against mistake or confusion in any particular experimenter. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many independently derived hypotheses together in a coherent, supportive structure. Theories, in turn, may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.

Hypothesis: An hypothesis is a conjecture, based on the knowledge obtained while formulating the question, that may explain the observed behavior of a part of our universe. The hypothesis might be very specific, e.g., Einstein's equivalence principle or Francis Crick's "DNA makes RNA makes protein",[18] or it might be broad, e.g., unknown species of life dwell in the unexplored depths of the oceans. A statistical hypothesis is a conjecture about some population. For example, the population might be people with a particular disease. The conjecture might be that a new drug will cure the disease in some of those people. Terms commonly associated with statistical hypotheses are null hypothesis and alternative hypothesis. A null hypothesis is the conjecture that the statistical hypothesis is false, e.g., that the new drug does nothing and that any cures are due to chance effects. Researchers normally want to show that the null hypothesis is false. The alternative hypothesis is the desired outcome, e.g., that the drug does better than chance. A final point: a scientific hypothesis must befalsifiable, meaning that one can identify a possible outcome of an experiment that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, it cannot be meaningfully tested. Prediction: This step involves determining the logical consequences of the hypothesis. One or more predictions are then selected for further testing. The less likely that the prediction would be correct simply by coincidence, the stronger evidence it would be if the prediction were fulfilled; evidence is also stronger if the answer to the prediction is not already known, due to the effects of hindsight bias (see also postdiction). Ideally, the prediction must also distinguish the hypothesis from likely alternatives; if two hypotheses make the same prediction, observing the prediction to be correct is not evidence for either one over the other. (These statements about the relative strength of evidence can be mathematically derived using Bayes' Theorem.) Testing: This is an investigation of whether the real world behaves as predicted by the hypothesis. Scientists (and other people) test hypotheses by conductingexperiments. The purpose of an experiment is to determine whether observations of the real world agree with or conflict with the predictions derived from an hypothesis. If they agree, confidence in the hypothesis increases; otherwise, it decreases. Agreement does not assure that the hypothesis is true; future experiments may reveal problems. Karl Popper advised scientists to try to falsify hypotheses, i.e., to search for and test those experiments that seem most doubtful. Large numbers of successful confirmations are not convincing if they arise from experiments that avoid risk.[19] Experiments should be designed to minimize possible errors, especially through the use of appropriate scientific controls. For example, tests of medical treatments are commonly run as double-blind tests. Test personnel, who might unwittingly reveal to test subjects which samples are the desired test drugs and which are placebos, are kept ignorant of which are which. Such hints can bias the responses of the test subjects. Failure of an experiment does not necessarily mean the hypothesis is false. Experiments always depend on several hypotheses, e.g., that the test equipment is working properly, and a failure may be a failure of one of the auxiliary hypotheses. (See the Duhem-Quine thesis.) Experiments can be conducted in a college lab, on a kitchen table, at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, at the bottom of an ocean, on Mars (using one of the working rovers), and so on. Astronomers do experiments, searching for planets around distant stars. Finally, most individual experiments address highly specific topics for reasons of practicality. As a result, evidence about broader topics is usually accumulated gradually. Analysis: This involves determining what the results of the experiment show and deciding on the next actions to take. The predictions of the hypothesis are compared to those of the null hypothesis, to determine which is better able to explain the data. In cases where an experiment is repeated many times, astatistical analysis such as a chi-squared test may be required. If the evidence has falsified the hypothesis, a new hypothesis is required; if the experiment supports the hypothesis but the evidence is not strong enough for high confidence, other predictions from the hypothesis must be tested. Once a hypothesis is strongly supported by evidence, a new question can be asked to provide further insight on the same topic. Evidence from other scientists and experience are frequently incorporated at any stage in the process. Many iterations may be required to gather sufficient evidence to answer a question with confidence, or to build up many answers to highly specific questions in order to answer a single broader question. • The scientific method is a method for conducting an objective investigation. The scientific method involves making observations and conducting an experiment to test a hypothesis. The number of steps of the scientific method isn't standard. Some texts and instructors break up the scientific method into more or fewer steps. Some people start listing steps with the hypothesis, but since a hypothesis is based on observations (even if they aren't formal), the hypothesis usually is considered to be the second step. Here are the usual steps of the scientific method.

• The scientific method is the process by which scientists, collectively and over time, endeavor to construct an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world.

The scientific method has four steps

1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena. 2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation. 3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations. 4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments. If the experiments bear out the hypothesis it may come to be regarded as a theory or law of nature (more on the concepts of hypothesis, model, theory and law below). If the experiments do not bear out the hypothesis, it must be rejected or modified. What is key in the description of the scientific method just given is the predictive power (the ability to get more out of the theory than you put in; see Barrow, 1991) of the hypothesis or theory, as tested by experiment. It is often said in science that theories can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory.

II. Testing hypotheses

As just stated, experimental tests may lead either to the confirmation of the hypothesis, or to the ruling out of the hypothesis. The scientific method requires that an hypothesis be ruled out or modified if its predictions are clearly and repeatedly incompatible with experimental tests. Further, no matter how elegant a theory is, its predictions must agree with experimental results if we are to believe that it is a valid description of nature. In physics, as in every experimental science, "experiment is supreme" and experimental verification of hypothetical predictions is absolutely necessary. Experiments may test the theory directly (for example, the observation of a new particle) or may test for consequences derived from the theory using mathematics and logic (the rate of a radioactive decay process requiring the existence of the new particle). Note that the necessity of experiment also implies that a theory must be testable. Theories which cannot be tested, because, for instance, they have no observable ramifications (such as, a particle whose characteristics make it unobservable), do not qualify as scientific theories. If the predictions of a long-standing theory are found to be in disagreement with new experimental results, the theory may be discarded as a description of reality, but it may continue to be applicable within a limited range of measurable parameters. For example, the laws of classical mechanics (Newton's Laws) are valid only when the velocities of interest are much smaller than the speed of light (that is, in algebraic form, when v/c

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