What is the Scientific Method?
The scientific method is the best way yet discovered for winnowing the truth from lies and delusion. The simple version looks something like this:
- 1. Observe some aspect of the universe.
- 2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.
- 3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.
- 4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.
- 5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.
When consistency is obtained the hypothesis becomes a theory and provides a coherent set of propositions which explain a class of phenomena. A theory is then a framework within which observations are explained and predictions are made.
The great advantage of the scientific method is that it is unprejudiced: one does not have to believe a given researcher, one can redo the experiment and determine whether his/her results are true or false. The conclusions will hold irrespective of the state of mind, or the religious persuasion, or the state of consciousness of the investigator and/or the subject of the investigation. Faith, defined as belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence, does not determine whether a scientific theory is adopted or discarded.
A theory is accepted not based on the prestige or convincing powers of the proponent, but on the results obtained through observations and/or experiments which anyone can reproduce: the results obtained using the scientific method are repeatable. In fact, most experiments and observations are repeated many times (certain experiments are not repeated independently but are repeated as parts of other experiments). If the original claims are not verified the origin of such discrepancies is hunted down and exhaustively studied.
When studying the cosmos we cannot perform experiments; all information is obtained from observations and measurements. Theories are then devised by extracting some regularity in the observations and coding this into physical laws.
There is a very important characteristic of a scientific theory or hypothesis which differentiates it from, for example, an act of faith: a theory must be “falsifiable”. This means that there must be some experiment or possible discovery that could prove the theory untrue. For example, Einstein’s theory of Relativity made predictions about the results of experiments. These experiments could have produced results that contradicted Einstein, so the theory was (and still is) falsifiable.
In contrast, the theory that “the moon is populated by little green men who can read our minds and will hide whenever anyone on Earth looks for them, and will flee into deep space whenever a spacecraft comes near” is not falsifiable: these green men are designed so that no one can ever see them. On the other hand, the theory that there are no little green men on the moon is scientific: you can disprove it by catching one. Similar arguments apply to abominable snow-persons, UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster(s?).
A frequent criticism made of the scientific method is that it cannot accommodate anything that has not been proved. The argument then points out that many things thought to be impossible in the past are now everyday realities. This criticism is based on a misinterpretation of the scientific method. When a hypothesis passes the test it is adopted as a theory it correctly explains a range of phenomena it can, at any time, be falsified by new experimental evidence. When exploring a new set or phenomena scientists do use existing theories but, since this is a new area of investigation, it is always kept in mind that the old theories might fail to explain the new experiments and observations. In this case new hypotheses are devised and tested until a new theory emerges.
There are many types of “pseudo-scientific” theories which wrap themselves in a mantle of apparent experimental evidence but that, when examined closely, are nothing but statements of faith. The argument, cited by some creationists, that science is just another kind of faith is a philosophic stance which ignores the trans-cultural nature of science. Science’s theory of gravity explains why both creationists and scientists don’t float off the earth. All you have to do is jump to verify this theory – no leap of faith required. – University of California – Riverside – Department of Physics & Astronomy
Al Hasan – Founder of the Scientific Method
Since Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen, 965–1039), one of the key figures in the development of scientific method, the emphasis has been on seeking truth:
Truth is sought for its own sake. And those who are engaged upon the quest for anything for its own sake are not interested in other things. Finding the truth is difficult, and the road to it is rough.
“Light travels through transparent bodies in straight lines only” — Alhazen in Book of Optics (1021).
How does light travel through transparent bodies? Light travels through transparent bodies in straight lines only…. We have explained this exhaustively in our Book of Optics. But let us now mention something to prove this convincingly: the fact that light travels in straight lines is clearly observed in the lights which enter into dark rooms through holes…. The entering light will be clearly observable in the dust which fills the air.
The conjecture that “light travels through transparent bodies in straight lines only” was corroborated by Alhazen only after years of effort. His demonstration of the conjecture was to place a straight stick or a taut thread next to the light beam, to prove that light travels in a straight line. – Wikipedia
- The scientific method is a way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments.
- The steps of the scientific method are to:
- Ask a Question
- Do Background Research
- Construct a Hypothesis
- Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
- Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
- Communicate Your Results
- It is important for your experiment to be a fair test. A “fair test” occurs when you change only one factor (variable) and keep all other conditions the same.
Overview of the Scientific Method
The scientific method is a process for experimentation that is used to explore observations and answer questions. Scientists use the scientific method to search for cause and effect relationships in nature. In other words, they design an experiment so that changes to one item cause something else to vary in a predictable way.
Just as it does for a professional scientist, the scientific method will help you to focus your science fair project question, construct a hypothesis, design, execute, and evaluate your experiment.
|Steps of the Scientific Method||Detailed Help for Each Step|
|Ask a Question: The scientific method starts when you ask a question about something that you observe: How, What, When, Who, Which, Why, or Where?
And, in order for the scientific method to answer the question it must be about something that you can measure, preferably with a number.
|Do Background Research: Rather than starting from scratch in putting together a plan for answering your question, you want to be a savvy scientist using library and Internet research to help you find the best way to do things and insure that you don’t repeat mistakes from the past.||Background Research Plan
|Construct a Hypothesis: A hypothesis is an educated guess about how things work:
“If _____[I do this] _____, then _____[this]_____ will happen.”You must state your hypothesis in a way that you can easily measure, and of course, your hypothesis should be constructed in a way to help you answer your original question.
Variables for Beginners
|Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment: Your experiment tests whether your hypothesis is true or false. It is important for your experiment to be a fair test. You conduct a fair test by making sure that you change only one factor at a time while keeping all other conditions the same.You should also repeat your experiments several times to make sure that the first results weren’t just an accident.||Experimental Procedure
Conducting an Experiment
|Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion: Once your experiment is complete, you collect your measurements and analyze them to see if your hypothesis is true or false.Scientists often find that their hypothesis was false, and in such cases they will construct a new hypothesis starting the entire process of the scientific method over again. Even if they find that their hypothesis was true, they may want to test it again in a new way.||Data Analysis & Graphs
|Communicate Your Results: To complete your science fair project you will communicate your results to others in a final report and/or a display board. Professional scientists do almost exactly the same thing by publishing their final report in a scientific journal or by presenting their results on a poster at a scientific meeting.||Final Report
Science Fair Judging
Even though we show the scientific method as a series of steps, keep in mind that new information or thinking might cause a scientist to back up and repeat steps at any point during the process. A process like the scientific method that involves such backing up and repeating is called an iterative process.
Throughout the process of doing your science fair project, you should keep a journal containing all of your important ideas and information. This journal is called a laboratory notebook. – Science Buddies