What is the scientific method?



  1. 0 Votes

    The scientific method is the process that scientists use to obtain an accurate (and, importantly, nonbiased) representation of the world around them.

    It has four principal steps:
    1) Observation – the scientist observes and describes a natural phenomenon
    2) Hypothesis – the scientist creates a hypothesis (an explanation for the phenomenon)
    3) Prediction – the scientist uses his or her hypothesis to predict other phenomena
    4) Experimentation – the scientist carries out tests that verify both the hypothesis and the prediction
    5) Conclusion – the scientist analyzes the results of the tests and concludes whether his or her hypothesis was true or false

  2. 0 Votes

    Scientific methodology has been practiced in some form for at least one thousand years. There are difficulties in a formulaic statement of method, however. As William Whewell (1794–1866) noted in his History of Inductive Science (1837) and in Philosophy of Inductive Science (1840), “invention, sagacity, genius” are required at every step in scientific method. It is not enough to base scientific method on experience alone; multiple steps are needed in scientific method, ranging from our experience to our imagination, back and forth.

    In the twentieth century, a hypothetico-deductive model for scientific method was formulated (for a more formal discussion, see below):

    1. Use your experience: Consider the problem and try to make sense of it. Look for previous explanations. If this is a new problem to you, then move to step 2.
    2. Form a conjecture: When nothing else is yet known, try to state an explanation, to someone else, or to your notebook.
    3. Deduce a prediction from that explanation: If you assume 2 is true, what consequences follow?
    4. Test: Look for the opposite of each consequence in order to disprove 2. It is a logical error to seek 3 directly as proof of 2. This error is called affirming the consequent.

    This model underlies the scientific revolution. One thousand years ago, Alhazen demonstrated the importance of steps 1 and 4. Galileo (1638) also showed the importance of step 4 (also called Experiment) in Two New Sciences. One possible sequence in this model would be 1, 2, 3, 4. If the outcome of 4 holds, and 3 is not yet disproven, you may continue with 3, 4, 1, and so forth; but if the outcome of 4 shows 3 to be false, you will have go back to 2 and try to invent a new 2, deduce a new 3, look for 4, and so forth.

    Note that this method can never absolutely verify (prove the truth of) 2. It can only falsify 2. (This is what Einstein meant when he said “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”) However, as pointed out by Carl Hempel (1905-1997) this simple Popperian view of scientific method is incomplete; the formulation of the conjecture might itself be the result of inductive reasoning. Thus the likelihood of the prior observation being true is statistical in nature and would strictly require a Bayesian analysis. To overcome this uncertainty, experimental scientists must formulate a crucial experiment, in order for it to corroborate a more likely hypothesis.

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