The scientific method involves having an idea, testing the idea, and modifying the idea to fit the evidence.

It assumes that human reason is all that humans require to understand the universe and is often used in science, but not in all sciences. It's relatively easy to use in chemistry and physics, but harder to use in biology.

Comically, social scientists attempt to use the scientific method and would like to think that they succeed. Nevertheless, I know many a physicist or chemist that believes that sociologists, psychologists, economists, etc... are not scientists and aren't even trying to use the scientific method.

Personally, I suspect that the scientific method is more useful for certain areas of study than others.

The Scientific Method is accredited to Francis Bacon who saw that mankind had a fallibility which needed experimentation to correct. Today, Science is a mixture of reason and experimentation.

The Scientific Method is described in these steps:

  1. Make an Observation
  2. Formulate a hypothesis
  3. Reproduce with experiments
  4. Establish a theory.
  5. Reproduce the observation in all conditions, to make a fact.

How far we have come from Francis Bacon?

I believe what Bacon wrote about was the Kingdom or Realm of God, and the Kingdom or Realm of Man, and what is approprate to each. I don't believe he would have approved, or even understood, the ultimate extension of the scientic method today, by the great anti-theoretician theoretician B.F. Skinner to the denial of mind, consciousness, belief and God.

But two comments on WhiskeyJack's interesting writeup:

  • "The observer notices an interesting behavior in the world around him, and tries to develop a model to explain it." Only what appeals to an observer's interest makes it into the arena of science. Not very scientific. But the origin of all knowledge is simply the human mind, or spirit. It has always seemed curious to me that the final goal of the enterprise has been to deny the very existence of that which initiated it. (?!)
  • "This last part is called "peer review" and is one of the most important provisions of the method. Without it, there would be no way to reliably weed out bad results over time." The case of Pons and Fleischmann is interesting. Their work was dismissed out of hand, even without the results being known, by those who ought, if they were true scientists, to have waited until many trials were taken, and "peer-reviewed". And if science is that project of the truly interim, until a better idea, a better hypothesis and better test comes along, nothing is final. But science is like anything else; it has its ideology, and its actuality. Those who are ambitious; those who cheat; and those who work the system better than others.

How has science come to be placed on a pedestal, when, though often accurate, it is often myopic?

Some personal thoughts on the scientific method:

There is no neutral observation. Bacon's formulation of science is naive, but at the time it was appropriate. At that time knowledge was also based on hearsay, people were getting burned at stakes on the strength of what someone else said about them, how popular they were whether they slept with too many people and other such reasons.

When we make an observation we bring with it information which informs the observation. Sometimes the new information obtained is not sufficient to choose between many different priors and so so two camps claim the same observation as proof for two opposing theories.

Social situation can inform the prior. A very good example of this in in the phlogistan - oxygen debate between Lavoisier and Priestley in the 18th century.

Theories have to be falsafiable, this means that they should not admit ad hoc explanation. That would seem to be a good thing. To show something is falsafiable is a bit more tricky. Popper suggests that only by disproving something can you obtain information. Theory- all crows are black (no information as it is only a theory). I see a white crow now I know that All crows are not black !. I have falsified a theory and obtained information. Unfortunately someone comes along and looks and my white crow, places it under some running water for a while and low and behold the paint washes off !! (i have leaned not to trust scientists talking about crows ;).

Science is theory laden, if you don't like to results from an experiment that used a complicated piece of equipment then you can argue with the science of the equipment. (e.g. Pons and Fleischmann, exempt they were really wrong).

So where does that leave us?, well the answer is that we seek consistency given as small a set of assumptions as possible (cos it's more fun that way) What are the assumptions:

  • The Universe exists (at least a representation of information exists)
  • The objects in the universe (people, mice, rice pudding as examples) have existence
  • The objects within the universe communicate coherently and can come to agreement about states in the universe
there I think that's all you need. (if you don't like these postulates, these articles of faith then i have others, no just kidding then you would not be doing science ;< )
This gets around solipsism and paranoia. These postulates are just postulates of consistency. Another way of looking at them is they justify induction. Although not clear yet why this is so in a universe which behaves consistently accepting the plausible explanation is a plausible thing to do (uggg, circular argument, but I hope you see what I mean). Induction requires some reason to believe in the inductive hypothesis (can't be proved). This reason is the plausibility of the hypothesis. Why does the universe work in a nice plausible consistent way? I don't know but by being able to check with others I can convince myself that it does. (Einstein said that it was not amazing that we knew so much, but that we knew anything at all)

OK, so what is it that science tells us? (what is it to be plausible?). We have this amazing ability to communicate to each other about the world around us, we can compare notes, bang rocks together, we can think! It's nice to be able to explain things. To give plausible explanations. Sure a flat earth explains what I see when I look around but then gravity has to be independent from mass in some strange way, and yet act on mass at the same time (cos otherwise gravity would be stronge at the edges of the flat earth than at the centre and I've never heard of anything like that)
, but the earth as a really big ball and gravity as a central force explains the things I see around me, and the motions of all of the planets, cool. It explains the weight of the apple in my hand and the phases of the moon (By the way Newton was a genius).

So we have this complicated web of every experience that surrounds us. Science does two things. It tries to explain the experiences and connect together all of the experiences. Like trying to weave a large rug, everything is connected to everything else. Sometimes we realise that we have been waving the wrong way, standing back a bit the pattern doesn't match up. Thats waht peer review is for, just to check that the pattern adds up.
So far most of the carpet has been woven with physics, astronomy, chemistry biology, but we still don't know what the fibers of it are, there are so manyholes so many open questions. How we think, what colour is, what is love? why do dogs like people?

Now you might say, yeah sure but what if you make two carpets that both explain and connect together everything ? and ok that might be possible, but as scientists we tend to think that the lightest carpet (the one with the least amount of ad hoc dirt on it) will be unique. I can't say that it is or that it will be, I can't say that the carpet will ever get finished, I only know that I am having a hell of a time trying to make it all fit together. Richard P. Feynman describes the scientific method as trying to work out the rules of chess by simply observing a game. It's a nice analogy.(%-=

As one whose life is devoted to a pure science, I'm afraid I must comment, especially to themusic. The problem with analyzing Scientific Method is that most everyone assumes that when a scientist says something, they take it as being both concrete and gospel truth. This is the first fallacy. The whole point behind the concept of the scientific method is to make all our theories and models blend together. They are nothing more than an explanation, which is a means to an end. Scientific thought was founded by those who understood that science only gave us a model, and from that, numbers that we could use for whatever our end was. Pure scientists today (not to be confused with those who think that the science actually holds truth within it) realize that they will not be able to properly describe everything, and have since fallen back in towards the realms of philosophy, where they no longer search out every single nook and cranny of a system to find the parameters and coefficients that make it fit just right. Instead, they realize that taking singular quantum effects into account for Lagrangian mechanics (involving systems of gravitational scale) is foolish, and vice versa. It's in this realization of what your science actually means within our modelling of the universe and it's behavior that the truest understanding is made, and to that understanding, the scientific method is incorporating the experiments, based on the rest of the model, to show that it fits, within that model.

Scientific Method, Galileo and Falling Under Gravity From the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Euclid's Elements.

Galileo and his 16 th. Century contemporaries used a theory of scientific method, differing from the one in use today. (Ignoring the disgraceful suggestion that, in practice, contemporary method is: "It's science if it suits powerful interest groups" - in which case the two methods may differ little.) Their method followed from Euclid's Elements - perhaps the most quintessentially methodical and successful exemplar available to them.

The Nature of Proof.

Euclid's Elements is a geometrical text where proofs are produced by the tautological transformation of axioms and specified common notions - given propositions.

To prove that the angle sum of a triangle is 180o, for example, it would not suffice to draw a number of triangles, measure their angles and note that in each case these summed to 180o. This is the experimental, scientific method of the present day. This would only provide an indication that one might be thinking along the right lines. A general proof would necessitate deriving the proposition "angle sum = 180o" by specified logic from specified axioms.

Throwing Things Off Pisa Tower Proves Nothing.

Throwing objects of differing weights off the Leaning Tower of Pisa and observing them hitting the ground at the same moment would not therefore prove that all objects fall at the same rate in a gravitational field, when air resistance is factored out. For this reason - Sporus seems to remember reading in "Scientific Method, An Historical and Philosophical Introduction" - Galileo claimed never to have performed this experiment; though it is thought he may have indeed done so, almost surreptitiously.

Galileo's proof of things falling at equal rates.

Assume lighter objects fall more slowly. Then show that this assumption leads to a contradiction. This proves the assumption must be wrong. (This method of proof was introduced in Euclid's Elements.)

Perform the following thought experiment: Throw a heavier and a lighter object off the tower. The heavier falls faster - by the assumption. Now tie the two objects together at the two ends of a length of rope and throw them off once more. The lighter one lags behind, the rope pulls taught and the laggard, lighter weight slows the fall of the heavier. The time taken for the heavy weight to reach the ground is therefore longer than before - when it was not tied to the other weight.

But imagine shortening the length of rope between the two; clearly this would make no difference. Shorten the rope until the two masses are bound together as one. This single weight is heavier than the heavy weight on its own. Yet we have proved it takes longer to fall.

The assumption that heavy weights fall faster proves that heavier weights fall slower. This is a contradiction. Therefore the assumption is false (by a proof method from the Elements). Hence bodies fall at equal rates irrespectively of their weights, proved.

The scary thing is it seems a very convincing proof.

(See book: "Scientific Method, An Historical and Philosophical Introduction".)

According to Richard P. Feynman, there are really only two steps in the scientific method:

  1. Make a guess; and

  2. See if you're wrong.
While this might seem like just another one of Feynman's clever quips (like those Lith has so kindly provided here), it's actually more useful than the usual ungainly five- or six- or fifteen-step beast we all learn in science class.  Part of the reason is better is its mere simplicity, since the simplest tool that can do a given job is the best possible tool for that job.  You don't lug a Cray T3E-1200E around to use as a pocket calculator, right?

More to the point, though: these two steps are really all you need.  "Make a guess" requires you to gather information through observation and make a hypothesis based on that information.  It's really "See if you're wrong" that's core of science, though.  This step requires experimentation and makes it clear that being right doesn't tell you nearly as much as being wrong.  After all, you can be right a million times but if you're wrong the million and first, your theory falls down goes boom.  So long as that doesn't happen, you get to be happy.

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