Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Scientific Method

On the Galt’s Gulch Online discussion board, I went around with one of my Objectivist comrades on whether or not publication is required. I understand the “Crusoe Concept” – you do not need other people to engage in reasoned discovery.  That is why I assert that “publication” begins with your own notebook. More to the point, it should not end there. Sir Robert Boyle argued for publicity as the avenue of replication over 350 years ago in The Sceptical Chymist.

May-Britt Moser
Nobel Prize in
Physiology /Medicine
However you formulate it, the goal is to discover truth. It requires curiosity, insight, and bravery – the willingness to be wrong.  Richard P. Feynman was adamant about not fooling yourself. His commencement address, Cargo Cult Science, is a classic admonition against creating pseudo-science.

These statements of the scientific method show a range of expression, from astute to concrete-bound.  Some are from universities, one is  from a business, and the rest are from interested amateurs. It is most succinctly stated in three steps by the biology department of the University of Cincinnati.  The last presentation from an environmental action group is a bit on the "Zen" side, but can be useful as a guide. 

"Science Buddies" 
§  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

University of Rochester (New York)
Marie Curie
Nobel Prizes in
Physics (1903)
Chemistry (1911)
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.

University of California Riverside
 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.

Clermont College, University of Cincinnati
  • Observe 
  • Question 
  • Test

  • Hypothesis
  • Experimentation
  • Refine the Idea
  • Experimentation
  • Final Statement

From Norman Wilson Edmund, the founder of Edmund Scientific, arguably the premier mail order retailer of scientific supplies to the general public.
Steps or Stages of the Scientific Method
1. Curious Observation
2. Is There a Problem?
3. Goals & Planning
4. Search, Explore, & Gather the Evidence
5. Generate Creative & Logical Alternative Solutions
Carol W. Greider (L) and Elizabeth H. Blackburn (R)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014
6. Evaluate the Evidence
7. Make the Educated Guess (Hypothesis)
8. Challenge the Hypothesis
9. Reach a Conclusion
10. Suspend Judgment
11.Take Action
Supporting Ingredients
 12. Creative, Non-Logical, Logical & Technical Methods
 13. Procedural Principals & Theories
 14. Attributes & Thinking Skills
Edmund Scientific Corporation was a company based in Barrington, New Jersey, USA that specialized in supplying surplus optics and other items via its mail order catalog and Factory Store. During four decades from the 1940's to the 1970's Edmund Scientific was virtually unique in its offerings to scientific hobbyists.
-- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Scientific_Corporation
Southeastern Louisiana University 
1. identification of problem
2. hypothesis
3. deductive reasoning- decide on procedure: what would be observed if hypothesis was true? how can it be tested?
4. data collection and analysis
5. derive conclusion: never prove a hypothesis-- confirm or fail to confirm
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
Nobel Prize in Chemistry

From the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair
  • Be curious, choose a limited subject, ask a question; identify or originate/define a problem. It is important that this question be a 'testable' question - one in which data is taken and used to find the answer. A testable question can further be identified as one in which one or more variables can be identified and tested to see the impact of that variable on the original set of conditions. The question should not merely be an 'information' question where the answer is obtainable through literature research.
  • Review published materials related to your problem or question. This is called background research.
  • Evaluate possible solutions and guess why you think it will happen (hypothesis).
  • Experimental design (procedure). In designing the experiment, it is critical that only one variable - a condition that may effect the results of the experiment - is changed at a time. This makes the experiment a 'controlled' experiment.
  • Challenge and test your hypothesis through your procedure of experimentation (data collection) and analysis of your data. Use graphs to help see patterns in the data.
  • Draw conclusions based on empirical evidence from the experiment.
  • Prepare your report and exhibit.
  • Review and discuss the findings with peer group/ professional scientists
  • New question(s)may arise from your discussions.

National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis 
  • Make a guess.  Hypothesis.
  • Take a look.  Observations.
  • Write it down. Data.
  • Make it a picture.  Graphs.
  • Decide what it means. Conclusions.


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