Is there a method?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Juanchogespacho, Jan 11, 2014.

  1. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    I don't remember anyone saying that any one in science MUST automatically follow to the letter the scientific method.
    The scientific method is a foundation of ground rules not only applicable to science but to everyday life.
    If your car won't start, there is then a logical process to examine the cause/s
    The scientific method is no more than a process of logical deductions and inquiry of a particular situation and/or discovery.
    It desirably weeds out those that for whatever reasons, see the need to introduce pseudo quackery and other rubbish to muddy the waters of science and every day life.
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  3. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    An explanation on what the scientific method is and does. From Frank Wolfs, University of Rochester.

    Introduction to 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.
    Recognizing that personal and cultural beliefs influence both our perceptions and our interpretations of natural phenomena, we aim through the use of standard procedures and criteria to minimize those influences when developing a theory. As a famous scientist once said, "Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view." In summary, the scientific method attempts to minimize the influence of bias or prejudice in the experimenter when testing an hypothesis or a theory.
    I. 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 << 1). Since this is the domain of a large portion of human experience, the laws of classical mechanics are widely, usefully and correctly applied in a large range of technological and scientific problems. Yet in nature we observe a domain in which v/c is not small. The motions of objects in this domain, as well as motion in the "classical" domain, are accurately described through the equations of Einstein's theory of relativity. We believe, due to experimental tests, that relativistic theory provides a more general, and therefore more accurate, description of the principles governing our universe, than the earlier "classical" theory. Further, we find that the relativistic equations reduce to the classical equations in the limit v/c << 1. Similarly, classical physics is valid only at distances much larger than atomic scales (x >> 10-8 m). A description which is valid at all length scales is given by the equations of quantum mechanics.

    We are all familiar with theories which had to be discarded in the face of experimental evidence. In the field of astronomy, the earth-centered description of the planetary orbits was overthrown by the Copernican system, in which the sun was placed at the center of a series of concentric, circular planetary orbits. Later, this theory was modified, as measurements of the planets motions were found to be compatible with elliptical, not circular, orbits, and still later planetary motion was found to be derivable from Newton's laws.

    Error in experiments have several sources. First, there is error intrinsic to instruments of measurement. Because this type of error has equal probability of producing a measurement higher or lower numerically than the "true" value, it is called random error. Second, there is non-random or systematic error, due to factors which bias the result in one direction. No measurement, and therefore no experiment, can be perfectly precise. At the same time, in science we have standard ways of estimating and in some cases reducing errors. Thus it is important to determine the accuracy of a particular measurement and, when stating quantitative results, to quote the measurement error. A measurement without a quoted error is meaningless. The comparison between experiment and theory is made within the context of experimental errors. Scientists ask, how many standard deviations are the results from the theoretical prediction? Have all sources of systematic and random errors been properly estimated? This is discussed in more detail in the appendix on Error Analysis and in Statistics Lab 1.

    III. Common Mistakes in Applying the Scientific Method

    As stated earlier, the scientific method attempts to minimize the influence of the scientist's bias on the outcome of an experiment. That is, when testing an hypothesis or a theory, the scientist may have a preference for one outcome or another, and it is important that this preference not bias the results or their interpretation. The most fundamental error is to mistake the hypothesis for an explanation of a phenomenon, without performing experimental tests. Sometimes "common sense" and "logic" tempt us into believing that no test is needed. There are numerous examples of this, dating from the Greek philosophers to the present day.

    Another common mistake is to ignore or rule out data which do not support the hypothesis. Ideally, the experimenter is open to the possibility that the hypothesis is correct or incorrect. Sometimes, however, a scientist may have a strong belief that the hypothesis is true (or false), or feels internal or external pressure to get a specific result. In that case, there may be a psychological tendency to find "something wrong", such as systematic effects, with data which do not support the scientist's expectations, while data which do agree with those expectations may not be checked as carefully. The lesson is that all data must be handled in the same way.

    Another common mistake arises from the failure to estimate quantitatively systematic errors (and all errors). There are many examples of discoveries which were missed by experimenters whose data contained a new phenomenon, but who explained it away as a systematic background. Conversely, there are many examples of alleged "new discoveries" which later proved to be due to systematic errors not accounted for by the "discoverers."

    In a field where there is active experimentation and open communication among members of the scientific community, the biases of individuals or groups may cancel out, because experimental tests are repeated by different scientists who may have different biases. In addition, different types of experimental setups have different sources of systematic errors. Over a period spanning a variety of experimental tests (usually at least several years), a consensus develops in the community as to which experimental results have stood the test of time.

    IV. Hypotheses, Models, Theories and Laws

    In physics and other science disciplines, the words "hypothesis," "model," "theory" and "law" have different connotations in relation to the stage of acceptance or knowledge about a group of phenomena.

    An hypothesis is a limited statement regarding cause and effect in specific situations; it also refers to our state of knowledge before experimental work has been performed and perhaps even before new phenomena have been predicted. To take an example from daily life, suppose you discover that your car will not start. You may say, "My car does not start because the battery is low." This is your first hypothesis. You may then check whether the lights were left on, or if the engine makes a particular sound when you turn the ignition key. You might actually check the voltage across the terminals of the battery. If you discover that the battery is not low, you might attempt another hypothesis ("The starter is broken"; "This is really not my car.")

    The word model is reserved for situations when it is known that the hypothesis has at least limited validity. A often-cited example of this is the Bohr model of the atom, in which, in an analogy to the solar system, the electrons are described has moving in circular orbits around the nucleus. This is not an accurate depiction of what an atom "looks like," but the model succeeds in mathematically representing the energies (but not the correct angular momenta) of the quantum states of the electron in the simplest case, the hydrogen atom. Another example is Hook's Law (which should be called Hook's principle, or Hook's model), which states that the force exerted by a mass attached to a spring is proportional to the amount the spring is stretched. We know that this principle is only valid for small amounts of stretching. The "law" fails when the spring is stretched beyond its elastic limit (it can break). This principle, however, leads to the prediction of simple harmonic motion, and, as a model of the behavior of a spring, has been versatile in an extremely broad range of applications.

    A scientific theory or law represents an hypothesis, or a group of related hypotheses, which has been confirmed through repeated experimental tests. Theories in physics are often formulated in terms of a few concepts and equations, which are identified with "laws of nature," suggesting their universal applicability. Accepted scientific theories and laws become part of our understanding of the universe and the basis for exploring less well-understood areas of knowledge. Theories are not easily discarded; new discoveries are first assumed to fit into the existing theoretical framework. It is only when, after repeated experimental tests, the new phenomenon cannot be accommodated that scientists seriously question the theory and attempt to modify it. The validity that we attach to scientific theories as representing realities of the physical world is to be contrasted with the facile invalidation implied by the expression, "It's only a theory." For example, it is unlikely that a person will step off a tall building on the assumption that they will not fall, because "Gravity is only a theory."

    Changes in scientific thought and theories occur, of course, sometimes revolutionizing our view of the world (Kuhn, 1962). Again, the key force for change is the scientific method, and its emphasis on experiment.

    V. Are there circumstances in which the Scientific Method is not applicable?

    While the scientific method is necessary in developing scientific knowledge, it is also useful in everyday problem-solving. What do you do when your telephone doesn't work? Is the problem in the hand set, the cabling inside your house, the hookup outside, or in the workings of the phone company? The process you might go through to solve this problem could involve scientific thinking, and the results might contradict your initial expectations.

    Like any good scientist, you may question the range of situations (outside of science) in which the scientific method may be applied. From what has been stated above, we determine that the scientific method works best in situations where one can isolate the phenomenon of interest, by eliminating or accounting for extraneous factors, and where one can repeatedly test the system under study after making limited, controlled changes in it.

    There are, of course, circumstances when one cannot isolate the phenomena or when one cannot repeat the measurement over and over again. In such cases the results may depend in part on the history of a situation. This often occurs in social interactions between people. For example, when a lawyer makes arguments in front of a jury in court, she or he cannot try other approaches by repeating the trial over and over again in front of the same jury. In a new trial, the jury composition will be different. Even the same jury hearing a new set of arguments cannot be expected to forget what they heard before.

    VI. Conclusion

    The scientific method is intricately associated with science, the process of human inquiry that pervades the modern era on many levels. While the method appears simple and logical in description, there is perhaps no more complex question than that of knowing how we come to know things. In this introduction, we have emphasized that the scientific method distinguishes science from other forms of explanation because of its requirement of systematic experimentation. We have also tried to point out some of the criteria and practices developed by scientists to reduce the influence of individual or social bias on scientific findings. Further investigations of the scientific method and other aspects of scientific practice may be found in the references listed below.

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  5. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    My thanks to all that took the time, or take the time to read the linked pages in my Original Post.
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  7. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    I would also say that the Scientific method could be said to be the basis of the logical refinement of everyday thinking, planning and working in general.
  8. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    Again, my thanks to all that took the time, or take the time to read the linked pages in my Original Post.

    As far as the quoted below:
    In what way is the ^^above quoted^^ relevant to the OP?
  9. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    By simply saying that the scientific methodolgy is in fact an everyday logical process and refinment of thinking.
    We can link to as many philosophical rantings and opinions we want to, [just as you and I have] but it is and all ways will be the basis of scientific endeavour and revelational discoveries. The foundation if you will upon which the reality [or close to it] of the Universe is realised, while at the same time weeding out all the pseudo-quackery, conspiracy nutters and other "what about me " ratbags that will always see the need to oppose the mainstream, just for the sake of opposition.
  10. Russ_Watters Not a Trump supporter... Valued Senior Member

    For schoolchildren, perhaps the disclaimer "everything I teach you this year will be a simplification" should be given at the beginning of the fist day of class. By the time kids get to high school, they should realize it anyway. I think though that most of us here are adults and we shouldn't need to have this conversation.

    Note however that this issue is generally brought up by people trying to attack the scientific method and behave unscientifically. That's why it generates backlash.
  11. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    I can do nothing other than concur completely with you, R_W!

    R_W, I can assure you that I am not behaving unscientifically, nor am I in any way attacking any scientific methods.
  12. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    You are free to make whatever claims about yourself that you want to.

    However, I have not "linked to any philosophical rantings".

    Would you please refrain from speaking for me? Thank you!
  13. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    I absolutely concur with you Russ....well put!

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  14. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    Of course you have! Many many times.
  15. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

  16. Huynh Phu Dat Registered Member

  17. Russ_Watters Not a Trump supporter... Valued Senior Member

    I wasn't saying you were, but the last time I recall this coming up in this forum, the person who brought it up did. Can't actually remember who that was.
  18. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I don't believe that there is one single scientific method that all scientists always use. I'm more inclined to think that scientists possess a whole tool-kit of methods that they select as the situation demands. What matters in science isn't so much whether or not some prescribed methodological algorithm has been scrupulously followed. What matters is whether whatever methods a scientist chooses to use are rationally defensible and likely to produce useful and plausible results.

    Here's an interesting thread from about nine months ago that inquired into what science is, in which I and some others expanded on these and other points in more detail:
  19. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    What you say makes sense. But it doesn't remove the logical foundation about how science progresses. And that basis is the scientific method, which is also applied to every day life.
  20. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    What you believe and your inclination is more of the consensus among many mainstream scientists.

    I perused the Thread and only got as far as your Post #14 :
    Art is a perfectly apt word for what scientist do. I grok the ^^above quoted^^!

    I will finish reading the Thread you Linked, thank you.
  21. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    It may have been when your Posted #6 in Juanchogespacho's Thread, Titled : Hypotheses ,Theories And Laws: There Is NO Hierarchy, at link :

    Your comment 10 days ago was :
    Might that have been the last time you recall this coming up in this forum?
  22. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    The scientific method will always apply, no matter how individuals want to twist, scheme and rant.

    The scientific method is simply and logically the process by which scientists, and society alike, construct an accurate reliable, and consistent representation of the world, while solving problems and constructing theories.
    It is not just the foundation upon which science operates, it is the basic, simple logical approach we all use when confronted with a problem.
  23. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    No one has claimed that any scientific methods will not always apply. No individuals have been "want to twist, scheme and rant".

    Well...possibly, maybe, one individual has been "want to twist, scheme and rant"...

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