The Scientific Method

by Todd Elder

The scientific method is a process by which models are made and carefully tested. The model generally first takes the form of a hypothesis or suggestion of how the phenomena under study occurs. After repeated testing which shows support for the hypothesis, it then becomes a theory with widespread acceptance as being accurate in many situations but still capable of being refined or changed with further testing. If a theory is found to be true and accurate in all situations in which it is involved, then it becomes a law. Very few hypotheses or theories make it to the status of a law.

Scientific Method - 6 Step Version

Observation

The start of any scientific inquiry, is asking a question about something one has seen or experienced. The desire to understand the world and universe around us seems incredibly strong.

Research

The research stage of the scientific method is extremely important. It is at this time that specific questions about the phenomena are formulated. It is also a time of defining the limits, objects, or concepts involved in the phenomena and how they should be measured or represented. Any initial measurements and observations are gathered. This is the information that they hypothesis will be based on. Therefore, more information and resources available at this stage should result in a better design for the hypothesis and any following experiments.

Hypothesis

The hypothesis is a tentative or suggested explanation of a phenomena. It is a general statement with a reasoned proposal showing a possible pattern of occurrence of or within the phenomena being studied. It can be made by stating characteristics, using causal explanations, expressed symbolically through mathematics. It can express a detail of the phenomena at a certain point in time or in a particular instance, or be a universal statement for the phenomena at every time and instance.

Prediction

A useful hypothesis will enable the scientist to predict the outcome of how a phenomena will react under certain circumstances. While the hypothesis tends to be general, the prediction is intended to be specific and, therefore, able to demonstrate the hypothesis is correct.

Experiment

The experimental stage of the scientific method is the time of testing the hypothesis. Experiments can range from being done in the laboratory, to an archaelogical excavation, or needing to wait on a celestial event like a lunar eclipse. The test should be carefully designed to avoid error. Many methods of avoiding error have been established such as the use of control groups or making a double blind study. The tests can also be done under varying conditions to isolate internal and external factors that might influence the results. Detailed record keeping is essential so that the results can be reported with evidence of the integrity of the procedure. Record keeping also helps others when trying to reproduce the same results. During this stage, all new data and information should be recorded for study and use.

Review

At this time, the data and information from the experiment is analyzed and interpreted. From this information conclusions and decisions are made as to whether the test results support the hypothesis or show something different.

Improvement and Acceptance

Improvement

Usually, the process of hypothesis, experiment, and review are repeated over and over as new information is gathered and the model is refined to be more exact and accurate.

Acceptance

For a hypothesis or theory to be accepted by the general scientific community, it must go through a process of confirmation. This often involves other scientists trying to reproduce the same results. It can also be in the form of a peer review which looks for systematic errors or deliverately false results. This process helps to protect against bad science and fraudulent data.

6 Step Summary

Observation
- it starts with seeing a phenomena or occurrence (and asking questions)
Research
- gathering information and resources to define, characterize, and measure the phenomena
Hypothesis
- possible explanation of the phenomena
Prediction
- suggests the probable outcome of an experiment in the laboratory or similar observation of the phenomena
Experiment
- the actual testing of the hypothesis and gathering new data from the results
Review
- analyizing and intepreting the data to see whether or not it supports the hypothesis