Newton Blog

« Interspecies Airborne Transmission of Ebola | Blog Home Page | Female Genitalia Are Cool, Too! »

The Scientific Method: For Science, for Life

Science comes in all shapes and sizes. There's aeronautics, agronomy, archaeology, optics, psychology, ethology, neuroscience, ecology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, seismology, linguistics, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other equally important fields -- too many to list.

What suffuses throughout these diverse disciplines and drives their many practitioners is a fundamental curiosity about the world around us, and a burning desire to know more about it. Science is fueled by the spirit of inquiry.

Though most of us grasp what powers science, it's far more difficult to comprehend what it truly is. (See RealClearScience's article "What Separates Science from Non-Science?") The definition of science is infinitely more nuanced, which explains why there are so many different versions:


From the American Physical Society:

"Science is the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the

universe and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws

and theories."

From the UK Science Council:

"Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural

and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence."

From New Oxford American Dictionary:

"Science is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment."

From Isaac Asimov:

"Science does not purvey absolute truth, science is a mechanism. It's a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature, it's a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match."

Despite the difference in diction, one commonality that endures throughout these four definitions is a reference to an underlying system. That system is the scientific method, and it's at the very heart of the entire enterprise. LiveScience sums it up nicely:

  1. Make an observation or observations.
  2. Ask questions about the observations and gather information.

  3. Form a hypothesis -- a tentative description of what's been observed, and make predictions based on that hypothesis.

  4. Test the hypothesis and predictions in an experiment that can be reproduced.

  5. Analyze the data and draw conclusions; accept or reject the hypothesis or modify the hypothesis if necessary.

  6. Reproduce the experiment until there are no discrepancies between observations and theory.

It's this method that truly defines science. Superficial, all-encompassing definitions constantly change, but the mechanics central to science do not. To understand science, know the scientific method.

shutterstock_45001972.jpgWhy It's So Important

The beauty of the scientific method is that it can be applied to both intricate problems of particle physics and straightforward conundrums that arise in everyday life. It's a simple, step-by-step process that can guide you to an answer on how much water your plants need to flourish, what kind of exercise program will deliver the best results, or even whether or not the contentious assertion you just heard during a political debate is grounded in evidence.

If one makes use of the scientific method, one will be equipped with a tool more useful than any material object, religious doctrine, or expert at answering questions about the physical universe. Moreover, that individual will be able to gain a layperson's understanding of far-reaching science projects at the forefront of human cognizance and discovery, and, in a way, become a scientist, too.

(Image: Scientific Method via Shutterstock)