I’m not going to delve in great detail into the scientific method but I have a few important things to mention about it. First of all as a development engineer I don’t really apply the scientific method (at least not in any formal methodical fashion) so it’s been since college that I’ve really delved into the details. However I’ve done a little brushing up the past few days with the help of my wife (she teaches science) and wikipedia as well.
A few comments about what the method is not. It is not perfect by any means. The most obvious reason that it is not perfect is because it is implemented by humans. Not only do people inject their own biases into their analyses, but they also can make honest mistakes. But although it is not perfect in this way, these things are corrected for in the way that science is implemented across our world because scientists of any background, culture, persuasion, etc. are capable of performing the same methods to either try to validate or invalidate what others have attempted to prove. This process is repeated many many times and thus helps in honing in on the truth of whatever hypothesis is being studied. This corrective feature is not really in the method itself, but is just a function of how societies have agreed to implement the studies of science. The fact that Newton and Einstein’s theories can be and are still being questioned today to me is what has made the results of science so successful, and I see that as starkly contrasted with the vast majority of faith based beliefs. A very strong belief of mine is that if we are serious about the pursuit of truth and reality then we need to be humble enough to admit that no matter how smart or wise or spiritual those in the past have shown themselves to be they are still human and capable of having been wrong. I can’t underscore this enough, and while I remain a “possibilian” about the big questions of life, this very core belief of mine keeps me from returning to the kind of extreme “100% certain” belief that I had back in my second year of college.
Another ingredient to success in the whole scientific endeavor comes in at the last step which is where you report your results. In more rigorous application of true research (i.e. beyond high school and undergrad levels) peer review is an essential part of this step. This is another way that mistakes can be found and corrected or other studies can be spawned off to try and test the results even further.
This whole rigorous process has created the amazing advancements in so many fields that we have seen over the past 200 years. I am still fascinated by the whole process of chip design that I get to do at work and to me it is a great example of the progress that we have achieved by the use of the scientific method.
Most people are aware of the overall method, but as a refresher here’s a good chart:
You can find more details here. Note that the link is mainly meant for high-schoolers but I found it to be an excellent refresher for myself.
Some of the more important features are actually deep inside the “rules” of each step. I’ll touch on just a couple. One very important detail is that a hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable. One good example I’ve seen used of a hypothesis that is not falsifiable is that of solipsism which states that everything around us is simply a dream. There are no tests that you could come up with that would invalidate such a hypothesis. And this actually leads me to a very important point. Science may not be capable of answering some of the big questions that my blog is meant to talk about. I will talk more about this in future posts.
The second important feature I want to quickly mention is the importance of the details in the analyze and draw conclusions step. One particular thing that comes up here is statistical significance. This is a systematic way to analyze if certain occurrences in the data have been caused by chance. I will probably feel the need later on to delve deeper into this item.
I’ve missed a few other important items which may end up coming up later (e.g. control groups in the test with experiment step), but I feel like I’ve gotten the main points that I wanted down.
I’ve started making a list on the side of post ideas that I have for the future and the list is longer than I thought it would be. I think I’m going to take a slight detour in my next few blog posts.