Perhaps you have never taken biology or chemistry, and the "scientific method" sounds like something that only scientists would use. You will be pleased to learn, however, that although you may not know the scientific method by its proper name, you already apply this technique of "organized common sense" in many ordinary situations. Although this selection comes from an older edition of a biology text, the scientific method itself has not changed, and this is a clear explanation of it. It is a crucial procedure in science because it provides a systematic way to seek knowledge.
1 A biologist is rarely happy just to describe a curious event, such as the disappearance of a tadpole's tail as the young frog becomes an adult. Scientists instead want to learn what causes the event. To investigate the natural world in the most organized way, scientists use the scientific method. They:
1. Ask a question or identify a problem to be solved based on observations of the natural world.
2. Propose a hypothesis, a possible answer to the question or a potential solution to the problem.
3. Make a prediction of what they will observe in a specific situation if the hypothesis is correct.
4. Testthe prediction by performing an experiment.
2 If the hypothesis predicts the results correctly, the scientist makes other predictions based on the same hypothesis and tests them. Scientific research requires logic, analytical skills, and perseverance. Only after researchers create and test several likely hypotheses and find one that consistently predicts what they see in nature will they tentatively accept a hypothesis as correct.
3 While the steps of the scientific method may sound very regimented, they are really little more than an organized commonsense approach--one you use regularly in your own life. Let's say that one evening, you observe that your desk lamp stops working:
- You would pose a question (step I): "What made my desk lamp go out?"
- And you would probably create a hypothesis (step 2): "Maybe the light bulb burned out."
- Next you would make a prediction (step 3): "If the bulb burned out, then when I replace it with a working bulb, the lamp should light."
- Finally, you would perform an experiment (step 4): You would remove a bulb from a floor lamp that works, screw it into your desk lamp, and watch the result. When you performed the test, you would include what scientists call a control, a check that all factors of the experiment are the same except for the one in question. Here, the control is the borrowed bulb that works in the floor lamp.
If the borrowed bulb fails to work in the desk lamp, you could conclude, based on your control, that a burned-out bulb is not the problem. You would next discard the faulty-bulb hypothesis and ask new questions: "Is the lamp itself broken? Is something wrong with the wiring to the wall socket?" You could then make new hypotheses, new predictions, and perform new tests until you discovered why your lamp went out.
4 While an orderly approach to exploring nature, the scientific method is by no means rigid, rote, or unimaginative in practice. Once a scientist has observed a curious phenomenon, it takes creativity to dream up a clear, testable hypothesis. It also lakes logic, talent, experience, imagination, and intuition to follow through with cleverly designed experiments and alternative hypotheses. Finally, it takes an ability to communicate clearly through writing and speaking to share results with others.
5 No tool is more powerful for understanding the natural world than the scientific method, although it does not apply, however, to matters of religion, politics, culture, ethics, or art. These valuable ways of approaching the world and its problems proceed along different lines of inquiry and experience. Nevertheless, many of the world's current problems have underlying biological bases, and thus they mainly demand biological solutions.
Source: John Postlethwait, Janet Hopson, and Ruth Veres. Biology! Bringing Science to Life. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 1993, pp. 16-17.