Episode 20 – The Scientific Method

Find Episode 20 on PodBean, iTunes, or Stitcher!

Today we delve into the details of the Scientific Method that so many of us used from classrooms to scientific laboratories. We examine what the process entails, why we value it, and the greater implications and applications of these steps.

In the news
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Artificially Aged Proteins
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Comb Jellies as Sisters to the Rest of Animalia
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Fanged Kangaroos!
A group of kangaroos sporting sharp curved teeth were recently discovered to have survived through the climatic event that was originally believed to have killed them off. [Report]

The Method

The Scientific Method is a set of steps intended to guide the process of scientific research and discovery towards the most correct conclusions possible by attempting to eliminate distractions and personal bias. It achieves this by creating an uniform procedure for asking and answering questions. These specific steps will sometimes vary in their detail, some being simpler while others cover a larger point of view of the scientific process.

These are the typical steps of the Scientific Method; 1) Make and observation, 2) Ask a question about it, 3) Research the subject, 4) Form a hypothesis, 5) Test your hypothesis, 6) Analyze the data, 7) Draw a conclusion that either confirms or rejects you hypothesis. Image by Chiswick Chap from Wikimedia Commons.

If you’d like a more in-depth look at this process and a detailed description of what science really is, check out the rest of Berkeley’s Understanding Science online guide.

Why We Use It

One of the main goals for following this process is to avoid human error as much as possible. One of the greatest human habits to overcome is called confirmation bias, or the habit to only give value to the information that supports what you already believed. This may just sound like a bad habit some people have, but research has shown that our brains are designed to look for information in this way. So by using a semi-strict system to test ideas that can then be used by other to re-test that idea, we are less likely to fall victim to confirmation bias.

This is a highly discussed phenomenon:
New York Times – Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds
Psychology Today – Study Shows a Bias for Evidence of What We Want to Be True
Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises

It also helps with science communication. Most scientific papers are written in a format that mirrors the steps of the method; including a description of the observations and question, the research, a statement of the hypothesis, run-through of the test, listing of results, and finally the conclusion. This ideally makes research easy to discuss between scientists, and easier for other researchers to replicate.

Issues with the Method?

Though these steps have proved extremely useful in streamlining scientific progress, some people have pointed out potential problems with the Scientific Method. They worry that it may limit the perspective of those entering scientific fields to think that there is only a single correct way to go through the method of doing science.

This brings up a valid point that these steps are not a recipe for science, but a guide to the process of logical deduction. It is meant to aid us in honest discovery. This process is the natural way by which our brains uncover answers about the world, even infants can be seen using it (sometimes with hilarious results).

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