The Skeptics SA guide to

Scientific method

The scientific method is the process and philosophy that guides scientific research and experimentation: it is the way people who ‘do science’ test ideas. The scientific method concerns itself with how things work, in a scrupulously rigorous ma nner. This rigour is based on logical thinking, observation, theory, experimentation, documentation, repeatability and review. It is a method which has been developed over hundreds of years of scientific progress.

It was the Greeks who introduced rigorous reasoning, as well as speculations about the nature of the universe. The Renaissance is considered to be the start of the era of modern science, but the rudiments of the scientific approach to knowledge can be observed through human history.

You only have to watch a small child trying to make sense of the world to appreciate the strength of our desire to understand. The scientific method is the process we use to understand the world. Observation is the start of the scientific method. A keen mind may wonder about anything from the fall of an apple to the puzzle of the yearly salmon migration.

Creating a theory is the process of reasoning from specific observations to a more general hypothesis. Experimentation is the creation of fixed conditions in an attempt to prove, or more commonly disprove, a theory. Rigorous documentation of the experiments and results is essential.

At this point, the scientist will normally have to consider modifying or discarding the theory.

Repeatability is the degree to which observations and experimentations can be reproduced. This aspect should be considered the cornerstone of the scientific method, because if a theory is true, it should be true every time you test it.

Peer review is where the theory will be tested by the scientific community. Any and all theories will be subject to critical, exhaustive examination and duplication of experiments.

All aspects of the scientific method require objectivity which is the attempt to observe things as they are without falsifying observations to accord with some pre-conceived world view.

Science has tremendous scope and its many separate disciplines can differ greatly in terms of subject ma tter and the possible ways of studying that subject matter.

No single path to discovery exists in science, and no one clear-cut description can be given that accounts for all the ways in which scientific truth is pursued. Agreement of the theory with actual observation does not by itself prove the correctness and truth of the hypothesis from which the conclusion is derived.

It improves the plausibility of the theory a little. The ultimate test of the validity of a scientific hypothesis is its consistency with the sum of all other aspects of the total scientific framework. Some scientists may be swayed by some prevailing world view to look for certain experimental results, or to follow a pet theory that they then seek to prove, or even to falsify evidence. The scientific community as a whole, however, judges the work of its members by the objectivity and rigour with which that work has been conducted. In this way the scientific method prevails.

As you can tell, the scientific method of accumulating knowledge is methodical, thorough, and ruthless at exposing fraud. Many frauds have been knowingly or accidentally perpetrated on the scientific community, but this tends to be self-correcting over time, as the theory is tested and retested and tested again.

Beware of the zealot who says, ‘They conspired against Galileo’, or ‘No-one will listen to me, it’s a conspiracy.’ In the experience of the Skeptics, there is no general anti-science conspiracy and this is a ploy by a frustrated few to gain publicity.

Science Pseudo-science
non-dogmatic dogmatic
ability and willingness to change fixed ideas
absorbs all new discoveries selected favourable discoveries
ruthless peer review no review
impersonal cultic, depends on personalities
limited claims of usefulness claims of widespread usefulness
international/worldwide narrow, constrained, and bigoted
invites criticism criticism viewed as conspiracy
beneficial to humanity mainly egotistical benefits
falsifiable arranged to be non-falsifiable
Occam’s razor cherished ideas
confers authority appeals to authority
usually accurate measurements measurements at the limit of detection
verifiable by others non-repeatable (trust me)
ability to predict inability to predict
little income often very lucrative

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