On the scientific method

Robinson, Dr. David drobinson at bellarmine.edu
Sat Mar 24 11:50:03 EST 2001


I just finished judging botany projects for the regional high school science
fair and was also appalled at the low quality, especially the lack of any
statistical analysis. Even if it is too much to expect high school science
teachers to have the software to do ANOVA analyses, surely they could at
least show students how to calculate Standard Deviations! Even Excel does
that.

Dave Robinson
Bellarmine University
Louisville, KY

> -----Original Message-----
> From:	cramer at med.unr.edu [SMTP:cramer at med.unr.edu]
> Sent:	Thursday, March 22, 2001 5:24 PM
> To:	plant-ed at hgmp.mrc.ac.uk
> Subject:	On the scientific method
> 
> Dear Planteders,
> I was recently appalled at the quality of science projects at my
> daughter's science fair at her elementary school. I discovered how poorly
> that people actually understand the scientific method (even within the
> scientific profession). For example my chemistry friends have a very
> different perspective on it, particularly the use of statistics. I am
> developing a document for my own students on the scientific method. I
> include it below. I would appreciate any comments people have so that I
> may further refine it.
> 
> On the Scientific Method:
> 
> Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is often described as the father of the
> Scientific Method. Over the years this method was refined by Philosophers
> of Science into the "classical scientific method" as exemplified by Darwin
> (1809-1882) and described by Cramer (1896). The following are excerpts
> from Frank Cramer's book, "The Method of Darwin: A Study in Scientific
> Method", A.C. McClurg and Company, Chicago, 1896. Pp. 25-46.
> 
> "... The inductive method....(note: this is the scientific
> method).....consists in the formation of an hypothesis from the facts by
> induction at the earliest possible moment in an investigation, deductive
> application of the hypothesis to known facts, and in the search for others
> that ought to exist if it is true, until it proves itself imperfect. By
> the help of the new facts the hypothesis is improved (by induction) and
> again applied, until by successive approximations it reaches the truth.
> 
> ... The scientific or inductive method as understood and practised by
> Darwin begins and ends with the facts. It takes nothing for granted that
> relates to the matter under investigation, and assumes as true only such
> things as the law of causation and the validity of the reasoning
> processes...
> 
> ... in the scientific method the object is not merely to deduce
> consequences from laws or principles, but to establish the truth or
> falsity of those laws or principles themselves. Hence there is an
> incessant interplay of induction and deduction...
> 
> ... The truth is, Darwin trusted nothing. Induction furnished him
> hypotheses, and deduction interpreted known facts and led to new ones
> under those hypotheses; but verification of his deductions was as
> indispensable to him as sunshine to a plant..."
> 
> Thus the classical scientific method starts with facts and is followed by
> induction, hypothesis, deduction, verification, induction, hypothesis,
> deduction, verification, and so on. It is a continual process of
> successive approximations.
> 
> Induction is going from the specific to the general. Deduction is going
> from the general to the specific. For example in Math if we assume that a
> theorum is true, then we can deduce certain things from it. In science we
> have to be careful of our assumptions and realize that they give us a
> framework to work on, but future evidence may give us reason to adjust
> them or even abandon them.
> 
> A hypothesis is the taking of facts and composing an untested theory on
> what we think is happening. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines a
> hypothesis as "a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test
> its logical or empirical consequences".
> 
> How do we test a hypothesis? How do we determine that it is verified?
> 
> A hypothesis must have a true or false answer. A hypothesis is tested
> using statistics. To use statistics one must have replicates. That is, one
> must repeat the experiment or the measurements. Then one can apply
> statistics to determine if the results are significantly different from
> each other. In other words there is a high enough probability that they
> are different. The level of confidence is usually set at 95%. This means
> that you are 95% sure that these results are accurate. Note there is a 5%
> probability that your results are wrong due to random or experimental
> errors. This is why experiments must be repeated a number of times to
> increase the probability that our conclusions are correct. Only when
> statistics indicate that there is a 95% or higher chance that our
> hypothesis is correct do we consider that our hypothesis has been
> verified.
> 
> -- 
> Grant R. Cramer
> Associate Professor
> Mail Stop 200
> Department of Biochemistry
> University of Nevada
> Reno, NV 89557
> phone: (775) 784-4204
> fax: (775) 784-1650
> email: cramer at unr.edu
> web page: http://gcramer-mac.ag.unr.edu/index.html
> 
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