Scientific method

The scientific method is often represented as an ongoing process. This diagram represents one variant, and there are many others.

The scientific method is an empirical method for acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century (with notable practitioners in previous centuries; see the article history of scientific method for additional detail.) It involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; the testability of hypotheses, experimental and the measurement-based statistical testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement (or elimination) of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings. These are principles of the scientific method, as distinguished from a definitive series of steps applicable to all scientific enterprises.[1][2][3]

Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, the underlying process is frequently the same from one field to another. The process in the scientific method involves making conjectures (hypothetical explanations), deriving predictions from the hypotheses as logical consequences, and then carrying out experiments or empirical observations based on those predictions.[a][4] A hypothesis is a conjecture, based on knowledge obtained while seeking answers to the question. The hypothesis might be very specific, or it might be broad. Scientists then test hypotheses by conducting experiments or studies. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable, implying that it is possible to identify a possible outcome of an experiment or observation that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, the hypothesis cannot be meaningfully tested.[5]

The purpose of an experiment is to determine whether observations[A][a][b] agree with or conflict with the expectations deduced from a hypothesis.[6]: Book I, [6.54] pp.372, 408 [b] Experiments can take place anywhere from a garage to a remote mountaintop to CERN's Large Hadron Collider. There are difficulties in a formulaic statement of method, however. Though the scientific method is often presented as a fixed sequence of steps, it represents rather a set of general principles.[7] Not all steps take place in every scientific inquiry (nor to the same degree), and they are not always in the same order.[8][9]

  1. ^ Newton, Issac (1999) [1726 (3rd ed.)]. Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica [Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy]. The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Translated by Cohen, I. Bernard; Whitman, Anne; Budenz, Julia. Includes "A Guide to Newton's Principia" by I. Bernard Cohen, pp. 1–370. (The Principia itself is on pp. 371–946). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 791–796 ("Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy"); see also Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica#Rules of Reason. ISBN 978-0-520-08817-7.
  2. ^ "scientific method", Oxford Dictionaries: British and World English, 2016, archived from the original on 2016-06-20, retrieved 2016-05-28
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2014 – via OED Online.
  4. ^ Cite error: The named reference NA was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  5. ^ Popper 1959, p. 273.
  6. ^ Cite error: The named reference smith2001 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  7. ^ Gauch 2003, p. 3: "The scientific method 'is often misrepresented as a fixed sequence of steps,' rather than being seen for what it truly is, 'a highly variable and creative process' (AAAS 2000:18). The claim here is that science has general principles that must be mastered to increase productivity and enhance perspective, not that these principles provide a simple and automated sequence of steps to follow."
  8. ^ Gauch 2003, p. 3.
  9. ^ William Whewell, History of Inductive Science (1837), and in Philosophy of Inductive Science (1840)


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