Practicing the Scientific Method

The Scientific Method: What Is It And Why Is It Important?

02/10/11

The scientific method is a process used in investigating issues, acquiring knowledge, solving problems, and determining goals. Understanding the scientific method can be key to achieving better enlightenment in a person's life. The method, while subject to minor changes, doesn't only apply to scientific research. I believe that ignorance of this method is causing many problems to go unsolved, or worse, people who try to help all but to irate the problem further.

What I have noticed, is that many people are obsessed with finding solutions right away. They have lost their capacity to analyze, research, innovate, and make educated judgments. Instead, we're being taught to "find the right answers" and spit them down on a test. This transcends beyond school and into the workplace, where our bosses with their numerous college degrees spit mottos such as "I don't want whining, I want solutions!" People overlook that often what is perceived as "whining," is a necessary process in the scientific model to reach a sound and tangible goal. If you're just looking for the "right answers" for everything and memorizing accordingly, then you lack the proper understanding of the subject matter. You'll never be able to innovate that subject matter nor apply it in changing circumstances. You're thinking like a machine, and not like a human. And guess what? That makes you replaceable.

Using The Scientific Method

There are four main characteristics of the scientific method. Often, we practice these four characteristics inadvertently our entire lives. The key with the scientific method is to be increasing self-aware of when we're using the said characteristics and why. A strong sense of self-awareness and conscientious is what I consider the ultimate way to measure a person's intelligence.

  1. Characterization: Observing the subject. Knowing definitions and the vocabulary of the said subject matter. Formulating inquiries of interest of the said subject.
  2. Hypothesis: Creating theories of the said subject matter. Showing courage, imagination and creativity in taking "educated guesses" as to what is possible. Coming up with hypothetical explanations and observations and measurements of the subject.
  3. Predictions: Coming up with multiple possibilities and reasons as to what may happen. Considering all your options. Entertain the idea that the world is vast and complex, rather than straight and narrow.
  4. Experiments: Applying all that you have done above into a practical, tangible and physical experiment. Testing the waters, if you will, to see what is generated and record your findings. Trial and error are the best way to learn and innovate. Enjoy the process of "failing forward" until you come up with an interesting and satisfactory result . . .

Scientific method is not a recipe: it requires intelligence, imagination, and creativity. In this sense, it's not a mindless set of standards and procedures to follow, but is rather an ongoing journey, constantly developing more useful, accurate and comprehensive models and methods.

A linear, pragmatic scheme of the four points above is sometimes offered as a guideline for proceeding:

  1. Define the question
  2. Gather information and resources (observe)
  3. Form a hypothesis
  4. Perform experiment and collect data
  5. Analyze data
  6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for a new hypothesis
  7. Publish results
  8. Retest

Define the question: How can we come up with answers when we don't understand the question? This is essentially what this step is about . . . Taking the time to make sure you're asking a question that hopefully could one day lead to something of value. Of equal importance of this step is discovering perhaps the concerns and questioning you had was redundant. You quickly catch there isn't a problem at all, so there is no need to proceed. Many times, it's what we don't do that matters more than what we do . . . How many times have wasted away life chasing down a dream or vision you knew was futile from the beginning? We do this for many reasons, mostly due to peer pressure and bias, but many times we make such mistakes due to ignorant bliss all but to discover later we can't back track and must see the horrible result to the bitter end. Your mind can trick you. You have your own biases and experiences that could be warping your perception. Never hesitate to initially question yourself before proceeding with an idea that could take much of your valuable time.

Gather information and resources (observe): Find information and resources (including people) about the subject matter you wish to further dwell into and discover. Take the time to observe the information. It's important here that you value quality over quantity. A few good books, a nice hub on hubpages, and a person whom you respect their intelligence can often go a lot further than the conventional advice of gathering up as much information as you can, hopelessly trying to memorize it, and writing down endless bibliographies. There is no reason to subjugate yourself to an information overload.

Form a hypothesis: Come up with theories for the subject matter you wish to ascertain. Create ideas as to how you will test these theories and the steps involved. Take the time to either break down the theories or expand upon the theories if you believe it will lead to more thorough results.

Perform experiment and collect data: Make experiments to test your ideas. Observe what is happening. Record your findings. Take the time to enjoy and reflect upon what you've done. Think back to the time you were a child and played with toys. At that time, people didn't judge you how you experimented with your toys. They didn't grade you according to your toy playing ability or lecture you about the bottom line. They let you play because it's healthy. Healthy play hasn't changed now that you're an adult, only people's reactions to it. Instead of reading, memorizing, worrying over finding the "right answers," consider what would happen if you accidentally stumbled across a better answer? That can only be done by experimentation and a willingness to accept mistakes and failure.

Analyze data: Take the time to analyze the experiments that you have done. You should be asking yourself, "what exactly does all this means?" Maybe through careful reflection you will discover something that you have overlooked. Often, by sorting through our existing ideas we can come across new ideas.

Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for a new hypothesis: Based on the data you have discovered, you'll want to do something they don't teach you in school. The lost art of backtracking. Remember that hypothesis you came up with at the very start? You may wish to alter your hypothesis and it's associated theories based upon what you have analyzed through experimentation. Keep in mind that doesn't mean the idea was bad or wrong, had it not been for the original idea in the first place, you wouldn't have got this far. Any idea that leads to slow and steady progress is a good idea, just swallow a bit of pride and remember that at times we need to sometimes go with the flow. You can't always fight the wind . . .

Publish results: This doesn't necessarily mean publishing an award winning book that sells a million copies, although set your goals high, and ask yourself why not? However, in the mean time it could also mean recording your results on an MP3 player. Typing down your material neatly in a word processing document. Writing a blog about what you've found. Or presenting it on YouTube.

Retest: You will have doubters, nay sayers, skeptics and people who want to see you fail and bring you down. Be prepared to retest. You will have to show people over and over again that "you can do this." You've worked so hard, don't let the human factor get in the way. Show patience and understand that with many people, you may have to repeat yourself. The more you successfully retest what you know, the more competent you'll become until it's effortless. You'll also be able to reassure yourself that the first time it worked wasn't luck, and this is the real deal.

The Scientific Method Can Be Applied to Everything, But Is Appreciated By Far Too Few

I use the method as an approach to almost everything in life. Often, the method woks too well, you'll come up with so many creative ideas for everything imaginable that people don't want to hear it. You'll quickly discover the sad reality that we live in a world that lacks ambition and often people don't appreciate critical thinking. They want to be spoon fed the answers. They want to be happy, and often ideas make them uncomfortable and unhappy. I blame our education system for a lot of the following, but at this point it feels like I'm beating a dead horse hub after hub pointing out the obvious . . .

More often than not, those who are on paper the most "educated" are the most ignorant. I can always "sense" someone with advanced post secondary when I describe my "second job," which right now is currently writing a fictional novel trilogy. The title of the book series is Confessions of the Asylum. What happens when I explain to "educated" people my book is that they immediately start to recite passages from famous authors, ask me if I've read this and that, and then ask me if my writing style matches this or that author . . . At this point, I'm trying hard to avoid shaking my head and I'm grinding my teeth. You would think that after going tens of thousands of dollars in debt they could have at least bought the ability to think for themselves and come up their own work . . .

The best feedback I've received about my novel often came from people who were intelligent with just a High School diploma. Because nobody taught them how to edit a novel, such people most likely inadvertently use the scientific method when analyzing material and are able to come up with something original and constructive.

-Donovan D. Westhaver

Comments 2 comments

superwags profile image

superwags 5 years ago from UK

Thanks for the hub Don, well written and pertinent subject. I've become increasingly depressed by peoples' opinion of science on Hub Pages (so much so that I wrote a hub about it this morning, by coincidence!).

I hope people read hubs on these subjects and take something away from them, rather than dismissing them out of hand.


Scientific Method 5 years ago

An excellent and indepth article. I've been crawling the net looking for some decent and reliable information on the scientific method for my recent science fair project, and this has been extremely useful.

Great article! - Voted up! :)

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