I work in science. I’m around people who conduct science on a daily basis. However, it seems that the scientific method has lost its appeal to many. What these many don’t understand is that this method is in place for a reason (pun possibly intended). So, this is just a refresher.
Step 1: Define a question. This can be done be observing something, and wondering why it happens, how it can be made better, and the list goes on and on. However, there has to be a question to start anything. The observation process can be included as a second step, along with gathering resources (background information and such), but the way I was taught while earning my science degree was that the observation was part of how we define the question.
Step 2: Form a hypothesis. This hypothesis is an educated guess (refer to doing the background research and gather resources) as to why the observed action or reaction is occurring, and what may happen if a variable is changed. It is important that this hypothesis be well thought out, not just thrown together as the first explanation that comes to mind. Brainstorm. Think. Make a list and examine the possibilities. Figure out what the best hypothesis for the situation is, and make that statement.
Step 3: Perform an experiment. This is, in many cases, the tricky part. Before an experiment can be performed it has to be designed, and many things have to be considered. What are the variables? Which variable will be altered? What is the control? Is this experiment repeatable? What kind of data will be collected from this experiment? How will this data be analyzed? These questions, among many others, should be answered before the experiment is actually performed. Once a concrete experimental design is set, then it’s time to get busy.
Step 4: Results. This is where all that collected data comes into play. This is where the decision is made to accept or reject the hypothesis that was formed at the beginning of the process. The result may not be the one that was hoped for, but as long as the experimental design was followed, that’s OK. Results should be unbiased and unaltered, or they are nothing but made-up falsehoods.
Step 5: Retest. This is where the results are looked at very closely, and the experiment can be altered, or redesigned completely. It is also where the repeatability mentioned in Step 3 comes into play. If you can’t repeat and experiment, what was the point of performing it? One result, without something to compare to, leaves you with just that – one result. And I’m sorry, but one result with no other evidence to back it up doesn’t lend a lot of weight to what was done.
These are the basic steps of the scientific method. Unfortunately, I have seen these, in both the workplace and academia, bastardized to the point changing a test plan into a mutated “experiment” that should be called bovine fecal matter instead of science. I have seen the variable being tested changed in the middle of the test. I have seen experiments that involved way more than one variable being tested at one time, and even some with no control or baseline. I have seen an “experiment” with no hypothesis, and the explanation was “we’ll come up with that after we’ve done the testing.” Really? And you call yourself a scientist? Hand over your science card. It’s just been revoked.
Please remember that science is our friend and the scientific method is there to help. When I designed my own experiment for my class grade in Animal Behavior, the thing that was harped on the most was to stick to your experimental design, even if you notice flaws, until it is over. Then you can adjust and repeat the test. I noticed lots of things during my experiment that I could have or should have done differently, but I stuck to my guns. The results were not what I had hoped for, but they are what I reported in the final presentation. I also discussed what I could have done differently, and what should be done differently in future experiments. My project grade? 100%. Long live science and reason, for when they are no longer adhered to, how does the saying go…Abandon all hope ye who enter here. Happy experimenting!