What is Science? The Scientific Method Explained
Updated: Jan 7, 2021
SCIENCE DOES NOT GIVE US ABSOLUTE ANSWERS, NOR IS IT A METHOD FOR PROVING TRUTHS WITH 100% CERTAINTY.
SCIENCE IS A WAY OF TESTING AND REFINING IDEAS TO SLOWLY BUILD A BODY OF KNOWLEDGE BASED ON THE RESULTS OF EXPERIMENTS. SCIENCE IS A PATH TO KNOWLEDGE.
OCCASIONALLY WE MAKE WRONG TURNS ON THE PATH BUT THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD IS SELF CORRECTING, ENSURING THE COURSE RETURNS TO THE RIGHT DIRECTION.
THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD GOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS:
SCIENTIST OBSERVES SOMETHING THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND
SCIENTIST FORMS AS HYPOTHESIS (A POSSIBLE EXPLANATION) FOR WHAT THEY HAVE SEEN
SCIENTIST THEN TESTS THEIR HYPOTHESIS TO SEE IF IT'S CORRECT OR FALSE
TESTING INVOLVES GATHERING DATA FROM DOING INVESTIGATIONS
IF THE EVIDENCE FOUND SUPPORTS THE PREDICTIONS MADE THEN THE SCIENTIST IS A STEP CLOSER TO UNDERSTANDING IF THEIR HYPOTHESIS MAY BE TRUE
SCIENTISTS SHARE THEIR FINDINGS IN PEER REVIEWED JOURNALS WHERE OTHER SCIENTISTS CHECK THE WAY THE EXPERIMENTS HAVE BEEN DESIGNED, THE RESULTS, AND THE EXPLANATIONS FOR ERRORS OR FALSE CLAIMS.
ONCE PUBLISHED, OTHER SCIENTISTS CAN START MAKING THEIR OWN PREDICTIONS AND EXPERIMENTS ON THE HYPOTHESIS.
THEY WILL THEN ALSO REPRODUCE THE ORIGINAL STUDY TO CHECK THE RESULTS.
IF THE NEW EXPERIMENTS BACK UP THE ORIGINAL THEN THERE IS MORE REASON TO BELIEVE THE HYPOTHESIS IS TRUE.
IF EXPERIMENTS ARE DONE THAT DON'T FIT WITH THE HYPOTHESIS THEY EITHER NEED TO BE MODIFIED OR REJECTED.
ACCEPTED HYPOTHESES ARE CALLED THEORIES. THEORIES THAT WE CURRENTLY ACCEPT HAVE BEEN TESTED MANY TIMES OVER AND HELD SOLID; THEY HAVE SURVIVED 'TRIAL BY EVIDENCE' .
HOWEVER, THEORIES ARE NOT INDISPUTABLE FACTS.
IF NEW EVIDENCE IS PRESENTED THAT CANNOT BE EXPLAINED BY AN EXISTING THEORY THEN NEW HYPOTHESISING AND TESTING MUST BEGIN AGAIN.
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There are many misconceptions around what science actually is that often result in incorrect conclusions about how useful or reliable science actually is.
Many people believe science is a method for proving things to be true with absolute certainty.
This is not the case as science does not provide absolute answers.
Too often do we hear phrases like ‘science was wrong before about this’ being touted as evidence that the scientific method itself is flawed and shouldn’t be trusted.
Or the false view that science is either 100% right or 100% wrong when in reality things are much more murky than this and results are often more just incomplete rather than actually wrong.
Science is supposed to be wrong about things, that’s the whole point of the process. We don’t (and will never have) all of the information.
Science is a way of testing ideas to find the holes in them and give rise to new and better ways of studying topics.
Science does not give us definitive answers, rather it allows us to use probabilistic thinking to assess what is most likely to be true given the current evidence.
There are some ideas that have been thoroughly tested and are very unlikely to be wrong such as 2+2=4, the earth being spherical and that we are all living in a simulation.
However, new evidence can disrupt our confidence in existing ideas and reshape the direction of future study. This is useful.
Science helps us make our current best guesses about the universe around us and provides us with a self-correcting path to further knowledge.