What is Science & the Scientific Method?
By Kim Ann Zimmermann & Robert Roy Britt | June 12, 2012 10:17am ET
The scientific methodWhen conducting research, scientists observe the scientific method to collect measurable, empirical evidence in an experiment related to a hypothesis (often in the form of an if/then statement), the results aiming to support or contradict a theory.
The steps of the scientific method go something like this:
- Make an observation or observations.
- Ask questions about the observations and gather information.
- Form a hypothesis — a tentative description of what’s been observed, and make predictions based on that hypothesis.
- Test the hypothesis and predictions in an experiment that can be reproduced.
- Analyze the data and draw conclusions; accept or reject the hypothesis or modify the hypothesis if necessary.
- Reproduce the experiment until there are no discrepancies between observations and theory.
- The hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable.
- Research must involve deductive reasoning, not inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is the process of using true premises to reach a logical true conclusion.
- An experiment should include a dependent variable (which does not change) and an independent variable (which does change).
- An experiment should include an experimental group and a control group. The control group is what the experimental group is compared against.
Scientific theories and lawsThe scientific method and science in general can be frustrating. A theory is almost never proven. A few theories do become scientific laws (such as the law of gravity) and laws are generally considered to be without exception — though in fact even some laws have been modified over time after further testing found discrepancies.
This does not mean theories are not meaningful. For a hypothesis to become a theory, rigorous testing must occur, typically across multiple disciplines by separate groups of scientists. Saying something is “just a theory” is a lay person’s term that has no relationship to science, because in science, a theory is something that is very well supported by observation and experimentation.