Whether you’re reading this site because you like what I’m talking about, you consider yourself a scientist, you’re a science lover and want to know more, or I’ve roped you in to it because you’re a student looking for the down and dirty basics; we have to talk about the scientific method. No matter how complex science seems, we have to understand that at its root it’s actually based on a pretty simple observational model. This model is elegant and beautiful, so put on some Marvin Gaye, get out the massage oils and get ready to have a night to remember.
The importance of the scientific method cannot be overstated. It drives all of the cool sciency factoids that you read on memes. That’s important enough all on its own, but it also drives current climate models, cancer research, and research on sex. Yup the reason we know more about when a man and a woman fall in love, is because of the scientific method (you know I’m already tired of writing that out, so from now on I’m calling it SM). In essence, it is the driving force behind a good chunk of the modern world.
#1- Making an Observation.
Ever pass somebody in a hallway at school, and wonder if they realize they have a variety of colorful drawings on their face? If so, congratulations you’ve taken the first step in the SM. It all starts with an observation. Hey look the water went from being warm to hot to boiling. My girlfriend left me. I chafe every time I wear lacy underwear. These are all observations that you can build on to formulate questions that need answers. In order to proceed to the next step, you should try to make your observations about Quantitative phenomena, quantitative is a simple concept, basically it’s a number, or an amount. In other words, it’s easier to figure something out if you can put a number or some statistically relevant information to it. Is it just a particular brand of lacy underwear that causes chafing? Let’s gather 10 brands and see, perhaps it’s the dye, or maybe I need to get the bikini cut vs the thong. This information is all testable, and you can compare and contrast trends that appear.
#2- Questions. Questions Everywhere.
So you want to science? Well you better get real comfy asking questions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting in class and the professor asks for questions and no one says anything. Luckily for me, I work in an environment where if you don’t know something you better speak up, because someone could die. Man what a buzz kill, here’s a picture of a kitten to lighten the mood.
The point is, that you need to be questioning everything all of the time. Asking why is an integral part of being a scientist. When you observe something the next logical step is asking why that happens, and the more specific the better, but the work is only just beginning, because you have to…
Pro Tip #6: Apply It Every Day
You might be thinking that the skills you learn in a science class are only applicable in that setting, but asking questions like “Why?” is a powerful tool. Many might view questioning everything as an act of defiance, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s skill that you can use to better understand a topic. When you read a news article it’s helpful to ask what the author’s motives are. Is the thing that they are proposing factual? Why does it work in everyday life? These are all valid questions, and if someone can’t answer them, or you can’t verify their information, it’ll be easier to be skeptical of their claims.
#3- Form a Hypothesis.
So you’ve made an observation, now what? After you make your observations and you’ve asked your questions, you need to make a statement about why you think the phenomena is happening based on the limited information that you have. You are going to tell your audience why you think something is happening. If lacy underwear is chafing you, and your question is, “I wonder if it’s the brand?” Your next step is to definitively state your hypothesis, “My brand of underwear is the cause of my chafing”
The key to the hypothesis is that it doesn’t need to be correct, you just need to be able to test it. You could, and probably will be wrong, in which case you might have to modify your hypothesis. Of course in order to modify it, you need to go back to step #2 and start asking questions about why it’s wrong. That brings us to….
#4- Making a Prediction.
This step is pretty self-explanatory. If you’ve made a hypothesis, then you should have a solid prediction about what will happen when you carry out your experiment. I like the “if this then that method”. For example, “If I change the brand of my underwear then my chafing will stop.”
It’s important to note that a prediction is more useful if you don’t already know the answer to the question. It’s pretty useless to predict that 2+2=4, because that’s already been established and you’re not exactly contributing anything new to the conversation. Now on to the fun part…
#5- Forming an Experiment.
I actually find this part more tedious than getting through 5 minutes of Batman vs. Superman. You see a good scientist accounts for every single possible variable that they can control and keeps all things but one the same. They even set up a “control group” which keeps everything the same on all of the trials that are carried out. Since we’re on the underwear analogy I think it’ll be useful to show what I mean. If I’m concerned that my brand of underwear is the sole cause of my chafing then when I’m forming my experiment that is the only thing that I’m allowed to change. This means that I must control for: cut of the underwear, dye, distance traveled, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, pattern on the underwear, my weight, pants that I have on, shoes that I’m wearing etc. There are probably hundreds more variables that can be changed and that I have to account for when I’m forming my experiment. Like I said, tedious.
The control group will also be important in most cases. Granted underwear is a deeply personal choice, but If I could clone myself and make “evil me” wear the same brand that I’m changing for every experiment, then I would have a really solid experiment.
This is why, when models for phenomena are proposed they are picked apart in the scientific community, and consequently, why models and theories that make it through are said to be reliable. Now you can sit back on your golden throne of admiration and look down on all of your followers, because it’s time to…
Note: when you form an experiment, your goal isn’t to prove your hypothesis right. You’re actually doing the opposite. You’re hypothesis could be correct in 99 out of 100 experiments, but if it’s wrong even once you’re going to have to alter it. You are constantly trying to prove yourself wrong, this is why we call them hypotheses and theories, not laws. We can never be sure that the next experiment will give us the same results.
#6- Form a Model.
I know I know The meme at the top of this page says “results”. Well guess what? I’m an American, which means that I do what I want. If you do a quick Google search for the “scientific method” you’ll see that there’s really no 100% consensus outline of the SM. Some things might be assumed or left out. I’ll assume that when you carry out your experiment, you’re going to write down some results.
So you’ve failed to reject the hypothesis, what do you do with your newfound power? Simply put, you create a model that will help to explain the phenomena. Of course you’ll probably want to carry out your experiment out a few times before you do this, but you’re trying to form a basis that will explain why something happens. Going back to underwear. We find that changing the brand stops the chafing, so now we can form a model that states; that in all cases, brand X will cause chafing under the same conditions, in all of the experiments that were carried out. If I want to stop the chafing I have to change the brand, or use corn starch, who knew?
Pro Tip #8: The Power of Memes.
If you’re wondering why I use memes, then get ready because here’s the answer. By using memes, which have increasingly grown in popularity, you’re using the mind’s ability to recognize pictures better than words. Think of the things that stick out to you when you’re scrolling through Facebook. I’m willing to bet that you don’t forget when there’s a grumpy cat saying something whimsical. By contrast when someone posts an absurdly long post you probably glaze over. You don’t even have to be creative and make your own, All of the memes that I use are sourced out from somewhere, but they still have the same effect.
[chemistry 211 section 1.2; biology 211 concept 1.3]