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2.1: Prelude

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    The scientific method is the “program” that scientists use to understand the patterns (e.g., how far away is Mars?) and processes (e.g., how did the rocks on Mars form?) that we observe in the natural universe. Because the method is used to understand the natural universe, it cannot be used to ask more metaphysical questions (e.g., did God create Mars?). Anyone who uses the scientific method considers themselves a scientist. You will also be a scientist this semester when you use this method to understand the biological patterns and processes explored in lab.

    The scientific method is recognized as a step process. In order, these steps are:

    1. observe;

    2. hypothesize and explain;

    3. experiment;

    4. conclude/interpret

    Initial observations suggest a hypothesis. A hypothesis is “a proposition (or set of propositions) that explain some aspect of the physical universe” (i.e. the observation). Experiments are attempts to test predictions that follow from a hypothesis. The results of an experiment allows a conclusion/interpretation of whether to reject or fail-to-reject the hypothesis.

    This might seem complicated, but in fact people tend to do this automatically.

    Take a simple example: You switch on a flashlight and observe that the bulb does not light-up. Immediately, your observations suggest a hypothesis and explanation: the flashlight does not work because the batteries are dead. You then experiment by testing the prediction that replacing the batteries will fix the flashlight. If new batteries do not make the bulb light up, your conclusion/interpretation would be to reject your hypothesis. Something else must be the problem.

    Notice that experiments are always designed to attempt to reject the hypothesis. If replacing the batteries had resulted in the flashlight lighting up, you would have failed-to-reject your hypothesis. You would not, however, have “proven” your hypothesis. While you can have some confidence in your hypothesis, it could still be incorrect. For example, it is possible that corrosion on the old battery terminals was the problem; perhaps the batteries themselves were fine.

    This page titled 2.1: Prelude is shared under a Public Domain license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Alexey Shipunov.

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