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What is the scientific method

What is the scientific method?

The scientific method is the name for a set of steps and rules followed to conduct an investigation. Its purpose is to ensure the objectivity, reliability, validity, verifiability, and reproducibility of the results. Thanks to the scientific method, errors and subjective biases can be significantly reduced.

In which fields is the scientific method applied?

Applications of the scientific method are as broad as those of science and knowledge. Naturally, this method is used in areas like physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, meteorology, and so on, but it is also used in social sciences such as linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and economics.

What are the steps of the scientific method?

The nomenclature and configuration of the scientific method may vary slightly depending on regions and disciplines, but generally speaking, the steps of the scientific method are as follows:

  • Observation

This is the cornerstone for applying the entire method because all the following steps will be based on what is observed. Observation is generally considered to be the basis of knowledge; in the case of the scientific method, it is active observation of phenomena and sources to acquire information.

Though the word observation refers to sight, this step involves all the senses, tools, techniques, and instruments that are at the disposal of the observer in the scientific method.

Observation is strongly biased by subjectivity. As the observer is a human being with their own knowledge, experiences, prejudices, opinions, and so on, their acquisition and recording of information is not impartial. However, this is precisely what the scientific method seeks to correct.

Beyond subjectivity, other errors that can occur in the observation process are modification of the phenomenon or behavior of the subject of study by the very act of observation, as well as errors in recording the observation.

This phase also includes theoretical research from previous work on the same topics or research subjects.

  • Question

This phase is often included in the previous or subsequent step, but it can be separated for clarity. It is about sorting all the data collected during observation for the purpose of identifying patterns, problems, or unknown aspects and directing the research in a specific direction through the formulation of a question.

In this phase, various questions can be generated that may be developed (or not), either simultaneously or successively.

  • Hypothesis

This is an unverified statement (with a conclusion or prediction) that can be confirmed or refuted.

Hypotheses are posed in the form of affirmations, and they answer the question asked in the previous step. However, this does not mean that the hypotheses are true: the following steps aim to prove or disprove them.

The same question can generate different hypotheses; the most likely of these is chosen. If a hypothesis turns out to be incorrect, the researcher can move on to some of the initial hypotheses or formulate a new one, taking into consideration the data provided by the first application of the scientific method. If confirmed, the hypothesis is then a verified statement.

  • Experimentation

During the experimentation phase, the idea is to reproduce the conditions of the phenomenon or case study in a controlled environment (usually a laboratory) and with a limited amount of variables.

To confirm that the conditions have been set up correctly, yielding the expected results according to the observation, a control group is implemented. No variable is withheld or presented to this group with respect to the original phenomenon. The control group is expected to act exactly the same as in observation, and it will serve to compare with the experimental groups.

The process of experimentation may include one or several experimental groups. Here, elements will be changed that will make it possible to confirm or refute the hypothesis. The elements introduced or removed are called variables. It is advisable to have one experimental group for each variable. This is because changing several variables at the same time makes it difficult to unequivocally establish cause-effect relationships.

The variables’ influence on the experimental groups must be measurable.

  • Analysis

The data produced by the experiment is analyzed and interpreted to determine the veracity of the hypothesis.

  • Conclusion

This is the result reached. The conclusion states whether the hypothesis is verified, annulled, or invalidated. Whatever the outcome, drafting a report of conclusions is necessary.

The conclusion must be accompanied by a critical comment and annotations on limitations and speculations, as well as recommendations related to both the conclusion and the entire research process itself.

For a conclusion to be considered valid, the entire experiment that produced it must be replicable.

  • Report

The report for a study allows the rest of the scientific community to access the experiment.

Thanks to it, procedural errors that could have led to erroneous results can be identified. The fact that a hypothesis has been proven does not exempt it from falsifiability or refutability. Any proven conclusion is open to future scrutiny, and new research could shed light on underestimated or overlooked aspects in obtaining it. That is why nothing is considered an absolute truth in the scientific field, just the most accepted theory at a certain time.

The importance of communication especially lies in the capacity that each study has to contribute to other studies, thus collaborating in the collective advancement of knowledge.

What is a fallacy?

Etymologically, the word fallacy means deception. In the field of logic, a fallacy is an argument that seems logical but is not. In the scientific field, fallacies may have their origin in technical limitations, methodological errors, prejudices, or cognitive biases.

The sniper’s fallacy is a famous example: a shooter fires several random shots at a barn; only later do they paint a bullseye around each of their shots. The conclusion on seeing the barn is that they are an excellent shooter, but the premise is false. This logical fallacy serves to illustrate that it is possible to relate different elements to reach the desired conclusion without this necessarily being true.

Another common fallacy is the induction fallacy, where a premise is relevant and supports the conclusion, but it does not guarantee it. For example, a person at the North Pole who has only seen polar bears in their life may conclude that all bears are white without this being true.

For this and other reasons, using the scientific method is important.

What is falsifiability?

Along with reproducibility, falsifiability is one of the pillars of the scientific method. Falsifiability or refutability indicates the ability of a theory or hypothesis to be contradicted. While not all theories are falsifiable, all scientific theories are treated as such.

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