scientific methods + more

One of the most recognizable elements of science is the scientific method. For, it is not just the ingredients but also the way that those ingredients are handled which distinguish modern science from other knowledge stews. However, contrary to common conception, there is not one method that all scientists follow. Rather, there are various, similar, scientific methods. Biologist April Koch notes,

The steps involved in the scientific method vary widely among the different scientific disciplines… better to use the word elements to describe the steps… the scientific method is much more fluid than you might think… [the elements] feedback and branch out from one another.’ [1]

Generally speaking, scientific methods often include these elements: Make an observation. Ask a question. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis. Test the prediction. Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions. Yet, use of scientific method is just one aspect of what marks out any research as scientific, and different from other sorts of knowledge-seeking inquiries. [2]

Beyond scientific method, how else can one distinguish science from other forms of research? The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) suggests that a few core principles mark the defining edges of science. Among their principles they note,

Knowledge grows through exploration of the limits of existing rules and mutually reinforcing evidence…
Science aims for refined degrees of confidence, rather than complete certainty…
Science is a communal enterprise…[3]

Science historian Naomi Oreskes also points to core elements imperative in distinguishing science from other sorts of knowledge-stews. Dr Oreskes states that by looking at:
– the procedures and methods utilized within a research project
– the presence of scientific consensus
– the types of evidence utilized
– the diversity present
– the particular values and ethics operated within

All of these elements help distinguish whether or not research should be classified as science research, or whether it falls outside of the bounds of this system of science. [4] While methods and procedures are not fixed, they are relatively easy to identify, compared with some of these other elements Oreskes mentions. In further sections we will look at more complex aspects of these elements.

source notes

1. SmithJ. 1. the scientific method. Homework Free Org. https://homeworkfree.org/1-the-scientific-method/. Published August 19, 2021. Accessed March 27, 2020. (min 2:15)

2. The scientific method (article). Khan Academy. https://www.khanacademy.org/science/high-school-biology/hs-biology-foundations/hs-biology-and-the-scientific-method/a/the-science-of-biology. Accessed February 27, 2020.

3. Read “reproducibility and replicability in science” at nap.edu. National Academies Press: OpenBook. https://www.nap.edu/read/25303/chapter/5#30. Accessed March 27, 2020.https://www.nap.edu/read/25303/chapter/5#30

4. Radsken J. In ‘why trust science?’ Naomi Oreskes explains why the process of proof is worth trusting. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/10/in-why-trust-science-naomi-oreskes-explains-why-the-process-of-proof-is-worth-trusting/. Published October 22, 2019. Accessed October 27, 2020.

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