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Scientific Method

If your friend jumps off a bridge, would you do it too? With the scientific method, you can test if that old saying you were told as a kid makes sense.

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# Scientific Method

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If your friend jumps off a bridge, would you do it too? With the scientific method, you can test if that old saying you were told as a kid makes sense.

• What is the scientific method?
• What are the steps to the scientific method?
• Why is the scientific method important?

## The Scientific Method Definition

The scientific method is the standardized process by which scientists gather data to test whether their hypothesis aligns with existing scientific knowledge.

The scientist (or experimenter) goes through the steps of the scientific method to prove their new theory, being detailed in their work so that their experiment can be replicated. Although it is impossible to know who originated the scientific method, the first person to document this process was Sir Frances Bacon in the 1500s.

## The Scientific Method Steps

The scientific method begins when someone makes an observation. Let’s say your science teacher noticed that students who eat in the morning score better on their tests compared to those who do not. The teacher thinks there might be reasoning behind this but isn’t quite sure. The next step in this method is to question this observation. Why do students who eat in the morning perform better on their tests? After research, this question then develops into a theory.

A theory is a plausible explanation for the question based on observations that the person might have.

Your teacher’s theory could be that students who take the time to eat in the morning are also the type of students to take the time to study more before a test.

Once a theory has been developed, the next step is creating a hypothesis.

The hypothesis is reworking your theory into a statement that can be tested. If the hypothesis cannot be tested, it is not a hypothesis.

Your teacher’s hypothesis might be that if the student does not eat in the morning, they will not score as high on their science test compared to their average.

An important part of the hypothesis is the operational definitions that come along with it.

Operational definitions are aspects of your hypothesis and experiment that are explicitly defined before the experiment begins so as not to produce any bias.

Your science teacher would define that eating in the morning requires a minimum of 300 calories before 8:00 am and that scoring higher on the test means beating their average.

Next, it’s time to test your hypothesis in an experiment. The experimental design is crucial in ensuring that your experiment tests your hypothesis. After collecting data, the scientist will be able to determine whether the experiment agrees or disagrees with their hypothesis. Suppose the experiment is unsuccessful in supporting the hypothesis. In that case, the scientist will take the time to review their theory and make amendments, potentially leading to a new experiment with a different hypothesis. Let’s say that your science teacher found that students who did not eat in the morning performed better on the science test. Your teacher would then revise his hypothesis and conduct the experiment again.

Regardless of the outcome, it is important to analyze the data from the experiment to draw conclusions. However, your science teacher found that the students scored higher than their average when they ate on the morning of a test and told your history teacher. Your history teacher knows that a test is coming up in a week and decides to test the science teacher’s hypothesis.

One of the most important parts of the scientific method is the ability for the experiment to be reproduced. Every detail of the experiment needs to be written down, so someone else can replicate the experiment and get the same results. Your history teacher would solely be relying on what was documented by the scientific method to conduct the experiment.

The more an experiment is replicated, and a hypothesis is supported, the more reliable it becomes.

Fg. 1 The scientific method. wikimedia.commons.com

## The Scientific Method Applications

The scientific method can be used not only across many academic disciplines but also in your daily life. You go through your day using steps of the scientific method without even knowing it. For example, you notice that your stomach starts hurting. Why is it doing that? Is it the beans I ate for lunch? You avoid beans for a week, noticing that it helps, but then eat beans again and realize that yes, it was definitely the beans that made your stomach hurt. You made an observation (my stomach aches), formulated it into a theory (the beans made my stomach hurt), hypothesized (if I eat beans, then my stomach will hurt), and tested it (I ate beans, and my stomach hurt)! Although the scientific method is most commonly used in psychology, physics, chemistry, biology, and other sciences, don’t forget that you use it too!

## Importance of the Scientific Method

This methodology is crucial in standardizing the process we use when we approach experiments. Through the scientific method, scientists can replicate other experiments, upping the reliability of those experiments. An experiment that truly follows the scientific method can be reproduced in varying locations worldwide. Thanks to the scientific method, your science teacher’s experiment could be replicated by a professor in England or a teacher in South Korea.

The Scientific Method also removes any biases that the researcher may have through the standardization of the process. Going step by step through the scientific method, an experimenter will document all steps and predictions, avoiding them from trying to unconsciously (or consciously) sway the outcome.

## Examples of Scientific Method

There are oodles of examples of the Scientific Method since so many experiments use it, but let’s use an extremely famous psychological experiment as an example, the Milgram experiment.

In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram wondered about authority's effects on the individual. This study is often tied to the Holocaust, with the question being – did Nazis act of their own accord, or did they commit the atrocities they did because there was someone superior to them telling the Nazis to do so? Milgram hypothesized that the participants in the study would obey the orders of those superior to them, especially within close proximity.

The experimenter took the study subjects and told them that they were teachers, testing the learner’s knowledge in a study of memory. If the learner answered a question wrong, they would get an electric shock in increasing amounts. Unbeknownst to the subject, the learner was an actor, and the shocks were fake. Milgram determined how impactful the experimenter’s authority was on the participants, for when they verbalized discomfort at giving others shocks, the experimenter would tell them to continue. Milgram found that 65 percent of the participants would administer the final, “fatal,” 450-volt shock.

After the experiment, Milgram analyzed his data and published his findings, resulting in this experiment being replicated again and again. He concluded that there is an incredible social influence from an authority figure and found that it was even more prevalent when the experimenter was physically closer to the participant. Milgram followed all the steps of the scientific method to produce one of the most notable psychological experiments.

Fg. 2 The setup of the Milgram experiment, commons.wikimedia.org

Of course, the scientific method can be used in a less stressful way – figuring out why the dishwasher isn’t working (is it plugged in? Is the electricity out?), determining if sleeping a lot the night before a test helps, or why, in a group, no one calls 911 during an emergency.

## The Scientific Method - Key takeaways

• The scientific method is important in making a researcher’s study unbiased.

• It is also crucial in allowing other researchers to replicate the original experiment.

• There must be a testable hypothesis, your theory reworked into a statement that can be tested.

• Operational definitions are necessary to define certain aspects or variables of the experiment so there are no biases or confusion.

• This way of research can be applied not only to psychology but also to daily life.

• An observation turns into a question, which leads to a theory, from which a hypothesis is formed, resulting in an experiment and then a conclusion.

The scientific method is a process scientists or researchers use to test their hypotheses. It acts as a guide of steps for people to follow to produce an unbiased, replicable study.

The steps of the scientific method are:

1. Make an observation and ask a question.

2. Conduct background research and form a hypothesis.

3. Conduct experiment.

4. Collect data.

5. Draw conclusions.

The importance of the scientific method is in standardizing the process in which scientists and researchers conduct experiments. Through this, other experimenters can replicate these studies.

Examples of the scientific method in psychology involve any psychological experiment able to be replicated. One example is the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this experiment, researchers had questions about people conforming to assigned societal roles. They reformed this question into a hypothesis and tested their theory.

The inventor of the scientific method is unknown, but Sir Frances Bacon is credited with the first documentation of the steps that are now known as the scientific method.

## Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Fill in the blank: The scientific method is important in making a researcher’s study ________.

Who was the first person to document the process of the scientific method?

In what decade was the first documentation of the scientific method?

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