Chapter 1 Scientific method

The Process of Science
Science makes progress using a series of steps which are called the scientific method. This method ensures that our understanding of the world gradually increases, and any faulty assumptions or conclusions are eventually weeded out. The main parts of the scientific method are:

Hypothesis : an idea, or educated guess, that can be tested. It is often good to have several, alternative hypotheses because at this early stage you do not know which hypothesis is correct.

Prediction : a logical consequence of a hypothesis.

Experiments are often designed to disprove the hypothesis. This is because it is much easier to disprove a hypothesis than to "prove" it. A single experiment can show that an idea is wrong, but a thousand experiments do not prove that an idea is always correct. For example see: Scientific method

The experimental group differs from the control group usually in one variable eg testing new medications. For example to test a new medication you divide patients into two groups. The "experimental" group are given the new drug, and the "control" group are either given the old (currently used) medication or a placebo. Placebo : a pill or injection that contains no medication. Placebo effect

Blind trials mean that the subject of the experiment (the patient) does not know if they are in the experimental group or control group, only the technician knows this. A double-blind trial means both the subject and the technician do not know which group the subject is in. Drug companies use double-blind trials to test new medications.

Animal models, like rats and mice, can be used to test new drugs or conduct experiments. Rats and mice are mammals, like us, so many drugs that are toxic to them would also be toxic to humans.

Correlations, or relationships between two variables, can indicate a connection. For example, people with higher stress levels have more colds. (Fig 1.11). However correlation does not mean that stress actually causes the cold. The cold is caused by a virus. Stress lowers your immune system, so it is harder for the body to fight the virus.

Sample size : when you conduct a scientific experiment, the larger the sample the more accurate the results.

Theory : a scientific theory has been supported by many experiments: like atomic theory, cell theory, germ theory, and the theory of evolution. Note that this is very different from the common use of the word theory. In everyday life, theory just means a vague idea or guess, whereas a scientific theory has been tested many times, and no evidence has been found to disprove it. In other words a scientific theory is based on a lot of information and is very solid.

Last edited May 2021, by David Byres,