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Author Topic:   The Scientific Method For Beginners
PaulK
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Posts: 17838
Joined: 01-10-2003
Member Rating: 3.8


Message 16 of 138 (514244)
07-05-2009 8:35 AM
Reply to: Message 15 by Peg
07-05-2009 8:27 AM


As I explained in the other thread, experimentation is a good way of generating observations.
Edited by PaulK, : No reason given.

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Replies to this message:
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JonF
Member (Idle past 254 days)
Posts: 6174
Joined: 06-23-2003


Message 17 of 138 (514245)
07-05-2009 8:57 AM
Reply to: Message 15 by Peg
07-05-2009 8:27 AM


By "it" do you mean the scientific method or the theory of evolution?
The latter is off-topic for this thread. But if you mean the latter, the short answer is "in many ways". Digging up a fossil is an experiment.
An experiment is an observation carried out under controlled conditions. Especially it includes the controlled observation of the effects of a past event; we can observe the past without recreating the events of the past.
Edited by JonF, : No reason given.

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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 370 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 18 of 138 (514248)
07-05-2009 9:42 AM
Reply to: Message 15 by Peg
07-05-2009 8:27 AM


may i ask where the experimentation comes into it?
You may indeed. I was waiting for you to ask.
Consider first of all a hypothesis such as: "Aardvarks don't breathe fire". Note that there is no relevant experiment that we can perform. All we can do is observe a lot of aardvarks and see whether or not they breathe fire.
On the other hand, suppose we have a hypothesis such as "Diamonds dissolve in goat's blood" (as people believed in the Middle Ages).
Now, in that case we could just resort to passive observation --- we could keep a close eye on any diamonds in the vicinity, see if they ever fell into goat's blood, and then check to see if they dissolved.
But there is a more practical way to do this. We can take a diamond and deliberately drop it into goat's blood, and see what happens. We can bring about the set of circumstances about which our hypothesis makes predictions.
This is an experiment: we have artificially produced a set of circumstances under which we can test our hypothesis. You can see that this is more convenient than waiting for the right set of circumstances to just happen.
An experiment, then, is when we have a hypothesis which predicts what observations we will make under a certain set of circumstances, and we act to bring that set of circumstances about.
Hence experiments are part of point (3) in my explanation of the scientific method. We test the predictions of our hypotheses against observation: and so if our hypothesis predicts the observations that we would make if we performed a given experiment, then we perform the experiment and see if the predicted observations occur.
You should note that a hypothesis need not predict the results of any experiment: as in the case: "Aardvarks don't breathe fire". There is no experiment in that case: there is just observation of aardvarks.
Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.

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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 370 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 19 of 138 (514249)
07-05-2009 9:50 AM
Reply to: Message 17 by JonF
07-05-2009 8:57 AM


By "it" do you mean the scientific method or the theory of evolution?
The latter is off-topic for this thread. But if you mean the latter, the short answer is "in many ways". Digging up a fossil is an experiment.
An experiment is an observation carried out under controlled conditions. Especially it includes the controlled observation of the effects of a past event; we can observe the past without recreating the events of the past.
Please don't confuse the issue. My aim is to unconfuse Peg, not to bury Peg in verbal ambiguities.
Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.

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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 370 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 20 of 138 (514255)
07-05-2009 11:49 AM
Reply to: Message 15 by Peg
07-05-2009 8:27 AM


Creationists Versus The Scientific Method
Perhaps now would be a good time to digress a little and discuss the creationist attempt to rewrite the scientific method.
Having vaguely grasped that experiments play some role in science, they wish to redefine the scientific method so that observations count for nothing, unless they are observations artificially induced by experiments. They wish to do so because obviously the evidence for the natural history of our planet rests on observations of nature which are not artificially induced, and so if they could make all those observations count for nothing, then the whole history of our planet would also go away. Like magic.
Of course, if only experimental evidence counted, then they would also have to dismiss as unscientific such propositions as:
* Pigs don't have wings.
* The ancient Egyptians didn't use mobile phones.
* Saturn has rings.
* The fact that this man has a bullet in his heart confirms the hypothesis that he was killed by gunshot.
* I have two legs.
* Aardvarks don't breathe fire.
* The sun didn't fall out of the sky yesterday.
By comparison, if we start off, as I started off, by explaining that we test hypotheses against observation, then we can understand why the statements listed above are scientific, and we can also understand why experiments are useful: because sometimes we can use them to elicit observations which are relevant to a hypothesis.
---
How do creationists live with the failure of their "scientific method"?
(I) Well, in the first place, they don't care. They don't need a general method of testing propositions about the natural world. They're not interested in finding out about it. That's not their job. Their job is to defend their dogma at all costs, and to do that they need to abolish evolution. And for that purpose, this foolishness where only the observations of experiments count for anything will do just fine. Never mind that they'd then have to dismiss as unscientific the proposition that the ancient Egyptians didn't use mobile phones. That's not their problem. They don't have to think about that. It's irrelevant to their goals.
(II) In the second place, sometimes it doesn't matter. For example, when creationists are pretending that "evolutionism" is just as much based on "faith" and "philosophical assumptions" and so forth as is creationism, then it doesn't matter that the creationist "scientific method" wouldn't support creationism, because they are trying to pretend that both are equally without support, except that creationism is supported by God's Holy Word whereas "evolutionism" rests on Evil Atheism. This argument simply tries to drag real science down to their level of dogmatic faith: and if, in the process, they admit that there is no evidence for fiat creation, this is not a problem for this particular argument.
And as all their arguments are ad hoc, and don't need have to have any logical consistency, they can always ignore their own argument when they want to pretend that there is evidence for creationism. This brings us on to point (III).
(III) In the third place, they don't notice. A creationist is perfectly capable of trotting out this nonsense about the scientific method and then claiming to have geological evidence for the historicity of Noah's Flood. The only consistency a creationist needs is to consistently assert that (a) scientists are wrong and (b) he is right. By asserting that scientists can't know about the past, because their claims are not supported by experiment, he fulfills obligation (a); and by asserting that geology proves Noah's Flood, he fulfills obligation (b).
Indeed, I have never seen a creationist argue that both creationism and "evolutionism" are both based on faith and then just walk away: he will always follow it up by claiming to have evidence that evolution didn't happen and/or that fiat creation did.
Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.

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straightree
Member (Idle past 4837 days)
Posts: 57
From: Near Olot, Spain
Joined: 09-26-2008


Message 21 of 138 (514262)
07-05-2009 2:12 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Dr Adequate
07-03-2009 9:45 PM


I agree basically with most that has been said about the scientific method by most of the previous messages in this thread. Only would like to make a contribution, based on Karl Popper, that I find particularly simple, focused and relevant.
A scientific theory, T, is established to explain a problem P1.
The evaluation, E, of T is based in a priori examination, and a posteriori evaluation.
The a priori examination comprises its content, its capacity to explain the relevant problem, and its degree of suitability to be subjected to testing (a posteriori).
The a posteriori evaluation is made by submitting the theory to ingenious tests and verifications.
The theories that have a low a priori content need not to be subjected to a posteriori verification, since, by definition lack the suitability for the a posteriori testing.
The most probable outcome will be that the evaluation will raise some new problem P2. This will be the starting point for a new theory T2. The distance between problem P1 and P2 is the contribution of theory T to progress.

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AZPaul3
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Posts: 8593
From: Phoenix
Joined: 11-06-2006
Member Rating: 3.7


Message 22 of 138 (514429)
07-07-2009 1:18 PM
Reply to: Message 14 by Dr Adequate
07-05-2009 8:11 AM


Re: Afterthought
I understand your point and I appreciate it.
I have said my piece.
You have more important places to go here and I will not drag your excellent thread into distraction.

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Peg
Member (Idle past 5015 days)
Posts: 2703
From: melbourne, australia
Joined: 11-22-2008


Message 23 of 138 (514482)
07-08-2009 5:03 AM
Reply to: Message 16 by PaulK
07-05-2009 8:35 AM


im not sure if it was you or another who said experimentation is not a part of the scientific method
my understanding is that experimentation IS a part of the process
glad we agree on something.

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Replies to this message:
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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 370 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 24 of 138 (514484)
07-08-2009 5:17 AM
Reply to: Message 23 by Peg
07-08-2009 5:03 AM


im not sure if it was you or another who said experimentation is not a part of the scientific method
my understanding is that experimentation IS a part of the process
glad we agree on something.
By my recollection, you misunderstood me as saying that experimentation is not part of the process.
Let me make myself clear.
If our hypothesis predicts the results of an experiment that we can do, then doing that experiment is part of the process.
But if we have some hypothesis such as: "Aardvarks don't breathe fire", which cannot be confirmed by experiment, but only by observation, then the conclusion that aardvarks don't breathe fire is still perfectly scientific.
It seems to me that you have confused two propositions, one that I've made, one that I haven't. I say that you can do science without experiments. I don't say that experiments have no place in science.
By analogy, I would say that England and Australia can play a legitimate game of rugby without either side scoring a try. I do not say that tries have no place in rugby.
(I seem to remember that you're Australian, if not, I'll see if I can think up another metaphor.)

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PaulK
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Posts: 17838
Joined: 01-10-2003
Member Rating: 3.8


Message 25 of 138 (514485)
07-08-2009 5:21 AM
Reply to: Message 23 by Peg
07-08-2009 5:03 AM


Let us be clear, experimentation is often part of the process - but it is not and never has been a necessary part of the process.
quote:
im not sure if it was you or another who said experimentation is not a part of the scientific method
Nobody has denied that science can and does use experiments. If you interpreted any of your opponents as disagreeing with my statement you were wrong.

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CosmicChimp
Member
Posts: 311
From: Muenchen Bayern Deutschland
Joined: 06-15-2007


Message 26 of 138 (514894)
07-13-2009 7:44 PM


Hypothesis
To clarify about the meaning of hypothesis from another thread I would like to post here.
I am a chemist. I have a very good idea what a hypothesis is. Until proven, if possible, it can be stated "My hypothesis is that RNA self assembled around black smokers." This might or might not be faith. Many people might really be saying, "It could have happened here or at tide pools, but I don't know." Once you decide that it must be one way, you are saying, "I believe it happened this way." Saying, it could not have happened with God's guidance, is such a belief statement.
Although you may be a chemist (and never used the scientific method), and think you already know what a scientific hypothesis is, you should be aware that you have not demonstrated any sign of knowing what it is, except to the negative. At least review the material that you may have learned and merely forgotten. Wiki has a pretty good description of what it is. HYPOTHESIS
Take note of where it is stated that a hypothesis is never proven.
Edited by CosmicChimp, : No reason given.

  
subbie
Member (Idle past 1341 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 27 of 138 (514908)
07-13-2009 9:58 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by CosmicChimp
07-04-2009 8:26 PM


If you want to include modifying a hypothesis into step 1, sort of a feedback loop, I wouldn't argue against that. I still think that that bit should be made explicit.
However, I disagree strongly with your claim that a tiny incongruence might bring down the entire body of the ToE. Incongruences are measured against the whole of the evidence in support of a theory. A theory as well-supported as the ToE cannot fall to any single incongruence. While I agree with you that tiny incongruences are the meat of trying to find out where a theory is flawed, and are important in tweaking the details of a theory, that's not responsive to the point that I made. Any theory that is as strongly supported as the ToE will survive not only a single tiny incongruence, but even a fusillade of significant incongruences.

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus. -- Thomas Jefferson
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers. -- Barack Obama
We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

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CosmicChimp
Member
Posts: 311
From: Muenchen Bayern Deutschland
Joined: 06-15-2007


Message 28 of 138 (514914)
07-13-2009 10:42 PM
Reply to: Message 27 by subbie
07-13-2009 9:58 PM


For whatever reason I did not realize that you meant a specific theory (ToE). I responded to the idea of theories in general. I agree that the ToE is not easily brought down by future incongruences. Especially since ToE is one of the best supported theories we have (if not outright the best).
Regarding the first point, is your request not superfluous and distracting considering the value attached to having clean and simple steps to the scientific method? I'm considering also the teaching value associated with keeping a strategy, method or procedure simple.
Take for example the English 26 letter alphabet. Is it not better to have each character limited to one symbol?
Edited by CosmicChimp, : Rhetorical questions need a question mark?

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subbie
Member (Idle past 1341 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 29 of 138 (514920)
07-13-2009 11:35 PM
Reply to: Message 28 by CosmicChimp
07-13-2009 10:42 PM


I didn't necessarily mean to limit my comments to a specific theory. Anytime one is determining whether to abandon a theory based on incongruencies, the decision is based on the strength of the theory, the supporting evidence, and the weight of the conflicting facts. I did use the ToE as an example of a very strongly supported theory, but never meant my comments to apply only to the ToE.
I do not think my suggestion is either superfluous or distracting. Instead, I consider it to be a vital part of the scientific method. Your earlier point was that tiny incongruences can mean the end of a theory. However, they don't, until efforts to revise the theory are exhausted. For a stronger theory, more effort will be expended to save it from an apparent conflict. But the process of modifying a theory to account for incongruences can take a significant percentage of the time and effort spent in developing the original hypothesis. To not mention this process at all, or to subsume it within the step of the initial hypothesis without making it an explicit part would, in my opinion, amount to a serious omission that would leave the reader with a faulty understanding of the process as a whole.

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus. -- Thomas Jefferson
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers. -- Barack Obama
We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

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CosmicChimp
Member
Posts: 311
From: Muenchen Bayern Deutschland
Joined: 06-15-2007


Message 30 of 138 (514921)
07-14-2009 12:17 AM
Reply to: Message 29 by subbie
07-13-2009 11:35 PM


I really don't agree with what I see as your malleable version of theories. I take a more black and white approach to theories. I'll wait for other forum members to weigh in on your view of the issue as I have interpreted it.
Including or excluding your more detailed version of the method, revisions etc, is I think a matter of opinion, I can see your view.
What about the value of economy of verbiage?
Edited by CosmicChimp, : spelling

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