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# The Scientific Method For Beginners

Author Topic:   The Scientific Method For Beginners
Theodoric
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 Message 106 of 138 (521735) 08-28-2009 6:20 PM Reply to: Message 104 by kbertsche08-28-2009 6:11 PM

Re: theories and facts
NO. NO. NO.
Please read this. I have posted this before and the link. It explains it in simple laymen's terms.
Scientific Theory, Law, and Hypothesis Explained | Wilstar.com
quote:
Scientific Law: This is a statement of fact meant to describe, in concise terms, an action or set of actions. It is generally accepted to be true and universal, and can sometimes be expressed in terms of a single mathematical equation. Scientific laws are similar to mathematical postulates. They don’t really need any complex external proofs; they are accepted at face value based upon the fact that they have always been observed to be true.
Specifically, scientific laws must be simple, true, universal, and absolute. They represent the cornerstone of scientific discovery, because if a law ever did not apply, then all science based upon that law would collapse.
Some scientific laws, or laws of nature, include the law of gravity, Newton's laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, Boyle's law of gases, the law of conservation
of mass and energy, and Hook’s law of elasticity.
Hypothesis: This is an educated guess based upon observation. It is a rational explanation of a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but which has not been proved. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation or continued observation.
Theory: A theory is more like a scientific law than a hypothesis. A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers. One scientist cannot create a theory; he can only create a hypothesis.
In general, both a scientific theory and a scientific law are accepted to be true by the scientific community as a whole. Both are used to make predictions of events. Both are used to advance technology.
In fact, some laws, such as the law of gravity, can also be theories when taken more generally. The law of gravity is expressed as a single mathematical expression and is presumed to be true all over the universe and all through time. Without such an assumption, we can do no science based on gravity's effects. But from the law, we derived the theory of gravity which describes how gravity works,what causes it, and how it behaves. We also use that to develop another theory, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, in which gravity plays a crucial role. The basic law is intact, but the theory expands it to include various and complex situations involving space and time.
The biggest difference between a law and a theory is that a theory is much more complex and dynamic. A law describes a single action, whereas a theory explains an entire group of related phenomena.
An analogy can be made using a slingshot and an automobile.
A scientific law is like a slingshot. A slingshot has but one moving part--the rubber band. If you put a rock in it and draw it back, the rock will fly out at a predictable speed, depending upon the distance the band is drawn back.
An automobile has many moving parts, all working in unison to perform the chore of transporting someone from one point to another point. An automobile is a complex piece of machinery. Sometimes, improvements are made to one or more component parts. A new set of spark plugs that are composed of a better alloy that can withstand heat better, for example, might replace the existing set. But the function of the automobile as a whole remains unchanged.
A theory is like the automobile. Components of it can be changed or improved upon, without changing the overall truth of the theory as a whole.
Some scientific theories include the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, the atomic theory, and the quantum theory. All of these theories are well documented and proved beyond reasonable doubt. Yet scientists continue to tinker with the component hypotheses of each theory in an attempt to make them more elegant and concise, or to make them more all-encompassing. Theories can be tweaked, but they are seldom, if ever, entirely replaced.
A theory is developed only through the scientific method, meaning it is the final result of a series of rigorous processes. Note that theories do not become laws. Scientific laws must exist prior to the start of using the scientific method because, as stated earlier, laws are the foundation for all science.
Please read very carefully the comparison and contrast between the Law of Gravity and the Theory of Gravity.

Facts don't lie or have an agenda. Facts are just facts

 This message is a reply to: Message 104 by kbertsche, posted 08-28-2009 6:11 PM kbertsche has replied

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kbertsche
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 Message 107 of 138 (521736) 08-28-2009 6:21 PM Reply to: Message 103 by cavediver08-28-2009 6:07 PM

Re: Theory of Gravity
quote:
No, no, no - couldn't be further from the truth! A law is an embodiment of observation, not of theory.
But laws (e.g. Newton's and Kepler's laws) are not simply embodiments of observation. Their development required generalization beyond the actual observations; they required theory at some level, and are in some sense consequences of theory.

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kbertsche
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 Message 108 of 138 (521737) 08-28-2009 6:27 PM Reply to: Message 106 by Theodoric08-28-2009 6:20 PM

Re: theories and facts
quote:
Please read very carefully the comparison and contrast between the Law of Gravity and the Theory of Gravity.
Yes, it seems like a good explanation. I agree with it.
But note that it also validates the way I have been using the terms:
quote:
In fact, some laws, such as the law of gravity, can also be theories when taken more generally.

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cavediver
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 Message 109 of 138 (521738) 08-28-2009 6:35 PM Reply to: Message 107 by kbertsche08-28-2009 6:21 PM

Re: Theory of Gravity
** duplicate post **
Edited by cavediver, : removing duplicate post

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cavediver
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 Message 110 of 138 (521740) 08-28-2009 6:48 PM Reply to: Message 107 by kbertsche08-28-2009 6:21 PM

Re: Theory of Gravity
Their development required generalization beyond the actual observations
Not usually - loosely, they are cases of building mathematical relationships to explain the observations. If there is generalisation that leads to predictions at the time unobserved, then you could argue that you are moving into the territory of a theory. But this is now outside the auspices of a law. But that doesn't stop a law forming the theory behind some previous law, e.g. you can view Newton LoG as forming the theory behind Kepler I, II, and III. Crudely, laws tell you how it is, and theories tell you why it is. And a law, by its nature, is always exceptionally tentat

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Modulous
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 Message 111 of 138 (521742) 08-28-2009 6:59 PM Reply to: Message 100 by kbertsche08-28-2009 5:50 PM

Re: theories and facts
Again, I think I understand what you mean, but "fact of gravity" is non-standard language in physics
Believe it or not 'fact of x' is not really standard language in any science. I'd be very surprised if it turned out that a poll of physicists who were asked 'is the existence of gravity a fact or is it a theory' would say 'it is a theory'.
I'm sure you can find some who use terms differently, but they are not the norm.
Sounds like an empirical claim. Maybe in your personal experience - but in my personal experience practising scientists rarely discuss things like this, anyway. Given that we
agree on the main concepts.
and that
The major disagreement is terminology.
I'd be interested if you had any data to support what is and what is not the 'norm' here.

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Modulous
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 Message 112 of 138 (521743) 08-28-2009 7:04 PM Reply to: Message 108 by kbertsche08-28-2009 6:27 PM

Re: theories and facts
As a further meeting of minds (I feel it deserves a post on its own so forgive the double post)
But note that it also validates the way I have been using the terms:
In fact, some laws, such as the law of gravity, can also be theories when taken more generally
I think also might also agree here. I mentioned earlier that some facts can also be used to explain other facts, and this is one of the kinds of thing I was talking about. "The planets orbit the sun" is a fact, but it also explains our observations so it can also be seen as a theory.
So, the law of gravity can be seen as explaining why celestial bodies do what they do (more or less) - but this is really the hair splitting I mentioned earlier.
Still, the fact that there is such a thing as gravity still doesn't strike me as a theory since it doesn't explain anything - just gives a name to something we observe. I suppose saying that gravity is a universal, far-reaching force that acts upon bodies could be seen as a theory.

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kbertsche
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From: San Jose, CA, USA
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 Message 113 of 138 (521765) 08-28-2009 11:40 PM Reply to: Message 110 by cavediver08-28-2009 6:48 PM

Re: Theory of Gravity
quote:
Not usually - loosely, they are cases of building mathematical relationships to explain the observations. If there is generalisation that leads to predictions at the time unobserved, then you could argue that you are moving into the territory of a theory. But this is now outside the auspices of a law. But that doesn't stop a law forming the theory behind some previous law, e.g. you can view Newton LoG as forming the theory behind Kepler I, II, and III. Crudely, laws tell you how it is, and theories tell you why it is. And a law, by its nature, is always exceptionally tenta
In normal scientific usage, there seems to be a broad range of things labeled "theory" and things labeled "law", with some overlap between them. A theory can be very narrow, such as the theory that a meteorite killed the dinosaurs. Or it can be very broad, such as electromagnetic theory. Likewise, a law can be narrow, such as Ohm's Law. Or it can be very broad, such as Maxwell's Equations , a set of laws which govern all of electromagnetism.
Interestingly, we don't usually call the full set of Maxwell's Equations either a "theory" or a "law." Maxwell originally presented them as a part of his "theory" of electromagnetism, but the individual equations can be reduced to "laws" of electromagnetism such as Gauss' Law, Faraday's Law, and Ampere's Law.

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kbertsche
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From: San Jose, CA, USA
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 Message 114 of 138 (521766) 08-28-2009 11:51 PM Reply to: Message 111 by Modulous08-28-2009 6:59 PM

Re: theories and facts
quote:
Sounds like an empirical claim. Maybe in your personal experience - but in my personal experience practising scientists rarely discuss things like this, anyway.
In my experience, there is a fairly uniform, well-accepted understanding of distinctions between "fact" and "theory", and this sort of thing is frequently mentioned in casual conversation, colloquia, and popular-level writing by leading scientists. (E.g. see the article by Helen Quinn referenced earlier in this thread.)
quote:
I'd be interested if you had any data to support what is and what is not the 'norm' here.
I don't have any numeric data, such as polls or surveys. We could find examples of usage by leading scientists, many of whom have written books to explain science to the general public (e.g. Richard Feynmann, Victor Weisskopf, Freeman Dyson, and many, many others).

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kbertsche
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 Message 115 of 138 (521767) 08-29-2009 12:03 AM Reply to: Message 112 by Modulous08-28-2009 7:04 PM

Re: theories and facts
quote:
Still, the fact that there is such a thing as gravity still doesn't strike me as a theory since it doesn't explain anything - just gives a name to something we observe. I suppose saying that gravity is a universal, far-reaching force that acts upon bodies could be seen as a theory.
Yes, and I think this far-reaching force is what people generally mean when they speak of the "theory of gravity."
The "theory of gravity" does explain some things, such as celestial and orbital dynamics, Kepler's Laws, etc. True, it doesn't explain why gravity happens. But suppose we can find and measure the graviton--does this really explain gravity? It fills in our understanding, and gives us a more fundamental, unified understanding. But does it really explain why gravity happens? Is invoking an exchange of virtual gravitons really any better of a why than invoking a gravitational field described by an inverse square law?
Perhaps gravity is a misleading example for us to use, since it is common in physics to speak of both the "theory" and "law" of gravity. Maybe an example like the Big Bang theory would be less confusing, since we don't speak of a big Bang "law".

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Minnemooseus
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 Message 116 of 138 (521774) 08-29-2009 1:32 AM Reply to: Message 115 by kbertsche08-29-2009 12:03 AM

Fact, Law, Theory of Gravity
Fact of gravity: Two masses have an attractive force between them (that isn't because of magnetics, electrostatics, or ?).
Law of gravity: A mathematical equation that quantifies the force between the masses. For non-relativistic conditions, it's (IIRC) directly proportional to the sum of the masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the centers of the masses.
Theory of gravity: The hows and whys of the force.
Moose

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cavediver
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 Message 117 of 138 (521782) 08-29-2009 5:26 AM Reply to: Message 116 by Minnemooseus08-29-2009 1:32 AM

Re: Fact, Law, Theory of Gravity
Exactly
Edited by cavediver, : No reason given.

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cavediver
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 Message 118 of 138 (521783) 08-29-2009 5:54 AM Reply to: Message 113 by kbertsche08-28-2009 11:40 PM

Re: Theory of Gravity
Interestingly, we don't usually call the full set of Maxwell's Equations either a "theory" or a "law."
Actually, we do. This is Maxwell's electromagnetism or the theory of electromagnetism. The laws explained by this theory are those you have mentioned, all empirically derived from observation. But Maxwell unified these laws into his theory, and went on to predict electromagnetic radiation.

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Straggler
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 Message 119 of 138 (521790) 08-29-2009 7:26 AM Reply to: Message 80 by Dr Adequate08-27-2009 2:15 AM

Distraction
Now let us consider the position of a real person who actually exists, namely you. Would you really describe my belief that I have two legs as tentative?
Not your belief that you have two legs. No.
But in philosophy of science terms it is not proven, and never can be, that you actually have two legs. You could be an example of that philosophers favourite a "brain in a jar" with no legs at all.
How relevant this particular philosophical consideration is to this topic is debatable. I would suggest it is a distration from the main aim of your topic. But if you refuse to even make a quick concilatory nod to such philosophical considerations then I feel that you are destined to spend most of the rest of this thread defending that position.
Anyway I'll leave it at that. Feel free to ignore this particular distraction.
Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.

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 Message 120 of 138 (521795) 08-29-2009 8:57 AM Reply to: Message 119 by Straggler08-29-2009 7:26 AM

Re: Distraction
Not your belief that you have two legs. No.
Very well. If the proposition that I have two legs was carefully examined by anyone who could [a] examine me [b] count [c] define the word "leg", would their conclusion be "tentative"?
But in philosophy of science terms it is not proven, and never can be, that you actually have two legs. You could be an example of that philosophers favourite a "brain in a jar" with no legs at all.
And I have said so.
But if you refuse to even make a quick concilatory nod to such philosophical considerations then I feel that you are destined to spend most of the rest of this thread defending that position.
I have made more that a "quick conciliatory nod" to this particular philosophical consideration. I have treated it with the utmost cordiality, considering that it has never done anything for me. However, I would point out that if we are ever to get anything useful done at all, we have to stop wasting our time obsequiously bowing down to this tinpot idol and get on with stuff, such as investigating the Universe. The place that this particular consideration has in the philosophy of science is that it is obligate on every philosopher of science to explain why we should in practice ignore it.

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