The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century (with notable practitioners in previous centuries). It involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement (or elimination) of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings. These are principles of the scientific method, as distinguished from a definitive series of steps applicable to all scientific enterprises.
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- Until scientific inquiry came of age, human beings could not comprehend their relationship to the physical world, so they invented their own explanations. These explanations tended to be simplistic and in many cases, harmful. For example, if one knows a tidal wave is approaching and chooses to stay and pray for deliverance rather than leaving, this could be detrimental to his/her survival. People used to believe that plagues and diseases were retributions of an angry God, but the scientific method found that many diseases were carried by rats and lice, and caused by germs.
It is not that scientists are close-minded regarding these issues—it’s just that their acceptance of ideas requires more sophisticated standards and methods of inquiry.
- The scientific method helps to diminish biases, prejudices, and preconceived notions. The method requires that statements be verified and that researchers find out through experimentation just what works and what doesn’t. Scientists ask the question “what do we have here?” and then they proceed to do experiments to determine the nature of the physical world. This process requires that experiments be verified by others who must get the same results. One of the major developments in science was the realization that we can not acquire answers to problems just intuitively. It requires painstaking laborious effort and time to find solutions and answers. Often many failures come before any new findings.