Science Rocks

Science Week – Scientific Method

ScienceThe modern world was largely created by science and you don’t make it out of bed before you tangibly benefit from the work of scientist. Do you wear contacts or glasses? Do you have a mattress? Do you take medication to sleep or alleviate pain? I’m of the opinion that we largely take scientific advancement for granted. I’m going to spend all week talking about how science has changed our lives for the better but, being the critical analyst I am, I’ll also look at some missteps along the way.

I want to begin my analysis looking at the benefits of what is called the Scientific Method and how it is defined. The Oxford English Dictionary says “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypothesis.”

Basically, before something is promulgated as fact it must be tested in a measurable way and produce similar results. This is a part of critical thinking although there are divergences as well. One of the main arguments against this method comes to dealing with human immeasurables.

With the National Football League draft combine currently going on we have at hand an excellent example of this sort of issue with the scientific method when it comes to human behavior. NFL teams test players for a number of measurable abilities including strength, running speed, agility, and passing accuracy. These tests help the NFL teams gauge who they will take in the upcoming draft. However, the qualities displayed at the combine are weighed with the player’s past performance on the field, their positional need with that team, their leadership abilities, and their team skills all of which are observable but not measurable.

So, the scientific method isn’t a solution all the world’s ill. However, it is a method by which we gain understanding of the world around us and learn to manipulate it for our own benefit. I’m going to spend an entire day on modern western medicine later in the week and another on microchips and computers but I’m keeping it more general today.

There is evidence of the scientific method dating back to ancient Egypt and a medical text and certainly the Babylonians used it in their astronomical researches. It was not formally seen until Aristotle‘s literature came to light. Great mathematical achievements came under Arabic culture with Ibn_al-Haytham being a huge pioneer.

Modern scientific methods were used by Galileo in his discoveries about the nature of the earth in the cosmos, or more accurately, that Jupiter had moons that orbited Jupiter, not the earth. This conflicted with church teachings of Heliocentrism. This debate and eventual triumph of the scientific method changed the world.

Francis Bacon then came along and disputed the Aristotle method for a more modern interpretation. He said, ” For the induction which proceeds by simple enumeration is childish.” Let’s parse that incredibly important statement.

We cannot say something is true simply by numbering items that favor it. That is the thinking of a child. We must investigate, we must experiment, we must prove a thing true. Huge words by a giant. Take them to heart.

What we consider the scientific method today is certainly attributable in a large part to Sir Isaac Newton and his rules of reasoning. Two other men, of whom you have likely never heard, coalesced those idea. Charles Sanders Peirce and Karl Popper are important men and for those of you with a further interest in the topic I’d suggest a look at their Wikipedia articles.

In any case, I kick off Science Week with a salute to the Scientific Method through whose advancements made possible my ability to communicate with you via my writing, that allows me to drive to work in my Prius, that allows me to see through contact lenses, that allows me to order, pay for, receive, steep, and drink my tea from around the world in less than a week, that allows me to watch the Collingwood Magpies try to make it back to the Grand Final, and allows me to do so many things that I cannot begin to list them all.

Thank you scientists, thank you all.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist