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The scientific method

Biologists study the living world by posing questions about it and seeking science-based responses. This approach is common to other sciences as well and is often referred to as the scientific method. The scientific method was used even in ancient times, but it was first documented by England’s Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) ( [link] ), who set up inductive methods for scientific inquiry. The scientific method is not exclusively used by biologists but can be applied to almost all fields of study as a logical, rational problem-solving method.

Painting depicts Sir Francis Bacon in a long robe.
Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) is credited with being the first to define the scientific method. (credit: Paul van Somer)

The scientific process typically starts with an observation (often a problem to be solved) that leads to a question. Let’s think about a simple problem that starts with an observation and apply the scientific method to solve the problem. One Monday morning, a student arrives at class and quickly discovers that the classroom is too warm. That is an observation that also describes a problem: the classroom is too warm. The student then asks a question: “Why is the classroom so warm?”

Proposing a hypothesis

Recall that a hypothesis is a suggested explanation that can be tested. To solve a problem, several hypotheses may be proposed. For example, one hypothesis might be, “The classroom is warm because no one turned on the air conditioning.” But there could be other responses to the question, and therefore other hypotheses may be proposed. A second hypothesis might be, “The classroom is warm because there is a power failure, and so the air conditioning doesn’t work.”

Once a hypothesis has been selected, the student can make a prediction. A prediction is similar to a hypothesis but it typically has the format “If . . . then . . . .” For example, the prediction for the first hypothesis might be, “ If the student turns on the air conditioning, then the classroom will no longer be too warm.”

Testing a hypothesis

A valid hypothesis must be testable. It should also be falsifiable    , meaning that it can be disproven by experimental results. Importantly, science does not claim to “prove” anything because scientific understandings are always subject to modification with further information. This step—openness to disproving ideas—is what distinguishes sciences from non-sciences. The presence of the supernatural, for instance, is neither testable nor falsifiable. To test a hypothesis, a researcher will conduct one or more experiments designed to eliminate one or more of the hypotheses. Each experiment will have one or more variables and one or more controls. A variable    is any part of the experiment that can vary or change during the experiment. The control group contains every feature of the experimental group except it is not given the manipulation that is hypothesized about. Therefore, if the results of the experimental group differ from the control group, the difference must be due to the hypothesized manipulation, rather than some outside factor. Look for the variables and controls in the examples that follow. To test the first hypothesis, the student would find out if the air conditioning is on. If the air conditioning is turned on but does not work, there should be another reason, and this hypothesis should be rejected. To test the second hypothesis, the student could check if the lights in the classroom are functional. If so, there is no power failure and this hypothesis should be rejected. Each hypothesis should be tested by carrying out appropriate experiments. Be aware that rejecting one hypothesis does not determine whether or not the other hypotheses can be accepted; it simply eliminates one hypothesis that is not valid ( [link] ). Using the scientific method, the hypotheses that are inconsistent with experimental data are rejected.

Questions & Answers

what is abiotic?
Williams Reply
state 2 abiotic factors that affect the rate of transpiration in plants?
Benenge
non living things
Chris
what is a cell
Esther Reply
what is contained in a smooth endoplasmic reticulum?
Bleyd Reply
sperm
Chris
cool
Jo
sorry i meant the structure within the smooth endoplasmic reticulum
Bleyd
what is cell made of
Jo Reply
what is sponge
Joseph Reply
what is a photometer
Abigail Reply
what is respiration
Alao Reply
Is the release of energy from food substance in a living organism
innocent
What is cytoplasm
Nitta Reply
Parasitic adaptation of tapeworm
Angela Reply
Describe osmoregulator or osmoconformers and how these tools allow animals to adapt to different environment.
Alick Reply
describe the secondary function of a leaf to a plant.
Twizera Reply
hi I'm asking a question about HIV infection, can HIV infection transmitted from Mother to unbron child? please help me I So confused.
Khushboy Reply
no it can't
Ahmad
yes it can but their is an injection that can be used to prevent it.
Gift
Ahmad how no?
Khushboy
Hi im new
innocent
no, unless when giving birth
Bright
YES
Kaole
it is can be transmitted but there is an injection that the mother is injected to prevent the disease
Nia
OK
Kaole
I agree with nia
peter
but I think HIV infection can be transmitted through blood so the unborn baby can be affected by HIV when a slight mistake occurred that what i think
Salim
yes, but there is a treatment however, using a retroviral therapy and injection to prevent the unborn child unscathed from the infection
Gula
what is the difference between primary and secondary active transport in detail? I didn't understand the steps in the textbook specifically
Fathima Reply
you are a doctor?
Mohammed
what is the meaning of connective tissue?
Mohammed Reply
what are the characteristics of living things
Owolo Reply
hi
Mohammed
what's the meaning of connective tissue?
Mohammed
Reproduction, adaptation, interaction, movement, growth, respiration, made of cells, responsive to environment (homeostasis), metabolic action (consumption of food converted into energy)
garret
Movement, reproduction, nutrition, irritability, growth, excretion, respiration, death, adaptation, competition
peter

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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