The Scientific Method
So this is a Science Communication blog, we should really start with the basics, this blog post is an amalgamation of several posts that I wrote on the Facebook page earlier in the year and it’s the kind of thing that we’re going to use and refer to from now on.
I think one of my favourite descriptions/definitions of the Scientific Method cam from Season 1, Cosmos: A Space-time Odyssey with @neildegrassetyson, where he laid out the 5 basic steps, the how to of science.
(1) Question authority. No idea is true just because someone says so, including me.
(2) Think for yourself. Question yourself. Don’t believe anything just because you want to. Believing something doesn’t make it so.
(3) Test ideas by the evidence gained from observation and experiment. If a favourite idea fails a well-designed test, it’s wrong. Get over it.
(4) Follow the evidence wherever it leads. If you have no evidence, reserve judgment.
And perhaps the most important rule of all…
(5) Remember: you could be wrong. Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things. Newton, Einstein, and every other great scientist in history — they all made mistakes. Of course they did. They were human.
Science is a way to keep from fooling ourselves, and each other.
Understanding how science works can lead to so many amazing things, but it needs to be communicated well for people to understand whats going on. As such there’s a couple of misunderstood terms that we need to clarify.
A scientific theory is not a guess, it’s not just what some scientist think. It is our best interpretation of the laws of the universe and our best approximation of what will happen under given circumstances. A valid theory must make a prediction and have that prediction validated by experiment and observation. Gravity for example, is a theory there is no proof of it.
Which leads to proof. You can never prove a scientific theory to be completely correct. At any instant some new experiment may completely disprove the currently held theory. All you can say is that the theory fits with our current understanding and that it withstands a well-designed experiment.
Check out Peter Ellerton’s article from the conversation (linked below) for a bit more insight. As well as “Why does E=mc2 : and why should we care?” by @ProffesorBrianCox and Jeff Forshaw to get a better understanding of how the scientific method works.
Now. What do you do with all this science??? You publish it.
Peer reviewed papers?
You’ve probably heard the terms; peer reviewed journal article, scholarly article or research paper, but you might not know what they are or what the process entails.
Essentially these are the same thing, a peer reviewed paper is a research paper which has been written for a specific academic audience, typically published in an academic journal specific to the topic being researched.
There is a very rigorous process for determining what gets published in a peer reviewed journal.
First, the author must do some form of high quality research or experiment, discussing their hypothesis, methods, experimentation etc., In a way which their academic peers can review, compare and replicate if necessary.
The article is then submitted to an academic journal for publishing, a group of similar academics then review the paper, assessing it on a set of strict criteria and then suggest it be rejected, accepted or make suggestions for rewriting.
It can take several months before the paper is published to the academic community who can then read and compare the work with their own or other existing work.
The system isn’t perfect but nowadays it is constantly reviewed and issues of plagiarism, poor research methodology and academic dishonesty can be dealt with much more effectively.
If you’re looking to find a particular research article or paper on a specific scientfic topic, a peer reviewed paper is what you’re looking for. If you know where it was published you can try and find the journal or you can head over to https://scholar.google.com.au to start your search
I’ve included a couple of links, papers, articles and vids, if you’re interested in finding out a bit more, most university have a tutorial vid like the one posted here from North Carolina State Universities.
Hope this has been helpful.
As always, ask questions, discuss and support your opinions with evidence.