Basic understanding of the Scientific Method

As a layperson non-specialist I am trying to verify if I understand scientific method.

Can someone look at the example I made up and tell me if it fits with scientific method. I'm using this diagram as a basis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scientific_Method_as_an_Ongoing_Process.svg

Update 11/21/2016: I have amended steps below taking into account feedback received

1. Make Observations: tree leaves come in different colors green, orange, red, none

2. Think of question: Why do tree leaves change color during fall season?

3. Formulate Hypothesis: Decay of leaves principal cause of color change in fall.

4. Develop Testable Predictions: (isolate pertinent variables) Cut leaf from a tree to study it's color change. Also study color change of leaves that remain on tree. Compare the color change between the two samples. Predicted result should be same between samples.

5. Perform Experimental Test: Set up experiment of 4 and collect results.

6. Develop General Theory: If experiment resulted in similar color change between two samples that confirms the hypothesis. If experiment yields differences in color change between samples then hypothesis is false as it's clear that there are more factors at work in color change then mere decay.

7. Peer Review: Submit findings to stackexchange.com forum to be reviewed by peers

Please let me know if my example I provided correctly fits the scientific method form and if not what I am missing.

• this is a duplicate.... – Swami Vishwananda Nov 19 '16 at 4:01
• @SwamiVishwananda really? Someone else has already asked if Peter's example fits the model of the scientific method? I sincerely doubt that. – Mr. Kennedy Nov 19 '16 at 15:19
• Something you may want to add: what audience are you using "the scientific method" in. Like all good and useful ideas, it changes slightly depending on who you talk to. The scientific method we teach a middleschooler in school has a different feel than the scientific method practiced by PhDs in academia. This difference stems from the fact that those two groups need to apply the scientific method in different ways. The two are certainly similar, but as you can see from the comments, the devil is in the details. – Cort Ammon Nov 19 '16 at 15:50
• @Mr.Kennedy really. do a search on scientific method with the search box at the upper right corner - so few do. Among others - philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/23038/… – Swami Vishwananda Nov 20 '16 at 5:01
• Thank you everyone for your feedback. As mentioned in my post, I am learning scientific method as non-specialist. In my experience, when learning a new subject, simple concrete examples that accompany a concept are the most helpful to comprehension (along with feedback). Before posting I did extensive research of scientific method topic (including stackexchange.com), and most answers tended to remain more in the abstract. – Peter Nov 20 '16 at 13:42

4 Answers

I believe you are very close, but you need to add a bit to #4, developing testable predictions. You need to isolate the pertinent variable. If you cut the leaf, it does not age; it dies immediately. That might produce a different result from leaves that age in place on the tree. You could add a few things to observe: leaves aging in place on the tree; leaves that have been cut from the tree; leaves from young trees (that do not age quickly); leaves from old trees (that do age quickly). Perhaps you can think of more. And, as another answer indicates, your observations and experiments must be replicable by others. For another point of view on the subject, see my "Is Science a Religion?" here:

http://www.bmeacham.com/blog/?p=536

Peter, you are missing one very crucial aspect of the scientific method: peer review. In no particular order, science is observation, hypothesis and peer review. Peer review is especially important to the former in the way that a verifiable hypothesis must also be falsifiable: if no one reviews your hypothesis and record of observed data, how can anyone verify your results? Consider that knowledge is empirical verification of what is (else how do you know what is?) and that for your record of observations and hypothesis to be verified as useful for making predictions or simple as stating the case, other people must review and scrutinize the hypothesis and experiments with their own observations and critique.

Note that publication is only a convention (tho publication affords review amongst a larger set of peers.) Discussion amongst others, for example, also constitutes peer review. For example, as your peer and after observing your suggested experiment of cutting off leaves I am motivated to question several aspects of what is otherwise an example of taking a hunch, making observations, suggesting a hypothesis and proposing a test to confirm or refute that hypothesis. Does this test the change of color from aging, or just from decay? How would you conduct an experiment to establish the cause of color changes during the life cycle of the plant and its leaves? How will you distinguish cause from correlation? What evidence might show that your hypothesis is false, or are you simply confirming what you want to be the case? Is it enough to make a general observation that certain species of trees have significant changes in the color of their leaves during the Autumn? Is your theory that tree leaves change colors related to decay anything more than a mundane statement of the obvious? Can you think of an abstract way of formulating this process of color changes during life cycle or from decay in such a way that it is applicable to other trees beyond just the particular varietals you have studied?

Not to discourage a sense of investigating the world around you, however, it is also worth noting the investigations, conclusions and confirmed hypotheses of those who have gone before you (these are also your peers and their work is subject to review by you!), such as: https://www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/pubs/leaves/leaves.shtm or http://harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/leaves/science Shall we take these authors at their word, or shall we put their claims to the test?

• In some upper class culture circle maybe, but scientific outlook permeates every aspect of everyday life. – George Chen Nov 18 '16 at 20:35
• @GeorgeChen and yet the OP inquires about scientific method, not scientific outlook – Mr. Kennedy Nov 19 '16 at 4:28
• peer review is an important element of science, but it is not method. – user20153 Nov 20 '16 at 20:38
• I would add that peer review itself is de coded unscientific. History is stuffed with peers reviews that turned out to be bonkers. e.g. 100 years a ago lots of esteemed scientists believed that eugenics was scientific. Soviet psychology? they had peer review. – user20153 Nov 20 '16 at 20:47
• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – commando Nov 23 '16 at 18:21

2 Think of ... < replace "a question" with "questions" plural

3 Formulate ... < insert "(Predict an answer to the question)"

4 Develop... < Your content here is a question that goes into #2 < Replace with "Method: figure out a way to test hypothesis, i.e., an experiment"

5 Gather... < Replace with "#5 Result: Perform the experiment, gather data; repeat the experiment some number of iterations

6 Develop... < Rather than "general theory" I'd say "conclusion" Add 7th step: 7 Write up results, submit for peer review.

• experiments are impossible in many sciences, e.g. astronomy. – user20153 Nov 20 '16 at 20:32

Scientific method is used in everyday decision-making without peer review. A person from cold climate tends to think ants harmless until he is bitten in the South; the first time he responded with disbelief; the second time he learned a lesson; next he will be extremely careful when walking on grass barefooted. An average person from Southern United States tends to think people harmless until he is duped in the pacific north-west; the first time he responded with disbelief; the second time he learned a lesson; after that he will approach people with caution.

Scientific method, although in its more refined forms it may seem complicated, is in essence remarkably simple. It consists in observing such facts as will enable the observer to discover general laws governing facts of the kind in question.The two stages, first of observation, and second of inference to a law, are both essential, and each is susceptible of almost indefinite refinement; but in essence the first man who said "fire burns" was employing scientific method, at any rate if he had allowed himself to be burnt several times.

Russell, Bertrand. "Examples of Scientific Method." The Scientific Outlook. 1962. New York: The Norton Library, 1931. 13. Print.

The fun part is watching your prediction comes true - it is no less gratifying than winning a lottery.

You can do science just by looking at things scientifically without conducting any experiment. All these double blind, inter-factorial experiments are just techniques to single out contributing factors for greater precision and accuracy, but they are not fundamental. A shrewd observer can draw lessons from historical events without conducting any experiments. One obvious example is Darwin, another is Machiavelli. Bertrand Russell said Machiavelli's theories were scientific.

Another example was China's Deng. By 1978, when Deng took the helm, entire China was poverty stricken, but Deng was virtually innocent of any economic theories; he never read Das Kapital, and Adam Smith was as unintelligible to Deng as Laplace was to Benjamin Franklin. Deng observed that all the countries that sided with the West had become exceedingly rich; all those who sided with the Soviet had become desperate poor. Deng decided to side with the West. Now China is filthy rich.*

Of course being scientific is not synonymous to being true or accurate, but science at least enables you to place the round in the vicinity of the target. The scientific conclusion is extremely tentative, subject to revision based on new evidence. So long as you are willing to revise your opinion in accordance to new evidence, you are a scientific man.

Enough emphasize is on observations. Few people realize how important the hypothetical part is. In Bertrand Russell's words:

Often the most difficult step in the discovery of what is true is thinking of a hypothesis which may be true; when once the hypothesis has been thought of, it can be tested, but it may require a man of genius to think of it.

Russell Bertrand. The Art of Philosophizing. New York: Philosophical Library, 1968

Note: * Yes, Deng had advisors, but, if Deng was not smart, all the advisors he had were only good for digging ditches and raising pigs - this was exactly what happened when Mao was in charge. The intelligence of the chief matters; if the chief is not smart, his advisors will be of no use.

• So if the astrologer observes with every Mercury retrograde that electronic problems increase, this is a scientific conclusion? No. Not at all. Furthermore sociological conclusions are not the confirmation of hypotheses, they are explanations of a different sort than how an object released mid-air falls to the ground or force equals mass times acceleration. – Mr. Kennedy Nov 19 '16 at 4:25
• @Mr.Kennedy - yes, it is. Scientific methods only let you infinitely approximate truth, but do not guarantee either truth or accuracy. So long as your conclusion agrees with your observation, it is scientific, no matter how crude it is. Social science is empirical science and is not above natural laws. – George Chen Nov 19 '16 at 5:01
• To illustrate the point: for a long time, people believed the morning star and the evening star were two stars, and I have to say this belief was scientific. – George Chen Nov 19 '16 at 5:29
• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – commando Nov 19 '16 at 18:35