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PHY 109
Science for IT
Dr. Mark C. Waterbury
The Scientific Method
Geography is boring
history is dull
math incomprehensible
English full of bull
process of elimination
makes it obvious to me
the proper thing to do is
make bucks scientifically
– M.C. Waterbury
Yes, but, what makes a method scientific?
 The scientific method has been developed to
discover the rules by which the universe operates
 It is designed to minimize distortions by researchers
 Nevertheless, it very much has a human element
Unscientific Methods
 Humans have developed many other approaches to discovering
 Introspection, religion, mysticism, authorities, etc.
 None of these methods have anywhere near the track record of
accomplishment of science
 None of these can make a cell phone, or a decent tennis racquet
Pseudoscientific Methods
Because of the great track record of science, it has drawn many
pretenders and imitators
Some of these claim to have a scientific basis for their product,
or their ideas, and put on much of the trappings of real science
It is necessary to understand what science is to recognize these
Basic steps in scientific method
 Develop a hypothesis, a first guess as to what is happening
 Test the hypothesis
 If the experimental results support the hypothesis you gain
confidence in it and can continue to refine it
 If the experimental results contradict the hypothesis... you
need a new hypothesis
 A well developed hypothesis, supported by a great deal of
experimental evidence, collected by many researchers
working independently, becomes a theory
Scientific Investigation of a Phenomenon
Step 1) Observe and become familiar with
the phenomenon/problem
– Read/review articles in the literature
– Make observations carefully and without
any preconceptions
– Become an observer of nature
Step 2) Make an educated guess (hypothesis) to
explain the phenomenon/problem
Formulating a hypothesis is a big deal
– It is an attempt to discover a connection between
phenomena, to discover a cause-and-effect relationship that
will improve understanding
– Hypotheses that have a reasonable physical mechanism are
heavily preferred over those that propose a link with no clear
reason why
– Think about other possible explanations besides your working
Step 3) Design and perform a test of your hypothesis
– Test only one thing at a time. As much as possible, vary only
one factor and leave the rest the same.
– A good test is one that would give different results between
competing hypotheses/reinforcing one hypothesis while
disproving another.
– If possible (and it is not always possible) have a “control” – an
example of the phenomenon/problem to which you do nothing.
– Stay open-minded… Do not force any preconceptions onto
the data — let the data speak for itself.
Step 4) If your hypothesis passes the test…
– Your confidence grows
– You may want to repeat the tests were designed
further tests
– {When you become confident enough in your
hypothesis to stake your reputation on it, announce
your results}
(Or, simply state your reservations)
Step 4) If your hypothesis fails the test…
– You may want to repeat the test more carefully
– When you become confident that your hypothesis
has failed the test, you must modify the hypothesis or
discard it, then go back to step two.
– Research that leads to failed hypotheses should be
published just as much as confirmed ones should.
Step 5) Publish and Discuss
– Three major forms of publication, 1) Journals, 2)
Presentations, 3) Poster Presentations
– If you simply publish something somewhere, it may
never be noticed.
– Successful researchers pound on points they have
figured out for many years to gain acceptance within
their discipline.
Step 6) Replication of Results and Discussion
– Other researchers will read your publication and
attempt to replicate the experiment (if they find it
interesting and have $).
– The whole process is ongoing, expect to have your
work superseded at some point in time
Note: Idealized Version of Science
 Real world science uses and embraces many other
elements of human minds
 Creativity, insight, analogy, and looking for
correlations all play roles
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