The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 28th, 2015, 2:12 am 

I thought some readers might find the following article interesting : "Ten Myths of Science: Reexamining What We Think We Know..." by science educator William McComas. Many of you are surely familiar with arch-skeptic and science enthusiast, Michael Shermer. The article has appeared in his "Skeptic" magazine.

http://amasci.com/miscon/myths10.html

Of particular interest to us is Myth #3 ...



Myth 3: A General and Universal Scientific Method Exists
-----------------------------------------------------------------

The notion that a common series of steps is followed by all research scientists must be among the most pervasive myths of science given the appearance of such a list in the introductory chapters of many precollege science texts. This myth has been part of the folklore of school science ever since its proposal by statistician Karl Pearson (1937). The steps listed for the scientific method vary from text to text but usually include, a) define the problem, b) gather background information, c) form a hypothesis, d) make observations, e) test the hypothesis, and f) draw conclusions. Some texts conclude their list of the steps of the scientific method by listing communication of results as the final ingredient.

One of the reasons for the widespread belief in a general scientific method may be the way in which results are presented for publication in research journals. The standardized style makes it appear that scientists follow a standard research plan. Medawar (1990) reacted to the common style exhibited by research papers by calling the scientific paper a fraud since the final journal report rarely outlines the actual way in which the problem was investigated.

Philosophers of science who have studied scientists at work have shown that no research method is applied universally (Carey, 1994; Gibbs & Lawson, 1992; Chalmers, 1990; Gjertsen, 1989). The notion of a single scientific method is so pervasive it seems certain that many students must be disappointed when they discover that scientists do not have a framed copy of the steps of the scientific method posted high above each laboratory workbench.

Close inspection will reveal that scientists approach and solve problems with imagination, creativity, prior knowledge and perseverance. These, of course, are the same methods used by all problem-solvers. The lesson to be learned is that science is no different from other human endeavors when puzzles are investigated. Fortunately, this is one myth that may eventually be displaced since many newer texts are abandoning or augmenting the list in favor of discussions of methods of science.




and McComas' conclusion which I heartily endorse...

"If, in fact, students and many of their teachers hold these myths to be true, we have strong support for a renewed focus on science itself rather than just its facts and principles in science teaching and science teacher education. This is one of the central messages in both of the new science education projects. Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993) and the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1994) project both strongly suggest that school science must give students an opportunity to experience science authentically, free of the legends, misconceptions and idealizations inherent in the myths about the nature of the scientific enterprise. There must be increased opportunity for both preservice and inservice teachers to learn about and apply the real rules of the game of science accompanied by careful review of textbooks to remove the "creeping fox terriers" that have helped provide an inaccurate view of the nature of science. Only by clearing away the mist of half-truths and revealing science in its full light, with knowledge of both its strengths and limitations, will learners become enamored of the true pageant of science and be able fairly to judge its processes and products."
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby Marshall on January 28th, 2015, 3:15 am 

No surprise here: scientific methodology is a fuzzy category. You cannot boil it down to a list of abstractions that everyone will agree on or that can be applied in every case.

It is futile to do this (except in juvenile textbooks)
==quote==
The steps listed for the scientific method vary from text to text but usually include, a) define the problem, b) gather background information, c) form a hypothesis, d) make observations, e) test the hypothesis, and f) draw conclusions. Some texts conclude their list of the steps of the scientific method by listing communication of results as the final ingredient. ...
==endquote==
A crackpot could follow those steps and still be recognized by members of the community as a crackpot.

Saying that such a description fails as a definition is kind of a straw man.

What I am saying is scientific methodology is a real and very important thing about which there is a lot of agreement in the community about what is good science and what isn't. what standards to apply where etc. And reputations rise and fall accordingly.

But you have to be kind of naive to expect that this real thing can be reduced to a list of English common language statements that you can apply in every case and always be right.
that does not work for many very real and important things. Try defining Religion, War, Democracy, Marriage, the Rule of Law,...
If you can't boil any of those things down to a textbook verbal list, then you have no right to expect it to work for scientific methodology.

Shirmer's author is just saying the obvious. What you read in mediocre textbooks is often BS. Don't expect a simplistic definition to be worth anything.
Marshall
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 28th, 2015, 5:38 am 

This myth has been part of the folklore of school science ever since its proposal by statistician Karl Pearson (1937).


People are looking at this in an entirely wrong light. To say it is a myth is as insulting as saying George Washington didn't really chop down the cherry tree. Almost every point made by both sides in this debate is valid what is not valid is way the question is being asked. It is not a how do they do that question it is a how did they do that question. Children's text books never ask the "big" question for the very valid reason that children do not have sufficient judgement or knowledge to deal with anything more than accepted facts clothed in a fair tale style of writing designed to hold their interest.

The error in the myth is not being propagated so much by the people that hold the premise that something like a Universal Scientific Method exists but by those who argue Washington must was have been a liar because a myth is used to suggest he couldn't lie. The motivations of those arguing against a Scientific Method are I suspect captured fairly well by MTB's statement. " So science which started by rejecting authority and tradition now depends upon it." This is a sufficiently true statement to justify the investigation but insufficient to demonstrate that no Scientific Method exists.

The reason that the "Myth" exist is to explain a social phenomenon too complex for children to understand. What distinguishes this type of myth from religious myths is that the central figures are real. Trying to teach every aspect of the history of science which encapsulates the scientific method would be both confusing and impossible. Children however like characters and catchy phrases. Here are a few of the real life characters in our "myth" Thales, Aristotle, Ibn al-Haytham, Johannes Kepler, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, Thomas Hobbes, Isaac Newton, David Hume, James Clerk Maxwell, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and a hundred other names I omitted.

I would say the views of Karl Popper could equally be dismissed as "myth" because they are entirely too simplistic. The real world is messy and not subject to simple explanations at the level we would like to discuss things.

The myth being propagated in this thread is that history and philosophy are simpler subjects than science.
wolfhnd
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 28th, 2015, 7:18 am 

Folks I,m going to try and do what i have objected to, which is simplify the arguments :-)

The position that there is no such thing as the Scientific Method is an example of the Oversimplification and Exaggeration fallacy.

"The causation fallacies known as oversimplification and exaggeration occur whenever the series of actual causes for an event are either reduced or multiplied to the point where there is no longer a genuine, causal connection between the alleged causes and the actual effect. In other words, multiple causes are reduced to just one or a few (oversimplification) or a couple of causes are multiplied into many (exaggeration).

Also known as the "reductive fallacy" because it involves reducing the number of causes, oversimplification seems to occur more often, perhaps because there are so many ostensibly good reasons for simplifying things. Well-intentioned writers and speakers can readily fall into the trap of oversimplification if they are not careful.

One impetus for simplification is the basic advice given to all who want to improve their writing style: don't get bogged down in details. Good writing needs to be clear and precise, thus helping people to understand an issue rather than confusing them even more. In the process, however, a writer can easily leave out too many details, omitting critical information which needs to be included.

Another important impetus which can lead to oversimplification is the overuse of an important tool in critical thinking: Occam's Razor. This is the principle of not assuming too many factors or causes for an event than are necessary and is often expressed by saying "the simpler explanation is preferable."

Although it is true that an explanation should be no more complicated than necessary, one must be very careful not to construct an explanation which is less complicated than necessary. A famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein states, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." "

http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/s ... ersimp.htm

It is most evident in this thread by a request for a simple explanation or definition so that the opposing view can be falsified. The opposing view in good faith falls into this trap because of the natural desire to be concisely polite. It is also characterized by the attitude that I have an opinion and I'm sticking to it. To be fair I don't think that the OP intended to set this trap but it is a common feature of threads such as these that a subject for which each point would represent a lifetimes work for a scholar cannot be adequately covered in a few pages.

The opposing view is little better because of a tendency of scientists to reject qualitative data.

The reason we are here is not to resolve an argument that fills volumes of philosophical literature but to tease out a compromise between the quantitative traditions of scientist and the qualitative views of the other professions.

The traditions of both sides are an obstacle to achieving this aim. Scientist embrace quantified approaches and derided the social sciences as unscientific. The other professions maintain that science's reliance on formal calculations inaccurately reflected the real world. Unfortunately they are both right. If the philosophy of science is going to provide anything of value a compromised approach will be needed. What i would call the hypocrisy of the honest man where it is necessary to compromise your beliefs to make society functional.

Personal note: I came back to these forums following a long absence after reading Steven Pinker's Blank Slate when it was clear to me he needed the help of philosophers, historians, and sociologist to make that book coherent.
wolfhnd
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 28th, 2015, 8:06 am 

AllShips » Tue Jan 27, 2015 9:54 pm wrote:
I guess I wasn't clear enough. The point I'm trying to make with the analogy is this:

If the formula (F) of Coca Cola is timeless -- if it has remained unchanged through the ages -- then the company can plausibly appeal to the unity of formula to explain the continuing success of the product. One formula F explains all.


That's where I would disagree. Supposing the analogy to science is that the timeless formula is comparable to Kepler's laws of planetary motion. I would attest that we are now in the realm of science. However, such laws are descriptive only, not explanatory. Newton's law of gravitation became the explanatory framework. Your so-called 'unity of formula' doesn't have that feature.

However, I'm afraid I fail to understand the role that this formula is expected to play in a discussion about the scientific method. Are you returning to some logical empiricist approach to science? One where I have no clue about the relationship between the products of science and its value. Though I'm no expert in Logical Positivism, I'm skeptical that its logical formulae actually explains anything about its product. In any case, it's my understanding that the best efforts of these logicians has fallen on very hard times, what with the pragmatic turn that occurred in philosophical circles, notably with Quine, lo thse many years ago.

Allships wrote:I'm not suggesting Coca Cola is doing science. And the methods of production they use are not relevant to my analogy.


Well, I wouldn't go that far. I was trying to point out that any method of science that accounts for its success has to include the explanatory aspect of science. Maybe someday the science of taste will be adequate to that task.
owleye
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 28th, 2015, 8:31 am 

Marshall » Tue Jan 27, 2015 9:53 pm wrote:The focus on definition was as per A.Ships.
I want him to try applying his approach to Democracy or some other community-based tradition and ethic besides Science, so he can discover its absurdity.
He at first suggested that since there was no unique correct verbal Definition, scientific method did not exist.


Not sure why Allships would demand a unique correct verbal definition of the scientific method. But here's my dictionary's definition:

Apple Dictionary wrote:scientific method
noun
a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.


Assuming that is an adequate treatment of what he is initially after, he has, as far as I'm concerned, offered a reasonable rebuttal to the existence of that which is being defined. Which is to say there is no single procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century. I'll not get into all his arguments, but I think that's his main point. This business about the need to explain its success, or to get folks to be specific about the method itself makes for additional requirements imposed on the 'definition'. We might find them in a text book (which I have). Allships goes to some length in his rebuttal to ferret out what the terms of the definition are so that we have a way of distinguishing what science does and what other disciplines do. He wishes us to dig deeper than the superficial definition given above. And he seems to have concluded that more analysis one gives to this method, the more likely it is that we find that it doesn't really exist, at least in any exclusive way to science (Note I could be wrong. I'm merely trying to understand why he wants us to think about other disciplines).
owleye
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 28th, 2015, 8:59 am 

wolfhnd » Wed Jan 28, 2015 5:18 am wrote:Folks I,m going to try and do what i have objected to, which is simplify the arguments :-)

The position that there is no such thing as the Scientific Method is an example of the Oversimplification and Exaggeration fallacy....


And of course what you write is not a simplification.

The main difficulty I have with it is the lack of examples. Having examples is a way of simplifying an argument. If we can all agree that the example makes the point you are trying to make, we can skip a whole lot of verbiage. While you say that the 'scientific method' is an example, what you mean is that you are making it the target of the fallacy you wish to draw on in order to make your point. I'm not sure why you need to go all that formal. It's presumably easy enough to understand that something is being oversimplified simply by giving an example of where that occurs and, if necessary, why it's relevant. Similarly, if the rebuttal draws on an exaggeration, which you can point to. However, in both of these examples, you would have to make sure that everyone would agree that they are simplifications and exaggerations. And that's the rub. We would have to agree with you that there is a scientific method in which what is being exemplified can be compared to. And this is not something that you have done. You can only make a comparison with a target if it's not moving (unless of course you can track the movements).
owleye
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 28th, 2015, 9:45 am 

wolfhnd » January 28th, 2015, 6:09 am wrote:
Systematic observation. Darwin and others who considered themselves naturalist made extensive observation of various species. They kept systematic records of their observations and shared them with others. At the same time fossils were being excavated and careful catalogued.

Measurements and classification were made of various living species and of fossils that were no longer present in the environment.

Experimentation took the form of verifiable predictions about future discoveries. This predictions included intermediate forms in the fossil records and a consistant line of desent. The predictions also include similar features in unrelated species in similar habitats.

Based on these and other observations and test natural selection was formulated.

Testing was done by correlating changes in species with the age of sedimentary rocks and other geological features.

Aspects of the theory were modified to agree with modern dating processes and DNA data.

I wrote this up in about two minutes and it could be refined but it captures the idea that the TSM is a plausible explanation for the success of science. The fact that there is no single "official" scientific method is no different than there is no official way to do a lot of things and begs the question of who would be the enforcement agency.




There's been a lot of talk of fallacies recently. In response to this interesting post by Wolfhnd on the previous page, I'd like to suggest for other readers' consideration a potential fallacy. Let's grant that Wolfhnd has given us an accurate reconstruction of the events surrounding the discovery and acceptance of Darwin's theory of natural selection. The fallacy, I suggest, would be to infer from a reconstruction of events that these events happened methodically.

We could easily retrace the steps leading to Joe Bloggs' recent lottery scoop, but we surely would not want to infer that the entire process was methodical. (The easy parts are methodical -- buying tickets, etc. The tough part -- winning the dosh -- clearly not)

Consider, for example, the most critical step in the entire process : "Based on these and other observations and test natural selection was formulated."

Formulated? Just like that, eh? Formulated methodically? If so, can you explain what that method was , please? How exactly did Darwin proceed from data to theory?

If, say, we turned the clock back and placed some other budding naturalist in Mr Darwin's place, given exactly the same experiences and data, should we expect him to produce the same theory? If not, why not? Isn't this supposed to be a methodical process?
Last edited by AllShips on January 28th, 2015, 10:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 28th, 2015, 10:04 am 

If, say, we turned the clock back and placed some other budding naturalist in Mr Darwin's place, given exactly the same experiences and data, should we expect him to produce the same theory? If not, why not? Isn't this supposed to be a methodical process?


You are making the same mistake repeatedly by assume that the method is a property of an individual or an individuals method represents the complexity of the cultural model.


I'm not going to elaborate on my example of using TSM because honestly you can make anything fit a model if you are selective enough. That is in fact the point in so far as any simple model will work but uncovering the actual model that accounts for sciences success is worth doing but scholars spend life times trying.
Last edited by wolfhnd on January 28th, 2015, 10:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
wolfhnd
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 28th, 2015, 10:09 am 

Well, was the theory formulated methodically or not?
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 28th, 2015, 10:21 am 

AllShips » Wed Jan 28, 2015 2:09 pm wrote:Well, was the theory formulated methodically or not?


Actually imagination was as important as method in the final form of the theory. The theory I would argue existed in the culture before it was "discovered" or expounded by Darwin.
wolfhnd
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 28th, 2015, 10:26 am 

It certainly seems that hypothesis/theory generation is a creative, and not a methodical process.
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 28th, 2015, 10:31 am 

AllShips » Wed Jan 28, 2015 2:26 pm wrote:It certainly seems that hypothesis/theory generation is a creative, and not a methodical process.


Absolutely but hypothesis and theory generation relies on the scholarly work of thousands of individuals you will never be exposed to.
wolfhnd
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 28th, 2015, 10:49 am 

I hope no one takes this the wrong way. The circular nature of this debate, I would suggest, is why many people abandoned metaphysics and followed the scientific path. It's also why philosophers are exploring new approaches like object oriented philosophy. While I spent my life in applied science I see a real need for qualitative approaches to science and I think philosophers have a role in reaching that objective. The fact that many scientist do not believe in the existence of the Scientific Method I take as proof of the need for philosophical clarification.
wolfhnd
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby neuro on January 28th, 2015, 2:09 pm 

AllShips » January 28th, 2015, 3:26 pm wrote:It certainly seems that hypothesis/theory generation is a creative, and not a methodical process.

Ships,
this is a bad of you!
Although in general I feel you are making a question of principle out of something that is much more relevant in practice than in theory, I got to appreciate more and more your rigor in argumenting.

But this!
please!

Hypothesis generation is by no means specific to "the scientific method", whatever this may mean.

Hypothesis generation is a fundamental, unavoidable, continuous activity of our mind.

You may give rules not to fool around in generating hypotheses (which I think is the closest thing to a scientific method, though sometimes fooling around has produced revolutionary changes in paradigm, which suggests that teaching not to fool around is ok to produce science in the current paradigm, whereas the rule to change paradigms is much simper, it is sufficient to be a genius, determined and brave),
but you certanly cannot give rules to teach how to generate hypotheses to somebody who does not know how to do it in face of any problematic aspect of reality
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby Marshall on January 28th, 2015, 2:15 pm 

Hi Neuro! I restarted the thread without the definite article THE, which I think was the main source of confusion and why the thread got longer and longer without seeming to go anywhere. Referring to scientific methodology as THE Scientific Method immediately moves us in the direction of myth, and the oversimplified things we tell children. Let's transfer our various different ideas and perceptions about science and terminology to the new thread.
Scientific methodology: does it exist?
Marshall
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 28th, 2015, 8:53 pm 

AllShips » Wed Jan 28, 2015 8:09 am wrote:Well, was the theory formulated methodically or not?


I have the same objection to this requirement as I had the last time you required it. The scientific method is a method to which adherents would follow. When it comes to theory formation, one shouldn't complain that the method is not being followed because theory formation isn't methodical. However it is arrived at, if it is included as a step in the method, that's all that needs to be done. I would generally agree that other steps in the method may be thought of adhering methodically, if by methodically, that we are as careful as we can be about what we are doing.
owleye
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 28th, 2015, 9:18 pm 

AllShips » Wed Jan 28, 2015 7:45 am wrote:
wolfhnd » January 28th, 2015, 6:09 am wrote:
Systematic observation. Darwin and others who considered themselves naturalist made extensive observation of various species. They kept systematic records of their observations and shared them with others. At the same time fossils were being excavated and careful catalogued.

Measurements and classification were made of various living species and of fossils that were no longer present in the environment.

Experimentation took the form of verifiable predictions about future discoveries. This predictions included intermediate forms in the fossil records and a consistant line of desent. The predictions also include similar features in unrelated species in similar habitats.

Based on these and other observations and test natural selection was formulated.

Testing was done by correlating changes in species with the age of sedimentary rocks and other geological features.

Aspects of the theory were modified to agree with modern dating processes and DNA data.

I wrote this up in about two minutes and it could be refined but it captures the idea that the TSM is a plausible explanation for the success of science. The fact that there is no single "official" scientific method is no different than there is no official way to do a lot of things and begs the question of who would be the enforcement agency.


I couldn't find the post in which this was extracted. There's a sense in which it has a source outside this forum. However, in trying to resurrect Darwin's methodology, I find the presentation a bit too self-serving.

1. On systematic observation, the claim of observation itself is not given a sufficient analysis to bolster what it is that Darwin actually did, systematically. The main point that should be emphasized here is that observation itself should at least be analyzed in accordance with the lens that it is already theory laden. This is to say that the systematic aspect is built into any sustained observation, especially if you are a scientist who is trying to find an explanation of what it is that being observed. Observation requires something to observe, but it might not be observed if it not attended to. And it may not be attended to if it doesn't have some value to the observer that makes it stand out. And it's just part of human nature that what's being observed takes on or is guided by the value it will have in how it comports with other observations and any theory which intends to explain what is being observed. Note that the records kept are not exactly a portrayal of random data. They intend to allow the reader to compare one thing with another, implying that there's something in what's recorded that should be explained.

3. On experimentation, I think you are going to have to provide some evidence that this formed part of Darwin's use of the method you are describing. I find it a bit implausible.

I'll concede that Darwin's interest was in discovering the origin of species, and led him to consider the span of time needed in order to figure out when that origin might have occurred, concluding that age determination is a consideration for testing whether such an origin was even possible. Darwin, as far as I'm aware, never did any testing. And this despite that science moved quickly to embrace Darwin's theory even without having it tested.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby TheVat on January 28th, 2015, 9:22 pm 

....
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