The scientific method is central to scientific literacy, and nobody can claim honestly to be a scientist without using the scientific method in some form.
One result of an experiment is that we may draw an inference about causes, but our results are only as good as the logic we apply in reaching the inference.
People who engage in 'creation science' have chosen to avoid any involvement with or use of the scientific method, and cannot rightly be called scientists.
Many charlatans claim to be scientific, because they think it makes them more believable. Some honest but very deluded people may also claim to be scientific.
There is generally assumed to be a single scientific method, but in reality, every scientist has and applies a separate idea of what the scientific method is.
Even though perceptions vary, the different versions of the scientific method all have certain things in common, and are different ways of doing the same thing.
Any principle in science is based on things that can be measured. There are many things we can't measure, but until we can do so, we can't use them in science.
In science, the aim is to make measurements that are accurate and precise enough to answer an interesting question. Perfect precision may not be necessary.
As an example, it may not be possible to measure how long a patient will live, but if a dead patient has been revived, that may be taken as a sufficient result.
Equally, it may not be possible to measure the exact force of an explosion, but if it destroys its target, that may be a sufficient measurement in itself.
When something cannot be measured, it is still legitimate for scientists to speculate about it, so long as they recognize their thoughts as just speculation.
As a general rule, every measurement is imprecise if you look sufficiently closely. The limitations of measuring instruments make certain of that.
Speculation is a legitimate part of science, because it offers an excellent source of ideas for new ways to approach (or think about) an existing problem.
When scientists speculate about things that cannot be measured, their major concern is generally to work out ways in which they might be measured in the future.
It is the special preserve of the great scientist to see that the simple and intuitive model may be wrong, that the Earth may go around the Sun, not vice versa.
The genius of the truly great scientist lies in asking simple questions that have answers which will, when considered carefully, change how the world thinks.
When you are testing an idea, it is important to have complete control over the possible variables in the situation, so you can pinpoint the cause of change.
An experiment needs controlled variables. Experiments often produce results that are less than perfect, so the results are often examined by statistical methods
Controlled experiments allow us to distinguish between, and also to measure, the effects of different possible and actual causes of a particular phenomenon.
Where human judgment or reaction is involved, double-blind testing is best. Trials of new medical treatments often use a placebo, administered double-blind.
Where any sort of analysis is used to detect the presence of something, a blank test is a good idea, to see if some flaw is causing wrong positive indications.
Any proper report about a set of experiments must contain enough details about the methods used to allow other scientists to repeat the experiments themselves.
Experiments should be able to be replicated, done again with the same results. When a result is written up, it must give details of the methods and apparatus.
Genuine science offers predictions that may be tested, so the starting point for discovery is usually a testable hypothesis and an attempt to test it properly.
Scientific predictions and statements must be able to be proved false. In principle, no statement in science is true, it is just 'not shown to be false, yet'.
In practice, most scientists will generally accept as proven any idea that can be used to predict what will happen under certain circumstances, for the present.
Falsifiability must be possible if a statement is scientific. Most scientists accept this definition, but they are practical, and take rules of thumb as proven.
One contradiction, one example breaking any principle, is all that is required to justify, at the very least, amending the principle, or maybe even dropping it.
Science results must be published. Results which have not been shared either in public meetings, or in print, are not part of the body of science.
Science is based on a consensus about publicly-shared principles, knowledge and methods. Science cannot exist in secret, or it is not really legitimate science.
Science has no forbidden areas where scientists may not investigate, unless it would involve using unethical methods. Methods can be wrong, but never topics.
Informal experiments can also be carried out, a form of trial and error that is less rigorous than statements about the scientific method may suggest.
All matters are open to doubt and test, and scientists will go to any lengths, and do whatever it takes, to arrive at the truth about claims and suspicions.
In 1626, Francis Bacon died after an experiment in which he stuffed a dead hen with snow, to see if the meat kept longer. He caught a cold in the process.
In 1600, William Gilbert described how he tested experimentally the claims that onions and garlic have an effect on the operation of the lodestone, or magnet.
The greatest victory for a scientist is to show that an existing model is wrong, and must be replaced by a new one. There is no greater achievement in science.
Because the prospect of proving a model wrong is so attractive to ambitious scientists, false science has little chance of surviving for any length of time.
Because the different parts of science are all consistent, if a false model is proposed, it will not survive, because conflict between models is unacceptable.
Wilhelm Ostwald was able to function perfectly well as a chemist while refusing to believe that matter existed as atoms, as he could still make experiments.
Without believing in atoms, Wilhelm Ostwald could still carry out chemical experiments, but he would have found problems explaining some of his observations.
This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/scifun/splatscimeth.htm, first created on February 16, 2008. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on February 16, 2008.