Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Introduction to the Scientific Method

Written by George Stadalski on ‎Friday, ‎November ‎23, ‎2012

The theory of relativity is accepted because it can be proven through scientific experimentation.  The theory of evolution is accepted because study has shown that life is able to change itself to meet the needs of its environment.  Experiments that can be repeated by anyone within prescribed parameters combined with the study of documentable events, lend credibility to these theories.
The theories that we are discussing here are unproven.  They are promoted, in general, by laypeople with rudimentary training in scientific experimentation and a basic understanding of the scientific method.  How can regular people compete with trained scientists?
By following the same strictures and rules that the scientists do!
Although Aristotle and the ancient Greeks were the first to use observation and measurement to answer questions about the world that they lived in, they did not have enough structure in their system to be considered the scientific method.  The first use of the scientific method to answer questions by performing experiments and recording observations is credited to Muslim scholars who began the practice between the 10th and 14th centuries.  The process was continually refined during the Renaissance and on through the Enlightenment periods, but it was Sir Isaac Newton that improved the process to the one that we use today.
Prof. Frank L. H. Wolfs describes it thusly, “The scientific method is the process by which scientists, collectively and over time, endeavor to construct an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world.”  He goes on to say that since personal opinion, religious belief and cultural differences can all sway the way we interpret natural phenomena, it is important to have a standard practice that will limit that those pressures when attempting to establish a scientific theory.
According to Prof. Wolfs here are the four basic steps to the scientific method:
  1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
  2. Formulation of a hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
  3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
  4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.
 If the experiments prove the hypothesis that has been presented then the hypothesis is on the way to becoming an accepted theory.  If the hypothesis is disproven, then it must be disregarded or reworked in light of the new evidence that has been collected.
Experimentation is the crux of the process.  This is where you will either confirm or disprove your hypothesis.  If you cannot support your original hypothesis with this data, you will have to use the evidence that you have gathered to modify your hypothesis.  For a hypothesis, no matter how wide spread the concept is or how many people believe it to be true, to be treated as a scientific theory the experimental data must coincide with the hypothetical prediction to be accepted by the scientific community.
An experiment can test the hypothesis directly (EVPs recorded during an investigation) or they can test the side-effects of the hypothetical process (EMFs, ions, and cold spots present as an entity manifests).  This step carries the inference that your hypothesis must be testable for it to be proven (or disproven).  It is said within the scientific community that theories cannot be proven; only disproven.
There are some common mistakes that tend to occur while using the scientific method.  The most common mistake is to accept the hypothesis as fact before any experimentation is performed.  Often, we have been told something so many times that we believe it to be truth.  Care must be taken to remember that the theories that we are dealing with are just that, theoretical postulations that have not been proven through empirical data collection and analysis. 
Another mistake is to ignore data that goes against the hypothesis.  The scientific method is used to remove opinion from experimentation, but often the researcher can be swayed by personal belief or by social coercion to attain a specific outcome.  Sometimes it can be as simple as looking for fault in data, or not examining data that does not agree with desired outcomes.
The next mistake that we want to touch on is to not account for the possibility of error; systematic, procedural or human. Often discoveries have been lost in what were inaccurately labeled as systematic errors.  On the other side of that coin systematic errors have been confused for valid data.  Any type of equipment used to measure data has the potential for giving a bad reading.  This is referred to as a random error.  A systematic error is where the procedure for the collection of data is flawed.  This could be the use of a digital thermometer that registers surface temperature to record the ambient temperature in a room.  No experiment is perfect, but we must take the precautions to minimize potential errors.  When taking measurements; whether they be in milligauss, degrees Fahrenheit or decibel levels; it is important to quote a quantifiable margin of error.  Without this margin of error your collected data has no meaning.
Finally, the last mistake we will discuss is probably the most common mistake in the field of paranormal investigation.  Within fields that have active experimentation and open communication among the members studying that field, the prejudices of different groups or individual investigators tend to cancel out each other’s findings.  Additionally, the groups that are out there are all using different equipment with different procedures and are correspondingly getting different results.
“Who Invented the Scientific Method?” by Martyn Shuttleworth, Experiment Resources, 2009:

“Introduction to the Scientific Method” by Prof. Frank L. H. Wolfs, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester:

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