Five Characteristics of the Scientific Method

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The scientific method is the system used by scientists to explore data, generate and test hypotheses, develop new theories and confirm or reject earlier results. Although the exact methods used in the different sciences vary (for example, physicists and psychologists work in very different ways), they share some fundamental attributes that may be called characteristics of the scientific method.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Five key descriptors for the scientific method are: empirical, replicable, provisional, objective and systematic.

Empirical Observation

The scientific method is empirical. That is, it relies on direct observation of the world, and disdains hypotheses that run counter to observable fact. This contrasts with methods that rely on pure reason (including that proposed by Plato) and with methods that rely on emotional or other subjective factors.

Replicable Experiments

Scientific experiments are replicable. That is, if another person duplicates the experiment, he or she will get the same results. Scientists are supposed to publish enough of their method so that another person, with appropriate training, could replicate the results. This contrasts with methods that rely on experiences that are unique to a particular individual or a small group of individuals.

Provisional Results

Results obtained through the scientific method are provisional; they are (or ought to be) open to question and debate. If new data arise that contradict a theory, that theory must be modified. For example, the phlogiston theory of fire and combustion was rejected when evidence against it arose.

Objective Approach

The scientific method is objective. It relies on facts and on the world as it is, rather than on beliefs, wishes or desires. Scientists attempt (with varying degrees of success) to remove their biases when making observations.

Systematic Observation

Strictly speaking, the scientific method is systematic; that is, it relies on carefully planned studies rather than on random or haphazard observation. Nevertheless, science can begin from some random observation. Isaac Asimov said that the most exciting phrase to hear in science is not "Eureka!" but "That's funny." After the scientist notices something funny, he or she proceeds to investigate it systematically.

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About the Author

Peter Flom is a statistician and a learning-disabled adult. He has been writing for many years and has been published in many academic journals in fields such as psychology, drug addiction, epidemiology and others. He holds a Ph.D. in psychometrics from Fordham University.

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