What Does "Results" Mean in Science?

Scientists do it all for one thing: results.
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Whether you’re listening to a lecture on the results of a study or are reading a scientific journal, you’re bound to come across the word “results.” Simple on the surface, but complex behind the scenes, “results” mystifies even some advanced students of science.

“Results” Means, Well, Results

When a scientist announces his study’s results, he’s telling the world the most important findings in his study. When he mentions these results, he often glosses over insignificant or unimportant results of his study in favor of data underlying the conclusions that are most important. Generally, the important results of a study are answers to the specific questions that study set out to find: the reply to the specific, but not necessarily the overarching, question the study asked. For example, a scientist who set out to research the relationship between waist size and diabetes might find that men with waist sizes over 36 inches have a higher risk of diabetes. This is an important result because it sheds light on the relationship between waist size and diabetes. So, a scientist would call this “a result.” However, this does not address the larger question of whether being overweight causes diabetes; that is an implication of the results, and would therefore be found in the Discussion section of a scientific report.

“Results” Means “Objective Results”

Many non-scientists -- and even inexperienced scientists -- confuse results with implications. A scientific result must always be objective; it must be stated as a derived fact, untainted by the personal opinion of the scientist reporting it. For example, in the Results section of a scientific report, a study that finds men with waist sizes over 36 inches being at high risk for diabetes should state merely that. The implication that men with big waists should lose weight to prevent diabetes is not a result but a suggestion based on the result. Such suggestions can be discussed in the Discussion section of a scientific report. Science is objective by nature, and the results of science hold true to that objectivity.

“Results” Means the Ending of a Scientific Story

If you’ve ever attended a science fair or heard the explanation of an amazing experiment, you know that science can sometimes seem like a story. A scientific experiment has a beginning and an end. The results are simply the end of the scientific experiment: What you found in your study. For many people, the details of the hypothesis creation, the theorizing of methods to prove the hypothesis and the technical gobbledygook of performing the experiment are a grand adventure; for others, they’re needless details that get in the way of the important question: “So how did the story end?” The results give that answer in a succinct way, without forcing you to listen to the process of the experiment.

“Results” Usually Includes Statistics

In the hardcore world of science, results are often incomplete without statistics. Statistics not only help show that the results are objectively -- as opposed to subjectively -- important, but they also help scientists test their hypotheses. Some statisticians would even say that the results are statistics. Even without understanding the statistics behind the science, a student of science can often know whether a result is important by asking a scientist, “Was the result statistically significant?” This question asks the scientist whether the result was more likely due to a true phenomenon than to randomness. For instance, if a scientist found that bigger waist sizes being related to higher prevalence rates of diabetes were a statistically significant result, she’s usually saying that the probability that her study arrived at its results simply by chance is significantly low -- usually around 5 percent. Indeed, no science is perfect, but statistics allow a scientist to show how close to perfect she can get.

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