LESSON: Steps to the Scientific Method

The scientific method is the process by which science acquires new knowledge and thus increases our understanding of the universe.

Three very important points about the scientific method are:  

  1. Experimental data/results must be reproduced and verified by other scientists.
  2. Theories must agree with all observations made on the phenomenon under study.
  3. Theories are continually tested . . . forever.

The scientific method involves making observations on the phenomenon being studied, suggesting explanations for the observations, and testing the suggested explanations (also called hypotheses) by making new observations.  Hypotheses are a sort of first guess in terms of explanations for observations.

After many experiments and tests in which results support the hypothesis, the hypothesis gradually becomes a theory.  Theories remain theories forever and are constantly retested with every new observation.  Theories never become “facts” or laws. Where theories generally provide explanations for the mechanisms we observe. Laws are simply facts with no real explanation for why. For example: (Don't worry if this doesn't make a lot of sense yet) In Einstein's theory of relativity he explains the laws of physics in relationship to non accelerating observers. However, when the speed of light is taken into account, space and time become interwoven into a single continuum. So his theory helps explain laws or facts in physics.

In science, a law is a mathematical relationship that is determined to exist between observations under a given set of conditions.  The gas laws are excellent examples of scientific laws.  The gas laws are mathematical relationships that exist between the pressure, volume, and absolute temperature of a gas under certain conditions.  There is a very fundamental difference between observations of the physical world and explanations of the nature of the physical world.  Hypotheses and theories are explanations, whereas laws and measurements are observational.

After you have completed this part of the lesson, you can check the associated box on the main course page to mark it as complete

Last modified: Wednesday, 10 August 2016, 8:39 AM