Chapter 14

Scientific Method

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The Scientific Method is Authentic and Substantial

The knowledge and methods of science is the result of countless lives dedicated to finding out how nature works. It produces data that is authentic and substantial.

Science and Nature

Nature is apparently setup as described by various mathematical equations.  There are many newer proofs of God's intelligent design of the universe. Another web site discusses some of the limits to science.

Just doing an experiment is not enough. For example, in this experiment the variables are not very well controlled leading to almost random results:

Take a handful of similar coins and drop them in the same way, one at a time on a hard surface. Every coin seems to land in a completely different place, often far apart.  The first try of making controlling the variables might be pushing them the same way carefully from a solid table top.  But the randomness is mostly caused by the way the coin bounce. Landing in water or in sand might negate the bounce to a certain extent, but it is very difficult to get consistent results.  Good science is very tough work.

Types of Research Procedures

Not all research is produced in the same way.  We can describe four types of research:

1. Exploratory research where knowledge in a new area is sought.

2. Descriptive research where description of a phenomenon is sought (e.g., describing gorillas grooming rituals; religious ceremony in a sect of Hinduism).

3. Relation research where one tries to determine whether two or more factors are related to each other. (e.g., are 2nd grade school grades related to 4th grade school grades?)

4. Explanatory research that aims to explain a phenomena and establish a causal relation between factors.

Here is another list:

1. Naturalistic observations that describe behavior, instead of an experiment.

 With naturalistic observation steps are taken not to interfere with the behavior.  In this type of observation, consistencies in behavior, and patterns are examined.  Often little is known about the behavior and the results are usually only descriptive, not predictive or explanatory.

2. The correlation approach that tries to relate two or more sets of data.

The correlation approach tries to find a linear relation between two events.  The strength of the relation can be calculated using the Pearson Product moment correlation coefficient (R).  The absolute value of R varies between zero and one, and the closer to one it becomes, the greater the relationship.  If there is a negative correlation R is negative, and if there is a positive correlation R is positive.

3. Experimental approach that observes an experiment, instead of what is happening naturally.

The pure experimental approach sometimes is impossible to perform.  For example, there are many things you would not test on people.  There are fewer experiments that could be performed with children such as forcing them to view horrific scenes and see if they lose their appetite.

Classic Steps in Research

Many discoveries start with a something that seems strange.  Some bread mold is spilled into a petri dish containing bacteria and a circle of dead bacteria is seen the next morning.  Most discoveries start with something like "come over here ... you know that is really weird... lets play with this"

In college the classic steps in research run something like this:  

1. The generation of a question, idea or expectation called a hypothesis.  A hypothesis is a tentative explanation that accounts for a set of facts and can be tested by  further investigation.

2. Next the hypothesis is examined by performing a test or experiment. The experiment is a procedure that allows for a  critical evaluation, and constitutes a means of determining the presence, quality, or truth of something.  In some instances it is called a trial.

3. After the data from the experiment is collected, it is examined. The data either supports or rejects the hypothesis, or may not provide enough information for either conclusion. Hopefully, the data provides to refine the hypothesis or may suggest ideas for a new hypothesis.

Procedural Problems

Some of the problems that can be found with a procedure include spurious correlation, where a great deal of data is collected, and correlations are found between unrelated factors. Multiple regression, a statistical technique, allows for the discovery of the correlation between two variables.

Even if there is a correlation, the two factors must have direction.  For example, there is a correlation probably between eye movements and reading disabilities, but which causes which.

Selection of the data may be biased, and if so, the results will not be fair.  For example, trying to find out how many people like fish near a fish market  would not be the same, as asking people in a more neutral area.

If you divide a classroom into two groups, you have equalize the groups, as you could have more advanced students in one group due to random selection.

Data could be missing. Censored data points are those whose measured properties are not known precisely, but are known to lie above or below some limiting sensitivity. Truncated data points are those which are missing from the sample altogether due to sensitivity limits.

Random influences could cause all levels of the IV (see below) to be equally influenced by other variables.

Artifacts can enter into an experiment due to lack of controls. In some cases, they can be traced back to the experimental design itself. In other cases, they can be traced back to how the procedure was followed. Research involving humans introduces sometimes a complex relationship between the researchers and the subjects.


The experiment is designed to show the relationship between two or more variables.

The Independent Variable (IV) is the one that the experimenter manipulates or changes.  The different values of the independent variable are called levels.

The Dependent Variable (DV) is one of the variables the experimenter measures.  The DV might be behavior, reaction times, a written or oral response or a value measured by an instrument.

Well Done Experiments

In a properly done experiment we find:

1. That the internal validity is correct. If the experiment is well done,  the change in the DV can be attributed to the change in the IV.

2. That the external validity is correct. In this case, the experiment is a success if what is found from the experiment can be generalized to other tests, individuals or settings.

3. That the experiment is reliable and repeatable. The correlation between data in two experiments will have a tolerance based on uncontrolled variables.

4. That sensitivity of the experiment the experiment can pick up effects of the IV on the DV even when these effects are very small.


Essentialists believe that only good theories are those that answer ultimate questions. That is to give explanations of phenomena in terms of their underlying essences or their essential properties. Scientists do not claim to produce perfect knowledge or to answer ultimate questions. The unique strength of science is not that it is an error free process but that it provides a way of eliminating errors and in this way to proceed toward a deeper knowledge. Science is not speculations about unattainable ultimates; it is a way of knowing based upon laws now [known].. and results subject to observation and inference. We acknowledge limits in order to proceed with power and confidence. (Steven Jay Gould, 1987; p.16)


Operationalism is the idea that concepts in scientific theories must be grounded in, or linked to, observable events that can be measured.

"I think that one of the things you learn in the history of medicine is that many people think that the way to study a
problem is to define the problem and then study it. That turns out again and again to be wrong because you discover the only way to define the problem properly is to know the answer." (Geschwind, 1985; p.15)

The meaning of a concept in science is given after extensive investigation of the phenomena.  For example, the meaning of anxiety in psychiatry is given as:

A state of intense apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a threatening event
or situation, often to a degree that the normal physical and psychological functioning of the affected individual is

One can easily see that psychological phenomena is harder to define than a physical phenomena.

Induction and Deduction

Induction occurs when from observations, a general rule is deduced. Deduction begins with a statement and leads to logical consequences.

Problems Associated with Medical Testing

1. Long time period. Events that occur between measurements that are not related to the IV. e.g., in a clinical long term study, a person considered a "patient under treatment" may start receiving different attentions.

2. Changes in the observed. During the experiment the subjects may grow older, wiser, become bored, and tired.

3. Testing only one individual.

4. Instrumental calibration, or faulty instruments.

5. Statistical regression where an individual is selected on the basis of some extreme score or measurement.

6. Group selection were individuals in one group differ initially from the individuals in another group.

7. Mortally were individuals in one group drop out of the study systematically more often than individuals in
another group.

8. Maturation differences between groups.

9. Diffusion of information, and lack of double-blind testing. If the participants exchange information about the experiment the experimental data is no longer supportive.  

Science Requires Accurate Data

Say we wanted to prove that the speed of light is truly a constant. The speed of light has been measured at 299,792,458 m/s. If this measurement is accurate to eight decimal points, then we know that the speed of light is a constant only to eight places.

This measurement is based on time. How do you know that a clock is correct? The only way is to build many and see if they all tell the same time a week or a year later. This is how we know that the cesium atomic clocks are better than alarm clocks. When a very accurate time source is found such as the cesium clock, its accuracy can be much better than the turning of the earth on its axis.

Is There Absolute Time in the Universe?

If you get a shortwave radio and tune in WWV at 2.5, 5.0, 10.0 15.0 or 20.0 MHz you can set your clocks so that they are accurate to maybe 100 milliseconds.  If you want more accuracy you could use WWVB at 60 KHz below the broadcast band.  WWWB is used to set atomic watches and clocks in North America.

But how do we know that this time is the most accurate time.  The answer is that you make many types of clocks. You make lots of clock, maybe 35 clocks of each type.  You let them run and see how all the clocks of the same type tend to keep the same time (in sync).  This is a measurement of relative drift between the clocks.  Maybe the cesium clocks have the smallest drift between the clocks.  You then pick this type of clock as you know they are the most stable ones you have built to date.  By the way, measuring time with cesium clocks has shown that the revolution of the earth is taking longer, perhaps a second every few years.

This principle of synchronization reminds me of the music we find between humans.  People in love, can feel each others synchronization.

Good Science Means Good Numbers

Data is usually recorded by using numbers.

Where did the interest in numbers arise? The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Persia and Babylon influenced the ideas of the religious community founded by Pythagoras in the 6th century before Christ. They worshipped the god Apollo and followed a variety of mystical practices. In common with other Greek seekers, they looked beyond the changing world of experience to find what they thought would never changed. They found this principle in numbers. Numbers were divine.

To this day we are still in awe in the precision of Euclid's Elements," and Newton's Principia. Basic scientific truth never changes, but undergoes advancement and precision. Mathematics branched and expanded in many divisions such as topology, statistics and modern number theory. But none of these divisions renounces the dogmatic arithmetic of the past.

Aristotle's philosophy was animistic. He believed that nature and all living souls had psyches, or souls. The forms and purposes of things to Aristotle were changeless. In medieval Europe, a great synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology took place. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century was one of the leading expounders of these philosophies. The Roman Church with its Christian-Aristotelian philosophy dictated beliefs. Aristotle stated that there were a certain number of teeth in one's mouth, and everyone was forced to believe what he said--although if anyone, with a full set of teeth, would stop to count them, they could prove him wrong.

We owe it to science and experimental truth to provide us with the engineering knowledge of today, enabling many of us to live in far more comfort with computers, running water, air conditioning, and force air heating we take for granted. Many of us live far better than the kings and queens living in the castles of yesterday.

Science is wonderful as we can count on it. But there are limits to science, as we will see.

Yet Science is Never Sure

While religion reveals truth, science seeks truth. Science is constantly being updated; therefore science knowledge is never complete. As science probes into nature, it often produces more questions. Quantum physics has brought forth a flood of new questions. Take a jump to England and John Gribbin's site web site to get a brief understanding of fields at a distance and other strange things revealed by quantum mechanics.

When religion says it has revealed truth, it still comes through a person.  Each person is different and thus what is revealed is most likely to be different.  Religion is a business that helps bring people closer to God on a particular path.  Often the path is obsolete.

Evolutionary Theory

Creationists and scientists have been doing battle over the question: Did man and the animals evolve from lower forms or did God create them? The Baha'i Faith says man evolved, but in a special way. The Creation Science home page argues from the creationists' point of view.  Creationist say things like:

1. There is no adequate explanation for the origin of life from dead chemicals. Even the simplest life form is tremendously complex.

2. The fossil record, our only documentation of whether evolution actually occurred in the past, lacks any transitional forms, and all types appear fully-formed when first present. The evidence that "pre-men" (ape-men) existed is dubious at best. In some cases, the so-called pre-man fossils turn out to be those of apes, extinct apes, fully man, or historical frauds.

Evidence for Evolution

1. Fossil Evidence (radioactive dating)

2. Homologies (common ancestors with common structures)

3. Distribution in Time and Space (old rock and older fossils under newer rock and fossils)

4. Evidence By Example (experimental proof of adaptive advantage)

Radioactive Dating Using Carbon Dating

Carbon dating is restricted to dating the remains of living matter (e.g. wood that was once trees, or animal matter).   In order to date a specimen using carbon dating we reference the beginning ratio of elements in the specimen.  In other words, we rely on some mechanism that sets the ratio of isotopes to some predetermined value.  In the case of living organisms, there is a constant ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the environment, where the living matter grew.  The environment sets this ratio as carbon-14 is constantly created by cosmic radiation impacting on nitrogen-14.  Once a living organism dies, it cannot take up any fresh carbon-14, so the carbon-14 that is contained within its body will decay and will not be renewed.  Carbon 14 half life is 5,730 years.  How must carbon-14 is left can then be compared to how much carbon-14 would have been in the environment when the organism was living, and absorbing carbon from its environment.  If the amount of carbon-14 is one fourth what it was in the beginning, the age of specimen would be 11,460 years old.

Using Other Materials to Date Rock

Uranium-235, potassium-40, uranium-238, and rubidium-87 all can be used to date rock.  Uranium in its natural state is locked into an molecule with other element(s) such oxygen.  Simplifying, uranium oxide (UO2) has a constant ratio of uranium to oxygen by weight.  Assuming this ratio as the beginning point, UO2 decays to produce lead and oxygen. As uranium-235 decays it turns into lead through a series of other elements and one can measure the uranium-235 ratio to lead much uranium is left after millions of years.

Natural Selection

With natural selection some organisms that are better suited to their environment than others produce more offspring. As a result of natural selection, the proportion of organisms in a species with characteristics that are adaptive to a given environment increases with each generation. Therefore, natural selection modifies the originally random variation of genetic traits in a species so that alleles that are beneficial for survival predominate, while alleles that are not beneficial decrease. Natural selection was originally proposed by Charles Darwin, and forms the basis of the process of evolution.

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Copyright 1997-2013 George Norwood
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