Section 1: The Scientific Method SECTION 1: The Scientific Method

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Section 1: The Scientific Method



                     SECTION 1:
                    The Scientific
                       Method




  Lab 1: Scientific Knowledge


Introduction        Science has assumed enormous importance in modern society. Many
                    decisions affecting our future depend upon scientific discoveries. No one
                    person can learn all that is now known about science and its practical
                    applications. As responsible citizens, however, we can follow some of the
                    important studies that bear on public issues, and we can apply scientific
                    reasoning to arrive at our own positions on these issues.
                    There is nothing mysterious about scientific reasoning or experiments.
                    They are merely logical ways of trying to solve problems that are used by
                    business people, historians, and each of us in our daily lives. We do not
                    need specialized training or knowledge to decide whether conclusions are
                    justified from the data present. We can request further tests of a theory
                    that does not appear to be well-supported by the evidence, and we can
                    agree or disagree with the predictions from a theory. The best way for us
                    to clearly understand a theory, however, is to first understand how a
                    scientist arrives at a conclusion by conducting a similar process ourselves.


Scientific Method   You may never have thought about how you solve problems, test
                    theories, or decide upon a plan of action before, but let us examine how a
                    scientist attacks a problem to understand the main types of thinking
                    involved.
                    The scientific method is a formalized way of answering questions about
                    causation in the natural world. In principle, the scientific method has three
                    main steps. The first step is observation of phenomena that can be
                    detected by the senses. Second, the scientist forms a hypothesis, or idea
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    Marine Science Curriculum Manual




                                about the cause of the phenomena that has been observed. The third step
                                is experimentation, performing tests designed to show that one or more
                                of the hypotheses is more or less likely to be correct. These tests often
                                include numerical data so the results can be quantified.
                                One peculiarity of the scientific method is that a hypothesis can never
                                formally be proven; it can only be disproved. A correct hypothesis will
                                make predictions that are borne out by the experiment, but an incorrect
                                hypothesis may also produce the predicted outcome, meaning the
                                outcome was right, but for a different reason. Therefore, if the results of
                                an experiment agree with the prediction, we are still not sure of the
                                validity of the hypothesis. The more alternative hypotheses we disprove
                                or cast doubt on, however, the more we increase the likelihood that the
                                hypothesis that remains is correct.


Sampling Error                  Scientists also hesitate to accept the results of an experiment until they are
                                assured of its repeatability. Repetition guards against two types of errors.
                                First, we may have inadvertently made a mistake in our technique, such
                                as writing the results in the wrong columns. Second, any experiment is
                                subject to sampling error due to the number of subjects used. In this
                                case, we would use statistical tests to tell us how "sure" we are of our
                                results with a given sample size. We can also use statistical tests to decide
                                whether our results are so far from our prediction that we should discard
                                our hypothesis.


Theory                          A hypothesis supported by many different lines of evidence from
                                repeated experiments is generally regarded as a theory and, after even
                                further testing, comes to be accepted as scientific "fact."


It's a Fact                     "It's a scientific fact" is often presented as the clincher to an argument.
                                Most scientists, however, would argue that any scientific finding is open
                                to question. The doubts and uncertainties inherent in the scientific method
                                make it impossible to be 100% sure that a scientific discovery is "right."




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                                                             Section 1: The Scientific Method




The Limitations     Scientific discoveries and theories are useful, but they are always open to
of Science          question; in science there is no such thing as "proof positive." Time and
                    time again in the history of science, widely accepted theories have turned
                    out to be wrong. Even today, scientists are busily discarding or
                    remodeling some of the supposed truths that you may have already
                    learned.
                    As a science student, you should try to develop a healthy skepticism
                    toward scientific findings, both old and new.


Critical Thinking   To what extent should scientists be held responsible for the social and
                    moral consequences of their discoveries? Scan the science section of a
                    newspaper and find an article that you can critically assess. Are the
                    claims valid, or does the report seem to be biased in any way that you
                    can detect?


References          Haines, L. (1997). Consumer Testing: Applying the Scientific Method to
                    Everyday Life. Science Scope. v21 n4 p34-38 September.
                    King, Ken. (1996). Addressing Superstitious Beliefs through Science
                    Activities. Science Activities. v33 n3 p20-22. Fall.
                    Van den Brul, Caroline. (1995). Perceptions of Science: How Scientists
                    and Others View the Media Reporting of Science. Studies in Science
                    Education. v25 p211-37.
                    http://www.sciam.com/currentissue.html (selections from Scientific
                    American)
                    http://www.orni.gov/


                    MA.E.3.4. The student explains the limitations of using statistical
Sunshine State
                    techniques and data in making inferences and valid arguments
Standards
                    S.C.H.1.4. The student uses the scientific processes and habits of mind
                    to solve problems.

                    S.C.H.3.4. The student understands that science, technology, and society
                    are interwoven and interdependent.




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                                                           Section 1: The Scientific Method




  Lab 2: Statistics

Introduction      What is statistics? Statistics is the science of collecting and interpreting
                  numerical data. Scientists need to be sure that their results are not due to
                  random chance.
                  The best way to answer "what is statistics" is to consider an example of
                  its application. Suppose a research biologist wishes to investigate the
                  food preference of a fish. The fish is placed in a tank with a thread herring
                  and a shrimp. If the fish liked both prey equally, it would have a 50/50
                  chance of choosing one randomly. However, if the fish had a strong
                  preference for shrimp, you would expect it to choose its favorite food
                  most of the time. If you did the experiment only once, you could not draw
                  any valid conclusions. If the experiment was repeated twice, and the fish
                  chose shrimp each time, this would still not be enough of a case for a
                  preference. After 10 trials, however, if the fish chose the shrimp every
                  time, this would indicate a strong statistical case for shrimp being the
                  fish's favorite food.
                  So, let us now look at the characteristics common to the scientific method
                  and its application to inferential statistics. First, we make an observation
                  or measurement that cannot be predicted with any certainty in advance.
                  We cannot say in advance whether the fish will choose the shrimp or the
                  thread herring. Then, we sample by using a group of fish from the main
                  population of fish. Third, we collect the data or measurements with a
                  measurement corresponding to each fish. Finally, our objective is to
                  obtain information that can be used to make an inference about a larger
                  set of measurements called a population.
                  Putting these four steps together, using random observations, sampling,
                  numerical data and inference about a population, we can then define
                  statistics as the science of collecting and interpreting numbers:




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