Editorial: The Scientific Method for the Overwhelmed

Science is hard. There are so many numbers, formulas, graphs, and big words. There are often dangerous chemicals and equipment that require you to dress like a government agent investigating E.T. And so many things to remember!

Science can be daunting to those who have not dedicated their lives to it, or at least have taken it up as a hobby. It’s just easier to spout scientific stuff we read in newspaper or Internet articles and refer to scientists as “they,” as in, “Did you hear they discovered a new species of coffee plant? I can’t wait until Starbucks starts serving it!”

The thing is that all science, no matter how complicated or convoluted it is, can be broken down into one process. It is a simple, elegant process that has led to humanity’s greatest inventions and has allowed us to discover more about our universe than any other living thing that has ever lived.

This process is called the scientific method.

The scientific method was not invented by one person, even though looking at it, it seems like someone thought it up while taking a dump. Francis Bacon, an English lawyer and philosopher, is often accredited with devising a formal version of the method, having been influenced by great minds before him such as Aristotle, Copernicus and Galileo.

The purpose of the scientific method is as simple as its design. It’s used to identify and explain natural phenomena by thorough testing and analysis. For those of you who paid attention in 6th grade science class, the following steps may seem familiar to you.

Step 1: Observe something happening.- It may seem simple, but in order to understand the universe, one must first pay attention to it. Example: You are sitting under a tree on a windy day and a pine cone falls on your head.

Step 2: Come up with an idea as to why or how that thing observed happened.- Everything has a cause. This is where a hypothesis is formed. In the case of the pine cone, did it just come loose from the tree branch from the wind, did someone in the tree throw it at you, or did you piss off the pine tree gods somehow and they’re getting their petty revenge?

Step 3: Use the idea you came up with to see if you can predict the effects of what you saw happen.- Surely something happening will affect other things as well. If it fell from a branch, can you see other pine cones on the ground near that branch that may have fallen from it? If you think the pine cone was thrown at you, can you see someone in the tree that threw it? If you think the pine tree gods are smiting you, why? Did you forget to water your Christmas tree for three weeks after the holidays and you let it die a horrible, undignified death?

Step 4: Devise an experiment to test your hypothesis.- “Experiment” doesn’t always involve lab equipment or chemicals. If you think the branch is at fault for the pine cone, wait until more wind blows to see if it’s strong enough to move the branch. If you think a person threw it at you, climb up the tree to see if you can find them. Or you can pray to the pine tree gods and ask them if they did it.

Step 5: Analyze your findings from your experiment.- Correctly interpreting data is vital for a proper conclusion. If indeed more pine cones fall from the branch by the wind moving it, it’s safe to conclude that it was the wind that blew the branch causing the pine cone to fall on your head. If there is no sign of anyone in the tree, it’s safe to rule out a person messing with you. And if you get no response from the pine tree gods, it’s probably because they don’t exist.

These five simple steps are the foundation of every single scientific discovery. The process itself is based on natural, rational human thought .Anyone can use it, and we often do use it without realizing we have.

In the real world, once the last step is completed, the data is then sent to a scientific journal to be peer reviewed and then published. We’ll get into that process in a later article. I hope that this simpler version of it will help those reading this to better understand the process of scientific discovery.