THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD: LESSON ONE

I wanted to start an educational series here on science. I get the impression that non-science people are unaware of what a scientist goes through to get her research published or the questioning of the science behind their research while publishing and after publishing. The idea is to help you have a better understanding of blanket statements like "97% of Climate Scientists agree that humans are the cause of global warming" and why those scientists think (not believe) this is true. To do that, I'm going to start by breaking down the Scientific Method. Some of you may have a vague memory of learning something about the Scientific Method in middle school science. Words like 'hypothesis' and 'analyze' probably ring some bells for you. 

For today's visual, I'm going to reference Science Buddies because they have a great diagram that breaks down the Scientific Method.

First off, let's start by asking a question about something we observe. It helps if the question can be measured, but for today, we're not going to worry too much about that. We're going to keep things simple, like will I burn my hand if I place it on the stove? After you develop a question the next step is to do some background research. You want to look around for reliable sources pertaining to your question. Has this questions been asked before? What are the steps that scientist used to answer the same question? Is that scientist's data repeatable? Your question can change depending on what you find in your background research. You might find that other scientists who asked this question found that they only burned their hands part of the time when placing it on the stove. So now your question might be "why do I only burn my hand some of the times when I place it on the stove?"

Asking the question sounds like the easy part. It's the background research that makes your question more complicated. Here's an example of a question I've been working at my job. Can I stain a GFP-tagged protein with a nanobody to achieve greater microscopic resolution in the less than 100nm scale? I do not present this question to you to be condescending, but as an example of the complexity of the kinds of questions that scientists are asking. That's just asking the question. After that, there's developing a hypothesis and coming up with an experimental design. The scientist has to figure out what experiments to do to answer this question along with all the variables involved in running that experiment. There's a lot of steps that happen in between asking a question and communicating those results. 

I hoped this helped explain some things or at least put things in a better perspective for you. The science is more than a one sentence headline designed to grab your attention. Maybe next week we'll dig a little deeper into the Scientific Method. That middle part with all the experiments and testing is thick. So..join me next week when I discuss variability in experiments, also known to other scientists as gremlins in the lab.