THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD: THE THIRD (AND FINAL) LESSON

I knew all about the Scientific Method when I started this series. I just didn't really think too much about it. Now that I'm breaking it down for you guys and really getting into the nitty gritty details of it all, I am reminded that my job is hard. In the last lesson, we had formed a hypothesis and were starting to design experiments to test that hypothesis. If we take a moment to go back and look at our Scientific Method, we will find that testing the hypothesis becomes the most convoluted part of that flow chart.

Experiments fail and then you have to figure out if the experiment failed because of human error or if because your hypothesis is wrong. Then you have to account for the steps in your experiment that may have serious consequences to the outcome of that experiment. Remember how I said I was working on staining yeast cells with a nanobody I've labeled with a fluorescent dye? Don't worry. I'm not going to test you. I will tell you that yeast have pretty strong cell walls. They are difficult to stain without first permeabilizing (punching holes) the cell wall. We use an enzyme called zymolyase to chew up the cell walls of yeast. This is the part that can vary. If you leave the zymolyase on too long, the cells completely fall apart. If you don't leave it on long enough, you do not get good staining because the dye or in our case, nanobody, can't get through the cell wall. So now I don't know if my experiment is not working because the nanobody doesn't work or if it is because I didn't permeabilize the cell wall enough. 

These are the kinds of factors and variables that scientist dig their way through to get answers. Once they have experiments working, they must be repeated multiple times. We are looking for results that are consistently repeatable and after we've performed those experiments many times, we have to make sense of the results. If those results don't support our hypothesis, we start all over again from the beginning. If the data shows that our hypothesis is true, then we write up all the information to submit to journals for publication. Communicating the results means writing up everything, your background research, how you designed the experiments, the exact protocol for those experiments, and an explanation of the results from those experiments. Once that paper is submitted, it goes through a peer-review process where others in that field of research read through the paper before recommending it for publication. Those reviewers often want more questions answered and recommend a few other experiments before the paper can be published.

Even after publication, there are other researchers who will repeat those experiments from your paper to determine if your work is repeatable. I hope that now when you read a headline that starts with something like "Scientists discovered..." you'll have a better understanding and maybe even respect for the work that went into that discovery. Sometimes those discoveries may feel like they conflict with your core values. We all tend to reject information that is threatening to us. My wish is that you understand, by breaking down the method to which scientists come about their discoveries and information is complex and not just pulled from thin air to spite you. Understanding this process may even make those discoveries less threatening. The information discovered is more than a snappy headline. 

And this concludes our study of the Scientific Method. What's next? What do you guys want to learn about? Send me some ideas!