Guest Post: The Importance of the Scientific Method in Real Life
A post by Liminality:
There’s a lot more to science than just the academic and professional side, science is about discovering the world, even if it’s just on a personal level. It’s very interesting to see how kids are constantly asking, testing, and creating; it’s all a process to uncover how the world works, That is the essence of science, and it’s sad to see that curiosity disappear in many children as they grow older. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it’s not enough to just say how wonderful or useful science is. As anyone who has ever heard Carl Sagan speak knows, you have to show real passion and you have to show what the potential of the scientific method is. Unfortunately this is one of the things that science education in schools usually fails to communicate. Even with more dynamic methods of teaching such as science experiments, it’s often about the facts and not about the process.
The process is arguably the most important thing in science. The process is what got us to where we are now, a neutral self-correcting process that when applied correctly can get us closer to the truth (or as some would say, it makes us be less wrong), than any other process we currently know of. It’s a process that is deeply connected with logic and reasoning. However, while it may seem extremely basic if you are familiar with the concept, it’s a tool that a lot of people don’t really know that well and is often not used correctly. But once you get used to it, it’s hard to imagine a different way to approach a problem.
We’ve all been there. Maybe your computer isn’t working, maybe you want to prepare your food in a very specific way, maybe you are designing something and it doesn’t look the way you want it to. So we apply the scientific method and solve the problem (or at least try to). Spotting opportunities to do this can turn otherwise boring tasks into something interesting, and to me, it’s much more fun than some other thing like asking for help.
I’m a programmer, and in programming the application of the scientific method seems absolutely necessary to me. Its usage is more obvious than in some other fields, and – as with many other things in life – it’s very difficult to create something new that works on the first try. Most of the time you just have to test the code, see what the problems are, and start fixing them. But there is always that one problem, that error that doesn’t want to go away. So what do you do? What do you do when you encounter that problem that seems to have no solution? Well, one of the best places to start, after you have enough information about the problem through observation, is usually doing research. Google, more often than not, gives you a solution rather quickly, but what happens when you can’t find anything to help you fix it? That’s when things start to get interesting…
Maybe your research gave you some useful information, maybe not. Either way you start hypothesizing and experimenting. Can you make it simpler? Can you eliminate variables? What happens when you rearrange things? You keep looking at your problem and you have no idea of what could be causing it. After some time of that, you find that small detail, that detail that the moment you see it, you know the whole thing would never work as long as that detail is present. You wonder how you didn’t see it before, but it doesn’t matter. You found it and you’re satisfied to have a result after all this time. You even have hopes that this time it’s going to work, so you test it. Maybe that makes it all work, but often the problem is still there, or there is a new one. At that point your hopes are crushed a little bit, but you have renewed energy because you know you are moving forward. You continue to repeat this process again and again until hopefully you see it finally working, and suddenly… there’s a feeling of satisfaction as big as the frustration you were feeling just moments before, that feeling makes it all worth it.
This article shows, step by step, the process that your mind usually goes through when encountering a normal problem in your house. It shows all the same basic steps of the scientific method I just described, but there is more you can do. This is when you review all you just did.
To keep the analogy going, after the code is complete and functional, my partners review it and test it for themselves, giving me feedback about the user interface or ways to make the code more secure and clean. This is very similar (though less strict) to the process of peer-review, which – in a more general sense – can be equated to critiques. Sure, it can be tough sometimes, but it makes us face our personal biases, and it ensures the quality and reliability of the results.
However, science in daily life can go beyond problem solving, it can be applied to almost anything, and the power of science and reason to overcome those ingrained instincts and faulty reasoning that we often suffer from, is something I have a particular interest in. I like how applying the methods of science to our way of thinking can give us a point of view that can be based on logic and evidence instead of fragile emotions and old traditions, it doesn’t make us immune to falling prey to those types of errors, but it gives us a tool to identify when it happens.
Comic by xckd
Liminality has been interested in science for as long as he can remember, he is always looking for new projects to help skepticism and can be found creating new and shiny things for ScienceSeeker. He is also a passionate fan of podcasts and technology.