How to Use Science to Solve Problems
Is it possible to make day-to-day decisions about your life without having
some basic training in science and the scientific method? If we take a look
at some current issues highlighted in the daily news, we are confronted by
scientific issues. Consider, for example:
Genetics: Current research is making it possible to test and identify
people who have, or are carriers for, certain diseases like Huntington's,
breast cancer and many other fatal diseases. Do you want to be tested? Who
should have access to your test results? Should insurance companies have the
right to refuse you insurance? Should your employer have the right to know
about your status?
Environment: There is evidence that many species are becoming extinct.
How important is biodiversity? Should government take action to protect endangered
species? What considerations should govern the use of natural resources?
Space: The exploration of space has been a driving force in technology
for the past 50 years. What resources should be dedicated to putting humans
into space? Who should determine the course of space exploration? How is space
exploration related to warfare? Are you impacted by any of this as an individual?
Ways of Knowing and Explaining the World
How is scientific knowledge differentiated from other types of knowing?
People have been attempting to explain how the world works from the beginning
of history. There are three broad categories of explanations. It is important
to be able to distinguish what method of explanation is being applied to a
particular question or problem. Not all issues can be addressed scientifically.
- Common Sense-- These explanations of how the world operates are
based on informal observations and input from experts as well as what seems
self-evident based on rational explanation.
- Belief-Based-- These explanations of how the world works are based
on a framework of belief that does not depend on direct observation and addresses
all subjects, not just those that can be observed. Conclusions are held as
true, sometimes despite evidence to the contrary.
- Scientific-- This method of explanation is based on empirical (based
on observation or experience) evidence, is testable, applies to a wide range
of phenomena, is tentative and open to further examination and modification
with new evidence, and is subject to rigorous evaluation.
The Scientific Method
Scientific knowledge is acquired through a very specific set of conditions
called the scientific method. You can apply the scientific method in your
consideration of day-to-day problems by following these steps:
- Observation-- Look critically at some aspect of the universe. Measure
accurately. Explore all aspects of the situation. Review what is already known
and define what is not known.
- Question -- Be curious. Ask lots of questions. Admit uncertainty.
Be willing to show your ignorance. Ask "what if?"
- Hypothesis -- Invent a theory that could explain what you have
observed. Take a stand and set up the question so that it can be tested and
answered through observation.
- Prediction-- Use your theory to make a prediction. If the theory
is correct, what should happen? If the theory is not correct, what might be
- Experiment-- Test your prediction through experimentation. Make
observations and compare them to your predictions. Set up controls to establish
a basis of comparison.
- Analysis-- Examine the results of your experiments and interpret
the data collected. Draw conclusions. Modify your theory. Conduct further