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 the outcome?
  • 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 experiments.