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The scientific method

Biologists study the living world by posing questions about it and seeking science-based responses. This approach is common to other sciences as well and is often referred to as the scientific method. The scientific method was used even in ancient times, but it was first documented by England’s Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) ( [link] ), who set up inductive methods for scientific inquiry. The scientific method is not exclusively used by biologists but can be applied to almost all fields of study as a logical, rational problem-solving method.

Painting depicts Sir Francis Bacon in a long robe.
Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) is credited with being the first to define the scientific method. (credit: Paul van Somer)

The scientific process typically starts with an observation (often a problem to be solved) that leads to a question. Let’s think about a simple problem that starts with an observation and apply the scientific method to solve the problem. One Monday morning, a student arrives at class and quickly discovers that the classroom is too warm. That is an observation that also describes a problem: the classroom is too warm. The student then asks a question: “Why is the classroom so warm?”

Proposing a hypothesis

Recall that a hypothesis is a suggested explanation that can be tested. To solve a problem, several hypotheses may be proposed. For example, one hypothesis might be, “The classroom is warm because no one turned on the air conditioning.” But there could be other responses to the question, and therefore other hypotheses may be proposed. A second hypothesis might be, “The classroom is warm because there is a power failure, and so the air conditioning doesn’t work.”

Once a hypothesis has been selected, the student can make a prediction. A prediction is similar to a hypothesis but it typically has the format “If . . . then . . . .” For example, the prediction for the first hypothesis might be, “ If the student turns on the air conditioning, then the classroom will no longer be too warm.”

Testing a hypothesis

A valid hypothesis must be testable. It should also be falsifiable    , meaning that it can be disproven by experimental results. Importantly, science does not claim to “prove” anything because scientific understandings are always subject to modification with further information. This step—openness to disproving ideas—is what distinguishes sciences from non-sciences. The presence of the supernatural, for instance, is neither testable nor falsifiable. To test a hypothesis, a researcher will conduct one or more experiments designed to eliminate one or more of the hypotheses. Each experiment will have one or more variables and one or more controls. A variable    is any part of the experiment that can vary or change during the experiment. The control group contains every feature of the experimental group except it is not given the manipulation that is hypothesized about. Therefore, if the results of the experimental group differ from the control group, the difference must be due to the hypothesized manipulation, rather than some outside factor. Look for the variables and controls in the examples that follow. To test the first hypothesis, the student would find out if the air conditioning is on. If the air conditioning is turned on but does not work, there should be another reason, and this hypothesis should be rejected. To test the second hypothesis, the student could check if the lights in the classroom are functional. If so, there is no power failure and this hypothesis should be rejected. Each hypothesis should be tested by carrying out appropriate experiments. Be aware that rejecting one hypothesis does not determine whether or not the other hypotheses can be accepted; it simply eliminates one hypothesis that is not valid ( [link] ). Using the scientific method, the hypotheses that are inconsistent with experimental data are rejected.

Questions & Answers

what is biology
Dada Reply
The scientific study of life.
juanita
the virus that causes mumps in humans is composed of a protein outer Shell containing a core of DNA
Daniel Reply
Basic science and applied science question about cancer
Joyce Reply
what are the importance of ATPs
Olatunji Reply
How can biology be studied from a microscopic approach to a global approach
Joyce Reply
The large central opening in the poriferan body is called
Chynna Reply
You go for a long walk on a hot day. Give an example of a way in which homeostasis keeps your body healthy.
Joyce Reply
You sweat.
juanita
sweating is your bodies way of keeping you from overheating.
juanita
Thank you
Joyce
what is biology
Neya Reply
biology is the study of life
IYANUYIMIKA
Biology is the study of Life
Brianna
is the branch of science which deals with the of living things.
Peter
what is metabolism
Sangam Reply
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Gbolajobi Reply
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Atta
pls come a again
Gyamfi
Describe the steps and results of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
Natalia Reply
tag and release wolves into Yellowstone. wolves eventually reproduce and the pack grows. as wolves hunt they cull the sick and weak prey. the carcass that is left provides food for other species (scavengers and insect.. etc). this heals the circle of life and contributes to the biodiversity...
Will
before you know it species that are critical to the eco system return. having apex predators is crucial to an ecosystem... it helps run the deer and elk , etc around.
Will
example: there was a species of shrub/ plant that grows along river banks that moose love to eat.. the moose have no predator so they decimate that food source which also helps prevent erosion. when the wolves were reintroduced this changed. oddly enough this plant species started to repopulate in
Will
the areas where wolf feces sat and decayed
Will
which of the following statements about the parts of an egg are false?
Israel Reply
Monotremes include...?
Israel
medicinal plants including microbs
vijay Reply
,medicinal plants including microbes
vijay
what is biology
Siyanbola Reply
study of living organisms...
R0se
study of plants and animals
Divine
what is abiotic and biotic factors?
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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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