I Believe in Scientific Method

I note the frequent comments of “believe in the science” or “the scientific facts.”  The really great ones show validity with “most scientists believe . . .”  as if consensus had an influence on causality.  For much of my life I’ve made a living based around science in it’s several forms- sometimes research, sometimes applications, sometimes looking to support or falsify conclusions. 

Scientific method is the basis – after we have followed the method, causality is inferred, not proven.  All conclusions are tentative and subject to further questions and research.  Scientific method is simple.  Step one is making an observation.  Step two is asking the question.  Step three is developing a hypothesis – a potential answer to the question that can be tested, and move to step four – testing the hypothesis.   After that comes the inference – did the test support the hypothesis, or should it be rejected. 

I believe in the methodology of science – but I don’t always believe in my colleagues’ conclusions.  I remember a great paper that dealt with soil compaction – everything fit, but the researcher had assumed that tractor tire pressure was the same as the pressure of the tire on the ground.  I didn’t spot the problem because I was formally trained to a high level on the topic – I spotted it because I had fixed a lot of tires.  I may miss something in my own assumptions – causality is always inferred, and all conclusions are tentative.

Back to the methodology – and it applies to firewood just as well as chemistry or demography.  First, the observation – it appears that some species produce more heat than other species.  Then the research question . . . which species of tree produces the most heat when burned.  Researching the literature can be simple – asking your neighbor which tree produces the most heat, accepting the old-timer’s answer of buckskin tamarack or researching university studies, finding Western Larch produces 28.7 million Btu’s per cord and weighs 3,321 pounds per cord dry.  Now that weight factor might get you wondering about the guy who delivers a full cord of larch in a single trip with a half-ton pickup . . . but that isn’t the research question.  The chart shows that Douglas fir is 26.5 million Btu’s and a cord weighs 3,075 pounds – perhaps the amount of heat produced is a variant on the weight or density of the wood?  And what sort of springs does that guy have on that old half-ton pickup?

So we develop the hypothesis – perhaps it contrasts western larch with spruce – then we test it.  It’s not enough to predict a difference – we need to predict a direction . . . that western larch will produce more heat than spruce seems likely, and measurable with the materials at hand (a cabin, a thermometer, and a wood stove would be enough to give me measurable data). 

Now if the hypothesis is just that there will be a difference, it’s not a good hypothesis.  That’s why I prefer global warming to climate change – the difference is right there in the title.  We can accept the researchers’ tables – based on faith in the university’s Extension specialists quality work – but scientific method doesn’t stop us from researching the same topic again.  I kind of like that approach – religion is faith-based, but the harsh reality is that science is based on doubt – lets do the experiment, evaluate our measured data, and figure things out from there,

Science is one way of looking at the world.  It makes a virtue of scepticism.  Religion is another way of looking at the world, through faith and revelation. 

2 thoughts on “I Believe in Scientific Method”

  1. This was a fine discussion of the scientific method. I’m a scientist, too. First, a biochemist in medical research. Got pretty overwhelmed and disgusted by the growing corruption in the labs around me. I moved on. Then conventional medicine began to do some harm and the docs also got testy with my questioning them. I studied other forms of medicine, cured what ailed me and studied some more. Not all alternative medicine works. I studied and asked questions and experimented and applied knowledge. And kept studying and asking questions. I’m not a bad researcher by now. I was a pretty successful practitioner. I’m sad to see science disappearing in our world and even more sad, and pretty angry, that our ability to question things is also disappearing. Thank you for the discussion.


  2. Oddly, I find the same is true in the law. Your ability to “do law” successfully for your client is directly dependent on asking questions over and over about the facts of the case and where and how the law applies. An example: an easement in our neighborhood was recently discovered to have been void from the minute it was created. Seemingly unrelated facts looked at over and over suddenly came together and provided a conclusive answer to a persistent, years-long controversy. Answers are never black and white, but highly nuanced. And highly subject to criticism by opposing counsel!


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