Before we can answer the question ‘why is the scientific method important’ we need to consider for whom it is important. In previous posts we’ve looked at who arguably invented the method and who subsequently developed it. Clearly for philosophers and scientists the method is vital and we shall explore why here. However, most of us are neither philosophers nor scientists, so why is the scientific method important for us?
The scientific method is arguably the most important element of science. Without it science itself would be practically meaningless. Science is defined as:
“the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”
It is the scientific method that enables us to systematically and precisely study the structure and nature of things. It enables us to do so through the following process:
Define a question
Gather information and resources (observe)
Form an explanatory hypothesis
Test the hypothesis by performing an experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner.
Analyze the data
Interpret the data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis (also called a theory.)
Retest and attempt to disprove the theory.
Science has shaped our world unlike any other discipline. Almost everything we use on a daily basis has come into being as a result of science. From toasters to magnetic resonance imaging, science underpins the advent and development of technology. But more than that science explains why things happen the way they do. It can explain why coastal erosion occurs, help us to predict the weather or design fabrics that protect us against it.
However, perhaps most importantly, science helps us understand the universe we live in and provides the tools of reasoning and logic that are the apparent difference between ourselves and all other known lifeforms.
Ultimately the scientific method enables us to get closer to the truth. We can call it truth because we can provide evidence, tested through experimentation, that proves whether or not a theory can be considered true or false. This is called the ‘scientific paradigm’ and it gives us the best insight into how the universe really is. However science is certainly not infallible and no self respecting scientist would ever claim it to be. Indeed once a theory is published science is then used rigorously to try to disprove rather than support it. The point is that by trying to disprove a theory and failing to do so, the more likely it is that the theory is indeed correct.
The scientific method has evolved to try and make scientific research as objective as possible. No matter how objective a research scientist may try to be, like the rest of us, they are a product of their environment, their age, culture and so on. Their perception is bound to be susceptible to this kind of “bias.” The scientific method is a self regulating process that tends to remove this bias far more than other approaches. This is essential for establishing objectivity and, thereby, greater validity.
So why is the scientific method important to scientists? Because it provides a universal objective process that allows theories to be evaluated in light of the evidence and either verified or rejected. The scientists can get closer to the truth.
But why is the scientific method important to the rest of us?
Well aside from the fact that science itself has great value to pretty much every single one of us, the scientific method can also greatly inform how we approach problem solving. It enables us to have a better grasp of logic & reason and aids critical thinking. Now some of you may think you don’t ever use the scientific method but I’m willing to bet you do.
Let’s assume you like cooking curry. You’ve got a favourite recipe that experience tells you your family like. However one day your partner tells you that they think it’s a bit bland. Suddenly you have a problem with the recipe. So you think you’ll try adding a bit more paprika. Now neither your partner nor your mum like it. So you go back to the original recipe and add a bit more chilli instead. Now everyone likes it. Your a success and don’t have to do the washing up.
So what you’ve done is recognise a problem, gather information on it, form an idea, experiment, analyse the results, retest and come to a conclusion which you’ve shared. Next time your partner cooks he or she can use the new recipe. And that is the scientific method (pretty much.)
This kind of critical thinking and problem solving is so inate to us now that we are rarely aware of doing it. However we are able to reason and use logic in this way precisely because we use the scientific method.
So why is the scientific method important? Because it enables us to solve problems and get closer to the truth.