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The REAL scientific method...

by Chad Jones

March 9, 2013

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Donate Over the years I have judged many science fairs, and it's an opportunity that I really enjoy. I have found that the best participants have a strong understanding of the scientific method and have thought carefully about how to apply it to their project. There's a reason for that: The scientific method is always the foundation to good science. This method is often described using a diagram similar to this:

This diagram is not only simplified, it's also a bit dishonest and misleading. We still use it to teach the scientific method, and I'm not arguing that we shouldn't. The purpose of teaching it this way isn't to teach students how to do organized science it's to teach studentsthe benefitsof organized science. By teaching the scientific method we teach students that critical thinking skills and knowledge aren't abstract concepts. Experiments can be designed to test our assumptions and the knowledge we gain can be absolute.

My experience is that the scientific method, as used in practice, is something more like this (see a larger version here):

So the scientific method isn't a scientific "to-do list". It's a way to analyze the universe in such a way that you can believe the results you get. Accurate observations and carefully designed experiments are critical to the process, but it's not a simple step-by-step description of how to do research. Good science requires all of these things, but it also requires accurate intuition and a surprising amount of creativity.

by Chad Jones

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