Although the average person thinks of science as a body of facts, an attempt is made in the schools to teach it as a method. The scientific method is a model of how science is supposed to work. As it is usually represented, it goes something like this:
1) Hypothesis 2) Experiment 3) Observation 4) Results 5) Discussion 6) Conclusion.
One recent poster I
saw in a science class lists these steps:
Models like these are
widely taught in schools, which suggests that no better models
have been forthcoming.
1) If students are
taught unnecessarily complex models that they have difficulty
remembering, they will tend to dislike science.
In this article, I
will present what I believe is a simpler and easier to remember
model of science.
Insert Figure 1. [not included in text-only format]
Science (and life) ultimately is an attempt to solve problems relating to survival of the organism, community, and species.
I believe that science
can be equated with prediction. The theories, models, laws, principles,
etc., are all an attempt to say whats is going to happen.
On a primitive level, a scientist might say, based on a theory
of the seasons, or a theory of astronomy, when the best time to
plant the crops will be. Searching for correlation is an attempt
to be able to predict what will happen to one variable when another
Insert Figure 2. [not
included in text-only format]
1) Try-See-Say: a scientist is doing an experiment, or doing anything, a try and perhaps notices something strange (an anomaly) or something interesting. The thing that he sees encourages him to say something (make a hypothesis, theory, or model about how the thing came to be). Then he (or she) can do an experiment, a try, to test the say. And the cycle goes on around. This is a good approximation of how much science occurs. Many scientists have said that important discoveries came about by accident. For example, the discovery of penicillin was made in 1928 when Alexander Flemming was searching (trying) for a way to stop certain dangerous bacteria. He forgot to throw away one of the dishes he was using which contained the dangerous bacteria. Later, when he went to throw it away, he noticed (a see) that none of the bacteria culture was growing around a certain mold, and that mold eventually led to penicillin.
2) See-Say-Try: a scientist sees something in the real world, or sees the results of anothers experiment, and, based on this, decides to say something (a theory, hypothesis, or model), which leads them to try something (an experiment), and then through the cycle again. Wegeners theory of Continental Drift, which later evolved into the theory of plate tectonics, might be a good example of this category. Wegener noticed (saw) certain similarities between the plants and animals of Africa and South America. He also saw a fit between the outlines of continents. This led to his theory, or say, that the continents had once been part of a supercontinent that he called Pangaea.
3) Say-Try-See: a theory, hypothesis or model (or what someone says), encourages or inspires the scientist to try something, (an experiment), which leads to him or her seeing something, perhaps something that they hadnt seen before, and on around the cycle again. The famous Michelson-Morley experiment might be a good example of this type. The current theories of physics at the time, 1887, predicted (said) that one should be able to measure the velocity of the earth through a theoretical ether of space. Michelson and Morely tried to measure it, but were unable to see it. (This later helped lead Einstein to say his theory of relativity.)
Of course, in science,
we often create an artificial situation in order to find principles
or laws that adequately describe or approximate reality. In terms
of the new model, we try things that do not normally occur, in
order to see better, and say better.
1) Say-Say-Say (no Try or See): if some were to just say something, as a braggart often does, or divinely inspired charlatan, or someone merely out to gain status or money, then this would be an example of not-science. Certainly much fake-science would fit into this category, and also perhaps certain religious dogma. Much of education, as it is currently practiced, is just Say-Say-Say. Very boring for the student.
2) Try-Say (no See): in this case, the person tries something, and then says something, but has missed the key element of observation (see). Scientific fraud would probably fit under this category best, in which a researcher goes through the motions of doing research, for perhaps monetary or status reasons, and then reports what he or she wants, without regard to observation. The scientist may have good data, and may even see the data, but chooses to say something else.
3) See-Say (no Try):
Here is the armchair theorist at his best. Here perhaps is Aristotle
describing the motion of falling bodies. Aristotle perhaps saw
something, and then made a theory for it, but never tried the
theory to see if it was true, or if it was true under all conditions.
Galileo put the try back in the study of what was then called
natural philosophy. When he dropped two balls, one
of iron, one of wood, from the leaning tower of Pisa, (although
he probably never did this, the story is instructive) and they
both hit at the same time, try echoed throughout the world, Aristotles
theory was shattered, and along with it the See-Say of the ancient
natural philosophers. Scientists, encouraged by Galileos
success, have been trying things ever since.
Insert Figure 3. [not included in text-only format]
Obviously, it would
be more accurate to use Try-Perceive-Say, or Try-Sense-Say, rather
than Try-See-Say. A blind person can get sensory information from
his environment without the use of sight. He can experiment. However,
to be honest, I chose not use Perceive or Sense, as I think people
wouldnt remember it. More on this later.
(c) 1998 by William Lauritzen