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The Try-See-Say Cycle

by William Lauritzen

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:

1) State the Question 2) Collect Information 3) Form a Hypothesis 4) Observe 5) Record and Study Data 6) Draw a Conclusion (McDonald Publishing, 1997).

Models like these are widely taught in schools, which suggests that no better models have been forthcoming.

Based on my 20 years in education (14 in math and science), I believe that this standard model is too complex, and that the average person will not remember it when he or she has left school. Perhaps this is part of the reason that the average person today embraces many fake-scientific ideas. (I prefer to use the term “fake-science” rather than “pseudoscience.”)

It is important for us to have a model of science that is accurate as well as easy to understand and remember for three reasons:

1) If students are taught unnecessarily complex models that they have difficulty remembering, they will tend to dislike science.
2) If students know what science is, they will be more successful as scientists or in using science in their daily lives.
3) If students know what science is, they will be able to detect more easily what science isn’t (non-science and fake-science).

In this article, I will present what I believe is a simpler and easier to remember model of science.
Of course, no model is perfect. The new model, like the standard model, is merely an attempt to simply represent what is really going on in the day-to-day discipline of science.
I call this new model the Try-See-Say cycle. It can be represented as a triangle with each of the three key words in one corner. The whole triangle can be set in a circle that represents the “survival problems of the organism and community.”

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.

science = prediction = future say

I believe that science can be equated with prediction. The theories, models, laws, principles, etc., are all an attempt to say what’s 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 variable changes.

ry would represent the experiment and the experimental design, see would represent observation, data (or results), and statistical analysis, and say the discussion, hypothesis, theory, model, and prediction. The cyclical nature of this new model is, I believe, more accurate in terms of what scientists actually do. In other words, when they get their results, they often then make a new hypothesis or modify the existing one, etc.

Noted science philosopher Karl Popper (Popper, 1996) summed his view of the scientific method in these four steps: 1) Problems 2) Theories 3) Criticisms 4) New Problems. It is instructive to note the cyclical similarity to the Try-See-Say cycle.

The Try-See-Say cycle is easy to remember because we only have to remember 3 points. This is in line with psychological research that says that data should be broken up into chunks for easy of memory. (See Wortman and Loftus, p. 180) (For example, your phone number is broken up into area code, prefix, and then a number.) In fact, it may be easier to remember the standard model by clustering two items with each. For example: try (Experiment and Control), see (Observation and Data) and say (Conclusion and new Hypothesis).

Insert Figure 2. [not included in text-only format]

Insert Figure 2. [not included in text-only format]The new model is much more flexible than the old model, in that one can start anywhere in the cycle. Thus, there are three possibilities:

1) Try-See-Say
2) See-Say-Try
3) Say-Try-See

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 another’s 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. Wegener’s 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 hadn’t 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.
Thus, science is a systematic and organized way of trying and seeing and saying. Through good experimental design, we can get the most seeing for the least trying, which saves bucks. It is to be hoped that we end up with a nice, concise saying, that will last us a little while, before a newcomer tries something that discredits it.
The say is actually the Homo sapien storage of what it has learned about its surroundings through trying and seeing. This say can be stored within the organism, or without, as in books, tapes, CDs, computer chips, etc.

Now that we have a model of science, let’s see if it gives us any insight into what is non-science and what is fake-science. Anything that doesn’t include both try and see would be classified as not-science or fake-science, and that includes 3 possibilities:

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, Aristotle’s theory was shattered, and along with it the See-Say of the ancient natural philosophers. Scientists, encouraged by Galileo’s success, have been trying things ever since.

What about the importance of replication in science? This could be represented by repetitive Try-See: Try(1)-See(1)-Try(2)-See(2)-Try-(3)-See(3) ... (In science, our motto might be, “If at first you succeed, try, try again.”) No say is necessary in replication, as you just want to see if you get the same results each time.

What about the importance of a control group. This might be represented by: Try(c)-See(c)-Try(e)-See(e). (e for Experimental and c for Control.) If you had many experimental groups they would be added on and numbered.

There is an even simpler model (probably too simple) which is just good old Try-See (try and see). It is what your mother or father might have said if you asked them, “Mom, will this work?” The Try-See cycle requires no language. Thus, we can generalize that a baby is using primitive science as it explores its environment: testing, examining, poking, looking.

I believe the Try-See-Say cycle parallels to a degree the actions of an organism. The information processing model of Input-Organism-Output has been used in psychology and biology. The Input would, of course, be our see and the Output would be our try. The say would include the thinking (pre-language thinking for a baby) which occurs during the Organism phase. (In other words, I use say in the most general sense to include thinking, deciding, and all other mental processes.)

he Try-See-Say cycle is a continuous activity of an organism’s nervous system, and therefore, it is very difficult to say which of the three came first. It is like asking which came first: the chicken or the egg?

It appears that all organisms do a kind of science. Science being a formalized extension of life’s process.

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 wouldn’t remember it. More on this later.

In conclusion, I believe the Try-See-Say model could replace the traditional one (Hypothesis, Experiment, Observation, Results, Discussion, Conclusion) currently taught in our school systems. The Try-See-Say cycle is simpler, yet more accurate in some respects. It also may be useful in helping people detect certain forms of non-science and fake-science. It suggests that science is merely a Homo sapien formalized extension of life’s basic process of responding to, sensing, and processing stimuli in order to survive.

All of what I have said concerning science probably applies as well to all Homo sapien knowledge. In other words, the acquisition of knowledge, itself, may be modeled using the Try-See-Say cycle. The knowledge is the say.

(c) 1998 by William Lauritzen