The scientific method defined and described



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SCIENCE

Information on related issues can be found under the categories Animal Rights, Biotechnology, Knowledge, Materialism, Medical Ethics, Nanotechnology, Nature, Nuclear Weapons, Progress, and Rationalism


The scientific method defined and described


There is no single definition of the scientific method

Reuben Abel (prof. of philosophy, New School for Social Research, New York City), Man Is the Measure, 1976, p. 81

“There is no single scientific method other than the unremitting criticism of evidence and reasoning in every way possible.”
Scientific method is organized data and theories

Peter A. Angeles (prof. of philosophy, Santa Barbara City College), Dictionary of Philosophy, 1981, p. 171

Scientific method: “An empirical, experimental, logico-methodic conceptual system which organizes and interrelates facts with a structure of theories and inferences.”
Replication make science self-corrective

John L. Casti (mathematician, Technical Univ. of Vienna), Paradigms Lost, 1989, p. 14

“In the utopian world where scientific ideology reigns, refereeing and repeatability keep the scientific process (and the scientist) honest.”
The tools and discoveries of science are morally neutral

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research; member, board of editors, Encyclopedia Britannica), The Common Sense of Politics, 1971, p. 236

“All forms of power available to men, all instrumentalities for use by men, are morally neutral; they can be employed for good or for evil. Any utility or instrumentality is good only insofar as it is put to a good use; and it is always equally susceptible to a detrimental employment. This applies to the most powerful technology as well as the simplest hand tools or weapons.”
Scientific inquiry is never complete

Strachan Donnelley (past president of the Hastings Center and director of its Humans and Nature Program; later founder and President of the Center for Humans and Nature), “Animals in science: the justification issue,” The Hastings Center Report, May-June 1990, p. S8+

“Scientific theories or experimental results are never finally complete, but are subject to revision in light of new evidence or novel theoretical imagination. There can never be a guarantee or certainty of the usefulness or importance of any one particular experiment, including those on animals. Finally, narrowly practical and useful biomedical knowledge in its overall genesis crucially depends on imaginative and explorative basic and non-clinically oriented research. In short, scientific advance, perhaps inherently, is not a rationally tidy affair. Science is an ever-beginning and never-completed exploration, always requiring a confrontation with natural reality, including animal life, in the quest for ever more adequate scientific understanding.”

The scientific method does not work as advertised


Error inevitably creeps into the scientific process

Sheldon Krimsky (prof. of urban and environmental policy, Tufts University), “Research Misconduct: Issues, implications, and strategies,” The New England Journal of Medicine, August 20, 1998, p. 568

“Everyone who engages in research, whether original scientific investigations or scholarly studies, knows how easily error creeps into the process. It takes just a momentary diversion, a hidden bias, a casual acceptance of unsubstantiated claims, or a neglect of proper controls for entropy to take its toll. Disorder, not orderly truth, is the default state.”
Repetition fails as a way to assure scientific results are valid

David Baltimore (prof. of biology, Rockefeller Univ.; Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1975), “On Doing Science in the Modern World,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Cambridge University, March 9 and 10, 1992, p. 285; Online: www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/Baltimore93.pdf, accessed April 30, 2008

“But repetition is not really how the ongoing debate in science is maintained. Certain types of experiments, like the isolation of a particular stretch of DNA, are easily repeated; but for complicated experiments, repetition is not commonly attempted by one laboratory to check on another. In a deep sense, there really is no way to repeat an experiment exactly. To appreciate this point, one need only reflect on the fact that time is a variable that can never be repeated — a more mundane level, a laboratory that undertakes a repetition of an experiment in the literature will have different water from the original laboratory, as well as reagents and supplies from a different manufacturer. In fact, given the many variables that differentiate one laboratory environment from another, the inability to repeat a result is not particularly surprising.
Science — as practiced in the real world — is not really self-correcting

Sheldon Krimsky (prof. of urban and environmental policy, Tufts University), “Research Misconduct: Issues, implications, and strategies,” The New England Journal of Medicine, August 20, 1998, p. 568

“This book makes a convincing case that neither the journals nor the information specialists are effective enough in responding to scientific fraud, misconduct, and poor-quality data. Too many fraudulent and retracted results continue to be cited long after the problems with the data have been reported. Among the many informative surveys cited in the book was the report that only 16 percent of U.S. libraries serving medical schools have policies for managing retracted articles. Other surveys indicate that scientific misconduct is seriously underreported, and when it is reported, many retractions are not listed in the major indexes, such as the Index Medicus.”



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