The Scientific Method

I have a longtime friend who identifies himself as a scientist. One of his favorite sayings goes like this: “Most people that think science is a body of facts. It’s not. Science is in reality a method of inquiry.”

And he is absolutely correct.

Generally speaking, scientific method consists first of observation and measurement. This information is then used to formulate a hypothesis or “a good working guess based on the current available data”.

The scientific community specializing in that particular field of inquiry then takes pot shots at the hypothesis in an attempt to blow holes in it through further observation and experimentation. The hypothesis may then be modified, dropped or generally accepted as an understood fact.

When a hypothesis stands the tests of time and repeated attempts at annihilation, it can become a theory, or an underlying explanation of the principles at work in the universe we live in.

Theories tend to stick around longer than hypothesis, being the basis of general scientific thought at the moment. But theories are often (and some would say will ALWAYS) be modified in the face of new data and new ways of interpreting the existing data.

In other words, our understanding of how the universe works and our place in it is evolutionary; growing and changing through time. Science is not a dusty old book of facts. It is a living process of inquiry, postulation, defense and destruction of ideas as older ways of seeing are replaced by newer understandings. Science is never 100% anything. There will always be skeptics trying to poke holes in the current theories. Fantastic! That is their job! This is what moves the big ball of understanding down the playing field of knowledge.

And that in fact is the job and fate of all thinking people; to move the big ball of understanding down the playing field of Life a couple of yards; where it will be picked up by the next generation whose turn it is to carry the ball further.

The news media, like politicians, like to quote scientists in defense of their positions. This is a pretty good strategy, but as Heraclitus said circa 500BC, “All is in flux. Nothing is still.” All that we have is our best guess based on current data and generally accepted interpretations of that data. And that’s what we have. Those who insist on absolute certainty might better enjoy religion than the process of incremental understanding that we call science.

All of this is of course leading up to a very brief discussion on global weather changes (aka global warming). Yes, there are indeed a handful of scientists and academics disputing this hypothesis. Thank goodness! That is scientific method in action.

However, and this is a big however, holding up meaningful action to remedy the global implications of the current weather change hypothesis until 100% of the experts agree is potentially civilization suicide. When approximately 97% the experts and hundreds of studies agree on something this important, even politicians have to take notice and begin the implementation of meaningful countermeasures. Right? Right? Hello…

Temperature data from four international science institutions. All show rapid warming in the past few decades and that the last decade has been the warmest on record. Data sources: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NOAA National Climatic Data Center, Met Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit and the Japanese Meteorological Agency.