The Scientific Method and Western Culture
PHS 100A Environmental Science
David Terrell, PH.D
Warner Pacific College
December 10, 2013
The Scientific Method and Western Culture
What is the advantage of scientific thinking? What practical difference does it make to live in a culture that believes in using evidence to explain the world? According to Withgott and Laposata (2013) scientists have developed what we know as the scientific method, which is a technique for testing ideas with observations. Nothing about the scientific method should be intimidating or daunting. It is merely a strategy that any of us might naturally use to resolve a question we have. There are a series of steps that are practiced by researchers or research teams as a means to learn how the world works. The active involvement by scientists, utilizing the scientific method has driven our modern culture to new heights of awareness which gives way to environmentalism.
What precisely does the scientific method consist of? A sequence of steps outlined to resolve a question or problem using observations, and experimentation. First, to simplify this, a scientist develops and interest and has an idea. The scientist begins with observing some kind of occurrence that he or she would like to illuminate, such as the excessive growth of algae in local ponds (Withgott & Laposata, 2013). A plethora of what, when, how, and why questions are posed by the scientist, which sets the stage to formulate a hypothesis. As defined in our textbook, Environment: the Science behind the Stories, a hypothesis is a statement that attempts to explain a phenomenon or answer a scientific question (Withgott & Laposata, 2013). An example of the scientist investigating the questions of why algae are growing excessively in local ponds might observe that chemical fertilizers are being applied on farm fields nearby. The scientist might then propose a hypothesis as follows: “Agricultural fertilizers running into ponds case the amount of algae in the ponds to increase” (Withgott & Laposata, 2013).
The scientist will then test the predictions by performing experiments that manipulates variables or conditions that can change. For example with our algae hypothesis the scientist could make a prediction linking algal growth to fertilizer by selecting two identical ponds and adding fertilizer to one of them. In this example, fertilizer input is an independent variable, a variable the scientist manipulates, whereas the quantity of algae that results is the dependent variable, one that depends on the fertilizer input. This type of experiment is known as a controlled experiment because the scientist controls for the effects of all variables except the one he or she is testing. To validate the hypothesis, the scientist will want to perform this experiment as many times as possible obtaining the same results each time. The data from these tests is used to determine the strength and reliability of patterns they find (Withgott & Laposata, 2013).
The last two pieces to the scientific method are the peer review and conference presentations. Peer reviewed work occurs one a scientists work is complete and the researcher writes up the findings to be considered for submission to a scientific journal for publication. The editor of the journal will ask several other scientists, otherwise know as peers, to review the manuscript and provide comments. Sometimes scientists present their work at professional conferences which gives their peers a chance to interact with the information being presented and give feedback and comments. However, there are many flaws and areas of opportunity with peer review, such as politics and personal preference, this is the best system at the present time to analyze and confirm results (Withgott & Laposata, 2013).
Now that we are well versed with what the scientific method consists of, how does it influence western culture? Science is a core value of Western culture. Scientific knowledge is made possible by reason and, therefore, the history of science is, to an important extent, the history of Western culture and its development (Williams, 2007). As a method of obtaining reliable data (in fields such as astronomy, physics, geology, metallurgy, engineering, chemistry, biology and medicine); the scientific method has significant and demonstrable advantages over known or traditional alternatives such as inexact observations propagated as folklore. The advantages of the scientific method have been well documented and widely promoted in late 20th–century and early 21st–century western culture (Slyman, 2004-2013).
As you can see, the advantages of scientific thinking and furthermore the scientific method are an outstanding method to revealing the truth. There will always be truths outside the scope or observable range of any experimental data we may gather. Scientists are, like the rest of us, inherently reliant on the ideas or inspiration that comes to them in response to the stimuli they observe and decide to pursue. Because science is forever bound to the study of the frequent, the commonly observable and repeatable, the imaginable; the scientific method has vastly influenced western culture by answering many questions relating to the infinite and eternal, and will be essential in answering many future questions.
Slyman, M. (2004-2013), Science and philosophy, Retrieved December 10, 2013 from: http://www.slyman.org/m_science.php
Williams, H. (2007), Science culture global, Retrieved December 10, 2013 from: http://www.westerncultureglobal.org/knowledge-science.html
Withgott, J., & Laposata, M. (2013). Environment: the science behind the stories (5th Ed.). New
York, NY. Pearson Benjamin Cummings.