PHS 100A: Environmental Studies
Warner Pacific College
July 27, 2014
How the Scientific Method influenced Western Civilization
The scientific method has greatly influenced Western Civilization, though by Western Civilization, it might seem as though I mean only America, or Europe and America, so I shall be more precise: The scientific method greatly influences most every part of the world in which humans live. The ability to provide evidence to support understanding of our world and share that evidence so that others may build upon the knowledge has been critical to the success of the modern human race.
In our textbook Environment: the science behind the stores (2013), the scientific method is defined as “a technique for testing ideas with observations” (p. 10). The process includes observing, questioning, creating a hypothesis, making predictions, testing the hypothesis, reviewing the results, and then repeating the process. By systematically ordering the process a language was created among scientists. An objective scientist could explore the world they observed and have a framework to understand what they were observing.
The process that scientists used to test their hypothesis and the evidence that came from their testing, whether it supported the hypothesis or not, could be reviewed, accepted or rejected, and furthered by other scientists. This allowed science to continue building our collective knowledge without starting from the beginning. William Harris (2008), a contributing writer for HowStuffWorks.com with a graduate degree in Science Education, provides an illuminating example. After Antoni van Leeuwenhoek improved the microscope with updated lens-grinding techniques, he was inspired to look through the microscope after reading Robert Hooke’s Micrographia. Through a decade of observation, Leeuwenhoek was able to report to the Royal Society in London that he had discovered “little animals”, or bacteria and protozoa. In an integral part of the scientific method, Hooke returned the compliment and reviewed his peer Leeuwenhoek, thereby confirming his findings on behalf of the Royal Society. The observations made by Leeuwenhoek and Hooke were easily reproducible and inspired others to build on their discoveries. Matthias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann observed plant and animal tissue samples under the microscope and hypothesized that all living things are made up of cells. (p. 5)
The scientific method allowed any scientist, regardless of discipline, to observe a phenomenon, hypothesize on why, test its validity, and share his or her findings to be disproved or expanded upon. The simplicity of the process and the importance of the results shifted our culture irrevocably and placed a great importance on objective, reproducible results in all aspects of our society. Donald P. Hearth, former Director of NASA Langley Research Center puts it succinctly:
By drastically changing our means of communication, the way we work, our housing, clothes, and food, our methods of transportation, and, indeed even the length and quality of life itself, science has generated changes in the moral values and basic philosophies of mankind. Beginning with the plow, science has changed how we live and what we believe. By making life easier, science has given man the chance to pursue societal concerns such as ethics, aesthetics, education, and justice; to create cultures; and to improve human conditions. But it has also placed us in the unique position of being able to destroy ourselves. (preface)
Though the scientific method has enabled great advancements in society, it cannot answer all of life’s questions. Harris (2008) reminds us, “Science is also incapable of making value judgments. It cannot say global warming is bad, for example. It can study the causes and effects of global warming and report on those results” (p. 11). Though it cannot answer all of our questions, and ultimately we are still human, the value of scientific method on the human race cannot be understated.
In spite of the great impact the scientific method has had on all of humankind, occasionally our humanness defies a preponderance of evidence and chooses a different path. The scientific method has accumulated a great deal of evidence supporting the value and importance of vaccinations. As the World Health Organization underlines the importance of vaccines, it also underscores the importance of the scientific method, “The benefits of vaccination extend beyond prevention of specific diseases in individuals. They enable a rich, multifaceted harvest for societies and nations (Andre et al., 2008)”. The scientific method has not transformed humans into logical and objective creatures, but it has enabled us to advance the human race by furthering our understanding of our world and ourselves.
Withgott, J., & Laposata, M. (2013). Environment: the science behind the stories (5th Ed.). New York, NY. Pearson Benjamin Cummings.
Harris, W. (2008). How the Scientific Method Works. HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved from http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/scientific-experiments/scientific-method.htm
Burke, J., Bergman, J., & Asimov, I. (1985). Preface. The impact of science on society. (pp. iii). Series of lectures given at a public lecture series sponsored by NASA and the College of William and Mary in 1983. Washington D.C. Retrieved from http://history.nasa.gov/sp482.pdf
Andre, F.E., Booy, R., Bock, H.L., Clemens, J., Datta, S.K., John, T.J.,…Schmitt, H.J. (2008). Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 86, 2, 81-160. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/86/2/07-040089/en/