I have been having an going conversation on Facebook with a person who, though a nice person and well intended, has a rather “cartoon” view of what science is and how in does what it does.
What is the Scientific Method?
Science isn’t a “thing” it’s a way of thinking about stuff and method for finding out about stuff. Sure corporations lie for profit, but that in no way make the Scientific Method bad or wrong. Real scientists use the Scientific Method to find out actual provable things. If that were not true, you wouldn’t have a mobile phone, or tv or microwave. Even simple blood tests that we now take for granted started out, many years ago, as really new, unheard of experiments and they had to go through all that ‘sciencey’ stuff, proper experimental protocols, before any of it became the normal standard for any given blood test. People didn’t just imagine that stuff and make it up from nothing. They used actual methods of discovery that have been proven to give accurate results about the laws nature, laws of physics, biology and everything else in the world we enjoy and take for granted.
The Scientific Method goes like this:
-Ask a question about something you observe or something you think you might (or might not) observe under the right conditions
– use what is already proven to be know as a starting point
– create an hypothesis, that is to say, make an educated, well-informed guess at what you might be observing so that you have a starting point for explaining this thing you have observed or think that under the right conditions you might (or might not) observe
– design your experiment so that it includes a) an avenue where the conditions will give a positive outcome, that is to say, will tell you what it is you are observing and b) create ‘falsifiable’ outcomes, that is to say, you have to consider what evidence would prove that your results are false. This one is important because when you give your results to other researchers they will start by trying to prove your results false.
That’s how ‘science’ works. If those researchers can’t prove the results false then your experiment ‘hold up to scrutiny’ and you may be onto something. Which will lead to further experimentation as you drill down into the details.
-Next you have to design and execute your experiment.
The main protocol of research is a thing called ‘Blinding’ which means the people doing the research and testing don’t know what they are testing for. This way it ensures that the data, the results, are not false due to human errors, such as ideology, prejudices or ‘a desire to have the experiment give pre-determined results’. All of these human failings negate the test by giving false results. So blinding is essential: if you don’t know what you are testing for, only that you are tracking results, you can’t monkey with the outcomes because you don’t know what the outcome is supposed to be.
A common thing you’ll hear is an experiment being Double-Blind or Triple-Blind.
If I ask you to get samples of water from 3 different sources and bring them to me, you don’t know why, so there’s no benefit to you from messing with the water samples. (unless they are insane and just decide to fuck up the samples, in which case they will get fired and never work in their chosen profession ever again, – cuz remember we’re talking about well-paid people with heavy-weight degrees and full-bore careers here – so they’re probably not going to do that) That’s what single-blinding is.
If I then take those 3 samples and give them to 3 colleagues to test, they don’t know why, they just test them. That’s what they do for a job every day. That’s now called double-blinding, because 2 stages of the test were done by people who don’t know what the test actually is.
Then I give the results of these test to some other, different, colleagues in a lab on the other side of the world and they analyze the test results and give me back statistical data. This is now triple-blinded, because this new lab still has no idea what I am testing for. And being professionals with big-fat educations and being involved in well-paid careers in a lab, they want to do a great job for me. That’s what they get paid for. They don’t even Care what I’m testing for, they only care about their job of analyzing my results and returning my data set.
And the results are always expressed in mathematical terms. For a good reason. More about this below.
So you see, I now will have a complete set of statistical data for the outcome of my experiment. I can now determine what the experiment is telling me about the thing that I was observing or the thing that I thought I might, or might not, observe.
– Now that the experiment is complete – I write it up. This includes everything that was done to perform the experiment, in great detail, so that others in other labs may attempt to reproduce my results. (drug companies never do this, because their results are ‘trade secrets’…but that doesn’t mean that others don’t – they do)
Along with writing up my research, I would also write a narrative summary that would be published in a journal of my peers to have them a) know that I have done it and have found or not found something and b) to let them know that my experiment is now open for testing and ‘peer review’ by other scientists.
– In the end if my hypothesis is correct, and others can replicate my experiment, then I have discovered something useful and it will be used in the real world by other scientist and for-profit companies. Such as the invention of synthetics like vinyl or plastic, the use of microwave radiation in cooking, anything electronic such as the quantum physics based computer network at Los Alamos Labs…pretty much everything.
– If my hypothesis fails, well, that’s what science is all about! One wrong avenue down! Let’s rethink this and try again until we find out what it is we’re observing. The Higgs Boson particle is one such thing. So was the failed experiments of Fleishmann and Pons on the ability to create cold fusion. Psychic stuff also falls in there because no matter how you test it, it always turns out that it is that the psychic person is mis-representing their claim or is outright fraudulent in their claim. True scientific methods of testing can ALWAY tell what is true and what isn’t in such claims.
Which brings me to Mathematics. Math is the truest thing in the Universe. It has it’s own built-in Proofs. In other words, if you think you have an equation that is true, you can actually use it’s “proof” equation to tell if it’s true or false in it’s outcome. No shit. Mathematics is Truth. 2 + 2 will always and can only = 4. Period. 4 – 2 will always and forever = 2. 2 x 2 will, in every part of the universe = 4, without exception. And no matter how complex the equation, it can ALWAYS be expressed in terms that show whether it’s true or not. 2 + 2 will never, anywhere ever, equal 5.
So, you see, this is why science is trustable, generally speaking. Now there are companies who wish to lie to you for profit. Don’t confuse that with actual science.
And even having said that, although the pharmaceutical industry, as some suggest, is in it for the money, it’s bad logic and flawed reasoning to believe that all drugs are bad or harmful. Aspirin is a great example. It works quite well. MOST drugs who what they say they will. Some have strong side effects just because of one very important fact that people just fucking hate to believe:
IN THE NATURAL WORLD, JUST LIKE ALL PLANTS AND ANIMALS, YOU ARE NOT DESIGNED TO LIVE, YOU ARE DESIGNED TO REPRODUCE AND DIE. PERIOD.
But no one wants that to be true, so they insist on having drugs “fix them”. If you smoke and get lung cancer of emphysema, you are not supposed to live, you fuck you’re shit up and you will die. To have a drug or treatment that reverses this is NOT NATURAL and it will be harsh on your body, because reversing the course of nature is contrary to what nature intents, and so, you’re gonna get drugs that have wicked side effects because they really need to fuck with your shit to do their job, a job that nature does not intent for them to do. It’s like trying to reverse the course of a river.
But not all drugs have horrible side effects and not all people who take the drugs that do have horrible side effects get those effects. And some people, like me, get odd, rare side effects from certain, obscure, drugs because of genetics. And again, it’s because the drug is trying to go against ‘my’ nature. So you take a different drug and move along…all is well again.
In conclusion, science = the best way to find anything out that requires accuracy and provability. It’s not perfect, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a tool of discovery. The more we use it, and the more we refine it, the more we’ll understand our universe and all the things in it.