Exploring the Scientific Method: Cases and Questions

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This is not how science works. But science does work, and here award-winning teacher and scholar Steven Gimbel provides students the tools to answer for themselves this question: What actually is the scientific method?

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Exploring the Scientific Method pairs classic and contemporary readings in the philosophy of science with milestones in scientific discovery to illustrate the foundational issues underlying scientific methodology. Students are asked to select one of nine possible fields—astronomy, physics, chemistry, genetics, evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, economics, or geology—and through carefully crafted case studies trace its historical progression, all while evaluating whether scientific practice in each case reflects the methodological claims of the philosophers.

This approach allows students to see the philosophy of science in action and to determine for themselves what scientists do and how they ought to do it. This is one reason that different scientists will work on the same question and do their own experiments.

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In our flashlight example, you might never get the light to turn on. Were the new batteries in the right way? Was the switch rusty, or maybe a wire is broken. Think of all the possible guesses you could test. No matter what the question, you can use the scientific method to guide you towards an answer. Even those questions that do not seem to be scientific can be solved using this process.

Exploring the Scientific Method

Like with the flashlight, you might need to repeat several of the elements of the scientific method to find an answer. No matter how complex the diagram, the scientific method will include the following pieces in order to be complete. The elements of the scientific method can be used by anyone to help answer questions.

Even though these elements can be used in an ordered manner, they do not have to follow the same order. It is better to think of the scientific method as fluid process that can take different paths depending on the situation.

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Just be sure to incorporate all of the elements when seeking unbiased answers. Click on the image to see other versions of the scientific method. Now that you have an idea of how the scientific method works there are a few other things to learn so that you will be able test out your new skills and test your hypotheses.

It is really hard not to notice things around us and wonder about them. This is how the scientific method begins, by observing and wondering why and how.

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Why do leaves on trees in many parts of the world turn from green to red, orange, or yellow and fall to the ground when winter comes? How does a spider move around their web without getting stuck like its victims? Both of these questions start with observing something and asking questions.

Exploring the Scientific Method: Experimental Design

Now that you have the basics of the scientific method, why not test your skills? The Science Detectives Training Room will test your problem solving ability.

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Step inside and see if you can escape the room. While you are there, look around and see what other interesting things might be waiting. We think you find this game a great way to learn the scientific method. Outside the USA, see our international sales information. University of Chicago Press: About Contact News Giving to the Press. The Nature of Selection Elliott Sober. For and Against Method Imre Lakatos. Abductive Analysis Iddo Tavory. Mara Harrell, Carnegie Mellon University. Mathias Frisch, University of Maryland.