Talk:Scientific method/Archive 18

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Cause and effect

Scientists apply the scientific method in determining cause and effect relationships. This foundational principle (cause and effect) seems to be neglected in this over elaborated article. Would anyone mind if I add a sourced statement to this effect in the lead. I would like to avoid causing a disruption. Zulu Papa 5 * (talk) 03:10, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

See footnote 12 on Max Born's statement, taken from Natural Philosophy of Cause and Chance. Aristotle took the lead in making cause and effect a principle, 2000 years before Born, of course. If you like, you can follow the link to a web version of Born's lecture. It is probably prudent to talk about the additional statement for the article here as well, as the note at the top of the talk page states. But it is well to 'be bold'. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 03:49, 2 November 2010 (UTC)
Note: The view espoused by ZuluPapa5 is also part of the agenda of Physics First. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 04:09, 2 November 2010 (UTC)
Aristole has the four causes for causality; however, karma was likely before that (if you take a global view). What is significant to me about about the scientific method is measurement index, means and apparatus. Scientific methods simply advance by standardize measurement methods. Ask anyone at NIST. Zulu Papa 5 * (talk) 19:01, 2 November 2010 (UTC)
The measurement part is already listed in the article. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 19:23, 2 November 2010 (UTC)
Yes thanks, I get a sense that this article shows many scientific works in progress as folks try to characterize, classify, segment and scale measurement definitions. It is as if this article is a showcase for new and developing scitific methods. Zulu Papa 5 * (talk) 19:58, 4 November 2010 (UTC)
Yes, thank you for your feedback, ZuluPapa5. This article has existed since the beginning of the encyclopedia and hundreds of us have worked to get it to its current state. As a public work, science and its methods are the product of many minds, so your contributions at every level are important, for all our sakes. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 21:05, 4 November 2010 (UTC)
Well maybe, I am interested in how all the little scientific methods piece together the cause and effect relationships, into one reliable and reproducible whole system. Kind of like the Macrocosm and microcosm approach with the scientific method. Guess I better find some sources and see how they fit in here. Zulu Papa 5 * (talk) 21:43, 4 November 2010 (UTC)

There are some articles in popular magazines which appear to be neglecting confirmation bias. (See Jonah Lehrer (Dec 13, 2010), New Yorker) The reported cases on non-reproducibility of results show clearly that the researchers are falling into the trap of looking for an expected case, rather than disproving counterexamples to the expected case. The researchers appear to have theories about a cause-effect relation which they then attempt to confirm, and appear to be running out of populations which confirm their theory. Of course, the science lies in the hard work of figuring out what it would take to debug a theory. Feynman would phrase this as "You have to be your own worst enemy". Lehrer's point is that some researchers are being too easy on themselves. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 01:00, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

Interesting, suspect demonstrating Discriminant validity is the issue. Zulu Papa 5 * (talk) 14:28, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Very interesting. Selective reporting, confirmation bias, significance chasing, fashion and paradigms - those things fit into that which Peirce called the method of congruity. An early version of the Scientific method wiki mentioned Peirce's view that actual science is far from free of all vestiges of unscientific methods. (I'd insert a phrase to that effect if I could source it to a focused statement by Peirce on that.) Seduced by the glamorous side of the Force! - even in this day and age. Significance and implications can feel good but do not automatically equate to established conclusions and learnings, just as correlation can be useful but does not equate to causation or even to actual connection. Feynman is right; the first person whom one needs to check and balance is oneself.
Regarding science as measurement, I think that's a thesis that nets a lot of insight, but ultimately leads to diluting and weakening the ideas of measurement (and of analysis into components), so as to encompass things like tracking, plotting, and explaining; differentiating, classifying, and calculating; and identifying, ordering, and establishing. To the point of the wiki, we probably don't want to adopt a preconceived viewpoint (mine or anybody else's) on science as measurement, but rather treat measurement as one of those things that, in experience, has actually bulked large in science (and done so for identifiable reasons), such that one naturally addresses it in an article on science. The Tetrast (talk) 17:04, 3 January 2011 (UTC). Edited The Tetrast (talk) 17:09, 3 January 2011 (UTC).

Edit request from Joe3Eagles, 14 November 2010

{{edit semi-protected}} Simple word omission error: In the 3rd to last paragraph of the first section (Introduction to scientific method), the word "to" is missing in the clause, "you will have go back to 2 and try to invent a new 2, deduce a new 3, look for 4, and so forth." The corrected clause would be as follows: "you will have to go back to 2 and try to invent a new 2, deduce a new 3, look for 4, and so forth." --<BR>Joe3Eagles<BR>----------When I get new information, I change my position. <BR> What, sir, do YOU do with new information? <BR>--John Maynard Keynes (talk) 07:04, 14 November 2010 (UTC)

Done All fixed, thanks! Qwyrxian (talk) 08:01, 14 November 2010 (UTC)

Paul Feyerabend and 'anything goes'

As the sentence in the article is quite misleading, (and is often misinterpreted and misquoted) I would suggest editing it from "In essence, he says that "anything goes", by which he meant that for any specific methodology or norm of science, successful science has been done in violation of it." to: "In essence, he says that for any specific method or norm of science, one can find a historic episode where violating it has contributed to the progress of science. Thus, if believers in a scientific method wish to express a single universally valid rule, Feyerabend jokingly suggests, it should be 'anything goes'." If necessary I can supply citation for 'anything goes' being meant jokingly. Biophil.o (talk) 02:19, 9 January 2011 (UTC)

Perhaps somehow the joking aspect might be included; Lee Smolin has described how Feyerabend flim-flammed him and another physicist when they came to him for advice. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 03:41, 9 January 2011 (UTC)
Yes, please do include the citation. Where there's misinterpretation and misquotation, a citation (especially with a link if available) can nail things down. The Tetrast (talk) 03:59, 9 January 2011 (UTC).
Here you go: "Imre Lakatos loved to embarrass serious opponents with jokes and irony and so I, too, occasionally wrote in a rather ironical vein. An example is the end of Chapter 1: 'anything goes' is not a 'principle' I hold ... but the terrified exclamation of a rationalist who takes a closer look at history". Feyerabend, Against Method (1993), p.vii. Google Books page (btw, it is already quoted in Wikipedia's Scientism entry) Biophil.o (talk) 02:06, 15 January 2011 (UTC)
For the Feyerabend-Smolin episode, see Lee Smolin (2006) The Trouble With Physics ISBN 0-618-55105-0. Start on p. 290.
I too am interested in the citation. (Parenthetically, for Smolin, the trouble with physics began with a failure documented on p. 64 ff.) --Ancheta Wis (talk) 13:16, 9 January 2011 (UTC)


The start of the intro was horrible, and riddle with errors. It was like a very badly done history of the scientific method, so I chopped that bit all out William M. Connolley (talk) 20:15, 10 January 2011 (UTC)

William M. Connolley, Thank you for your evaluation. As we are all interested in the improvement of this page, I will proceed with fixing the links which are now broken.
To all editors, while the repair work is underway, I ask your patience. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 11:23, 11 January 2011 (UTC)
The role of doubt, so prominently discussed by Peirce, was discussed by Alhazen 850 years prior to Peirce, in his scathing Critique of Ptolemy (published 1028, also called Aporias against Ptolemy, where an aporias is a statement of unresolved contradictions). Since doubt is a good thing in a community of scholars, as it is a call to arms, this alone represents an advance in scientific method beyond the empiricism of Aristotle (and ancient China, for that matter). As Alhazen said in his Doubts concerning Ptolemy, "Truth is sought for its own sake. And those who are engaged upon the quest for anything for its own sake are not interested in other things." -- (Pines translation) --Ancheta Wis (talk) 15:21, 11 January 2011 (UTC)

Lakatos, same same but different

I would suggest to either delete or heavily hedge the statement about Lakatos claiming the principles of science and mathematics are the same, i.e. Rtc's recent edits. To claim that THE principles of science are the same as math's cannot be true. It might be argued that Lakatos suggested that some principles, given a certain level of abstraction are the same, but referencing one whole book, and arguing that science and math are on a all normative respects identical is no good. Biophil.o (talk) 04:10, 15 January 2011 (UTC)

We have changed the statement. Thank you for your suggestion. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 11:42, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

Very odd article

I haven't looked at this before, but I came to it from the Science#Philosophy of science debate. I'm afraid I find the whole thing very strange.

  1. Why does every mention of DNA require that silly icon?
  2. Why does every piece on DNA refer back to another piece?
  3. Why do the references on photo 51 say that its shape was predicted by C&W, when the article photo 51 says that the X shape predicted the helix? Later in this article it says that the X 'confirmed' the helix theory.
  4. The DNA example section uses terms (eg. characterizations) that are not explained until much later on; and I don't think that one is used in the same way.
  5. Who says that hypotheses are 'normally' mathematical models? In which sciences?
  6. Much of the article reads like a story book rather than an encyclopedia entry. Cf "So, the race was on ..."
  7. The Models of Sc enq section seems to read better. Was this older stuff?
  8. There is a great deal of repetition. Myrvin (talk) 20:45, 15 January 2011 (UTC)
See reply to #1 & 2 at Talk:Science#Merging with scientific method section
reply to 3: You will have to re-read this article for the history of photo 51 as Crick's paper is only a part, but the paper is the mathematical prediction. Watson's reaction to the photo (which is the data, or experimental result) is perhaps the most famous part. The sentences you object to were written for different stages in the investigation. The key part is that each predicted result be currently unknown, so that there is no fudging of data or hypothesis.
Needham, for example, characterized hypotheses as mathematical, so did Galileo. It is possible to state mathematics in words, as Galileo famously did.
reply to 6. I'm afraid that each editor has his own style. Per guidelines, we Assume Good Faith. Unfortunately, the editor who wrote the words you object to was banned. I respect him and do not wish to change his words.
reply to 7. It is not the oldest material in the article.
reply to 8. See Talk:Science#Merging with scientific method section --Ancheta Wis (talk) 11:38, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

I include your response on the Talk:Science#Merging with scientific method section:

Myrvin, the scientific method article is the result of contributions of a long series of editors, dating back to the beginning of the encyclopedia. The editors have different philosophical positions, but the use of a method is the common thread. I claim here (but do not state in that article, as that would be OR) that if one doesn't know something, that one can approach an subject previously unknown to oneself using a scientific method. You can follow the hyperlinks in the DNA section (marked by Double Helix icons), for example, and get a synopsis of the article in that way (so a little article lives in the larger article). The article is heavily overlapped because it embodies the concept of a state machine whose states are marked by the little Double Helix icons. Fortunately, the wiki-links allow a reader to move from one state to the next by causing events (clicks), and in this way, move from one state of understanding to the next. The state machine is taught, in stages, to students who learn the individual names from their individual teachers, according to their individual scientific interest. There are commonalities, such as the ethos imparted (i.e. no fudging of predictions, no back-entry of data, etc.) and everything is meant to be open (per the ethos). In the history of science, every mistake has been made, but what survives works. And what has survived is reproducible per the ethos. The reproducibility requirement is the reason for the loop in the state machine. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 11:07, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

My first reaction is that you are trying to bamboozle me with computer-speak. I want the article to embody the concept of a well-written encyclopedia, not a state-machine. Something very strange is going on here.

What is the point of confusing people with an article within an article? Surely, additions should be integrated with the current text. Your state clicks serve only to point to the DNA parts and not to a 'synopsis of the article'. If it this that causes overlapping then I do not like it and I think readers will find it confusing.

Are these DNA intrusions put there for some particular students you know who have learnt about a state machine? - or individual teachers? The article should be written for the general reader.

Are we to expect lots of little icons popping up in Wiki articles? Will they all become unreadable? Wales you were right - fewer people will be able to edit it.

I didn't understand any of your talk about 'reproducibility'.

Perhaps these students who know about the state machine also know that they should look out for the DNA icons. To me they look silly and should be removed.

Your use of 'mathematical' seems much too wide. Some scientists are keen to produce mathematical models, but others (say biologists) might not. A prediction or explanation is not necessarily mathematical at all. Nor are they maths re-written in words. C&W's model was made out of metal and plastic. As for Needham, how on earth is the prediction about the way a horse gallops mathematical? Perhaps you mean 'quantitative', ie the use of numbers? Even then, the horse prediction seems not to fit.

If you are going to use DNA research as an example, then the photo 51 stuff should be much clearer: Who predicted what and when. Myrvin (talk) 13:49, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

Myrvin, it's in the article already, in the citations: The people, predictions, dates and results have been in the article for years. The whole point is that no one knows anything until a clear corroboration has been established.
A sequence of steps is one formulation for an algorithm or machine. Scientific method is more subtle than a finite state machine, which is why that statement is not in the article.
But if you are looking for a philosophical statement there is one in the article. It was hyperlinked from the beginning. The DNA section was added later because readers wanted an introduction, so I inserted it after the philosophical statement had been in the article for a number of years.
No, the Needham 'flying gallop' is about the difficulties of observation, not hypothesis. Needham (2004) Science and Civilisation in China VII.2 contains at least one statement about mathematical forms for a scientific hypothesis. I would have to go to the library to get the page number where I saw the statement. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 14:55, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

You do not seem to be addressing my comments seriously or cogently. I do not understand most of what you say.

What is in the article already? The DNA stuff was added by you, you say. So that wasn't there for years?

Why do you keep going on about state machines? Please say clearly what you mean.

I think there were real conflicting hypotheses about the flying horse, and the experiment decided between them. Until a horse is found that doesn't 'fly'.

I cannot see how the DNA pieces can provide an introduction. They are a particular example.

You seem to have ignored much of what I have said. Myrvin (talk) 17:47, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

Regarding Myrvin's point 3, I'd agree that "confirmed" should be changed. I'd say "established" or "helped establish" or at least "implied." I looked but I don't see where the notes say that C&W predicted the helix prior to Photo 51; if it's there but I missed it, then maybe I'll agree the notes need to be clarified.
  Regarding "state machine" I think that Ancheta means that the wiki illustrates the stages in scientific method in the perspective of the state of knowledge at each given stage.
  As regards "the race was on," that sentence is both true and succinct as to the particular case, and to the point of much scientific research. In a way, science is the intentional speedup of the discoveries to which sufficient experience would lead anyway.
  Myrvin, please be patient, Ancheta makes more sense than you may see at first. Anyway, I'm against rushing changes in these aspects of the article. The Tetrast (talk) 18:41, 16 January 2011 (UTC).
Thank you. I am patience personified. Myrvin (talk) 20:15, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

Myrvin, I apologize for the 'geek-speak' which I unintentionally inflicted on you. When we talk on the talk page, I create a mental picture of the respondents, and my assumption about your background was wrong. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 13:21, 17 January 2011 (UTC)

In rhetoric of science, a researcher has something to propound, is attempting to communicate a claim, and convince his peers. In the stages of a scientific method, the state of knowledge is common to the researchers of that community, who share a common vocabulary, and who know what is currently known, and what is currently unknown. Once agreement about the state of a given topic is attained, using the canon of proof for that community, then it is proper to communicate it to the general community of scholars, to the interested laymen (in this case, also including scientists who are not currently engaged in the topic of inquiry, but who at least know the issues. The journals Science, Nature, etc. attempt to serve this population.), and finally to the general populace (leaving aside questions of policy).

This article's introduction claims that there 4 distinct stages (as Tetrast names them) which can be distinguished when investigating a topic of interest.

In the first stage, one sets the stage, and marshals resources (There are researchers who specialize in this phase alone, typically senior people, and in the DNA story, it is Lawrence Bragg, Salvador Luria, etc. There are some sciences for which this stage suffices, see for example Aristotle's work in Natural History).

In the second stage there are a lot of opinions racing around the community but nothing is known for sure (In the DNA story, the people are Pauling, Watson, Crick, Perutz, Kendrew, Randall, Franklin, Gosling, etc., and one opinion, for example is that the gene has a material basis, an opinion which Pauling and Crick share. Pauling, who pioneered the use of quantum mechanics in chemistry, was the first to determine a molecular structure, the alpha helix, proposed a triple helix for DNA).

In the third stage, based on one of those opinions, a researcher deduces a consequence, evidence for which/evidence against can then be sought (In the DNA story, Crick derives the Fourier transform for a helix). This is a prediction about a substance, just as long as no one has previously determined the structure of that substance, thus no chance of tampering. The crucial point is that one does not know the true situation yet. Crick's mathematical prediction is thus an expectation about a future action.

In the fourth stage, evidence is obtained for or against the opinion. (In the DNA story, photo 51) Again, there was no risk of tampering the result because another researcher, Franklin, obtained the data independently, and there was no back-entry of data. (The citations in the article have the dates showing that the stages indeed occurred in the 1 2 3 4 order. But the link I gave you also asserts that researchers have the freedom to work however they choose.) At this point the community has attained a new state of understanding, and the protocols of the rhetoric of science obtain. Sometimes, this new understanding is immediately communicated to the populace, but sometimes the new state of understanding is simply communicated to the funders. This process, as you see, is extremely fluid, and the finding spirals upward with another set of issues in another iteration of the whole process. For example, photo 51 does not disprove the triple helix. But Pauling's published model had DNA as neutral and not acid. So Watson and Crick had more work to do before they nailed the structure.

Now what is it about the introduction that bothers you? As you can see, it is real science. I could have used a king commanding the waves to stop, and that would have been an example of experimental disproof, but then we would be faced with 'why that's obvious'. Or I could have used the 'flying gallop', as you point out, but then that would be an example from the history of cinema. So why not science, in this case science that has materially improved the world, with the applications and understanding of the structure of DNA. If one were to leave out the DNA example, then what device might one use to better understand the article? --Ancheta Wis (talk) 13:21, 17 January 2011 (UTC)

My user page User:Myrvin tells you all you need to know about me with regard to my credentials. I know nothing of yours. I have come across an awful lot of geek-speak in my time. I wasn't going to complain about the use of the DNA story (apart from photo 51 and 'characterizations') but since you ask: Who says the DNA story is a good example of the scientific method? It looks to me like two very clever guys bumbling around until they hit on the idea that their peers liked. I came across the Examples of scientific method article which has all the DNA stuff - including the switching around - but no clue as to why DNA is a good example. (Which came first?) To my mind we need a citation that talks about the DNA story in the way you describe - otherwise it's your own research. I also question the way the examples tell the story - I feel it is incorrect. Perhaps I should re-read Watson and Crick on how they saw the story. Gauch (2003) is very rude about scientists and their understanding of Sc Method, but I can't see C&W in the preview. He may have other examples. Myrvin (talk) 14:34, 17 January 2011 (UTC)
Well, I have looked Francis Crick and Richard Feynman in the face, and have felt Crick's penetrating blue-eyed stare when he asked me questions; Feynman was my best teacher. We both agree that there was a lot of bumbling around, which exactly fits the expectations of Ludwik Fleck. I cannot claim responsibility for Examples of scientific method, but it is clear that its article history states that it was taken from this article. The link confirms my statement that the DNA story has been in the article for years.
By the way, the consensus from this page is that 'the scientific method' is untenable usage. Thus the DNA story is for 'a' scientific method. The McElheny citations are already in the article. There is a critical edition of The Double Helix which may contain additional information which you probably seek but I do not posses the critical edition, only the original; Watson was very forthright to describe the situation, and it comes across as the truth, to me. In the search for the model which you seem to seek, I will revisit McElheny. However, there are probably multiple models in play here (think Lakatos, Feyerabend, and Popper laughing gleefully right now). Naturally, you can be bold. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 17:48, 17 January 2011 (UTC)

New version of the DNA story

To show willing, I have spent some time coming up with my own short precis of the story of DNA structure. As you can see, I'm stuck on what actual physical experiments C&W carred out, so - as I feared - maybe this is not a good example to use. Any way, here it is:

Four basic elements of scientific method are illustrated below, by example from the discovery of the structure of DNA by Francis Crick and James D. Watson and others[1].
  • #DNA structure - characterizations: in this case, although the significance of the gene had been established, in 1950 its biochemistry had not been determined. Earlier research had suggested that DNA could be the nucleic acid responsible for inheritance, and several teams began the task of ascertaining its structure. Maurice Watkins and Rosalind Franklin began to do this by using X-Ray diffraction and produced Photo 51 which suggested strongly that DNA had a helical structure. Linus Pauling published a paper suggesting that DNA had a helical structure with three strands of molecule.
  • #DNA structure - hypotheses: Crick and Watson hypothesized that Pauling's model was wrong and DNA was a double helix with two molecules entwined together. They also accepted Chargaff's rules that implied that there were only four nucleotide units for DNA in particular ratios.
  • #DNA structure - predictions: Crick and Watson used wire and cardboard to build models of the possible structure of DNA. Only one seemed to fit all the accepted information, and this model was their prediction of the structure of DNA which they published in 1953.
  • #DNA structure - experiments: Wilkins and Franklin find that "their x-ray data strongly supported the double helix"; and they published their papers in the same journal issue.[2] However, "[t]he double-helical structure of DNA was ... finally confirmed only in the early 1980s."[3]

Myrvin (talk) 16:33, 17 January 2011 (UTC)

  1. ^ Gribben, J. Science: A history, Penguin Books, England, 2003, pp. 554-571.
  2. ^ Watson, J, The Double Helix, Weidenfield andNicholson, 1968, Ch. 28.
  3. ^ Crick, F, What mad persuit, Penguin Books, 1989, p.73.

Myrvin, thank you for your new version. The hypothesis that a protein was the material of the gene was shot down by Watson and Crick. But that is a later story than the crucial events that transpired between Oct 1951 and Feb 28 1953. I copied the text and citations from the article here and interpolate some more text to show Watson and Crick's contribution to the problem.

Four basic elements of scientific method are illustrated below, by example from the discovery of the structure of DNA:

The examples are continued in "Evaluations and iterations" with DNA-iterations.[5]

  1. ^ October, 1951. as noted in McElheny 2004, p. 40:"That's what a helix should look like!" Crick exclaimed in delight (This is the Cochran-Crick-Vand&Stokes theory of the transform of a helix). Crick was a physicist with the mathematical background you would expect from a physicist, who was still working on his Ph.D. but Watson was a Ph.D. biologist with no mathematical background and a strong hunch that DNA was an important material. Crick had to explain what Fourier transforms etc were, to Watson.
  2. ^ June, 1952. as noted in McElheny 2004, p. 43: Watson had succeeded in getting X-ray pictures of TMV showing a helical pattern. Thus TMV's fourier transform (the x-ray diffration pattern) showed the Xs.
  3. ^ Cochran W, Crick FHC and Vand V. (1952) "The Structure of Synthetic Polypeptides. I. The Transform of Atoms on a Helix", Acta Cryst., 5, 581-586.
  4. ^ Friday, January 30, 1953. Tea time. as noted in McElheny 2004, p. 52: Franklin confronts Watson and his paper - "Of course it [Pauling's pre-print] is wrong. DNA is not a helix." Watson runs away from Franklin and runs into Wilkins; they retreat to Wilkins' office, where Wilkins shows Watson photo 51. Watson immediately recognizes the diffraction pattern of a helix. Now if Crick were there he could have taken measurements directly from the photograph to get the dimensions of the unit cell. But that didn't happen.
  5. ^ Saturday, February 28, 1953, as noted in McElheny 2004, pp. 57–59: Watson finds the base pairing which explains Chargaff's rules using his cardboard models. Bragg's lab had an expert who understood the nucleotides which link the two strands of the helix.
--Ancheta Wis (talk) 17:48, 17 January 2011 (UTC)

Quite right it's a nucleic acid (I've changed it). But my version differs from the text in several significant ways. The question is: which is the better description? Perhaps others can decide between us. Myrvin (talk) 18:41, 17 January 2011 (UTC)

Myrvin, while you have been working on DNA story, I have been re-reading McElheney. In McElheney p.49, I find the claim that James Watson scribbled "DNA makes RNA makes protein" and posted it on the wall of his room in Clare College (obviously Watson was transcribing a conversation he had with Crick). In other words, the DNA story is part of a larger one about information flow from the gene to its expression, protein. But might I suggest "three strands of polymer" or perhaps Biopolymer, as DNA is denoted a molecule (a macromolecule) itself. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 12:30, 19 January 2011 (UTC)

Keystones of Science project. Remove this paragraph?

I find this paragraph a bit odd and spoils the continuity of the article.

The Keystones of Science project, sponsored by the journal Science, has selected a number of scientific articles from that journal and annotated them, illustrating how different parts of each article embody scientific method. Here [1] is an annotated example of this scientific method example titled "Microbial Genes in the Human Genome: Lateral Transfer or Gene Loss?".

Does anyone else agree? pgr94 (talk) 15:11, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

Oh yes - and all the things attached to it. It seems to be the justification for the DNA inserts. Myrvin (talk) 17:22, 16 January 2011 (UTC)
I'm not sure that I agree. The DNA example is spread out over the article to help illustrate scientific method, and helps tie together a good deal of the article. There are some other long-time editors of the Scientific method wiki who may have something to say, too. (This is a holiday weekend through Monday in the USA, so some may be busy for a few more days.) The Tetrast (talk) 17:37, 16 January 2011 (UTC).
I'm just referring to the above paragraph. Whether the whole DNA parallel strand is appropriate or not merits separate discussion. pgr94 (talk) 00:24, 17 January 2011 (UTC)
@Pgr94: I'm sorry. My confusion about this article led me to think that the Salzberg et al paper included the DNA examples being used. Now I have looked at it it does not at all. It is another and different example of the scientific method (or paper writing) in use. The paper looks quite difficult to me and perhaps beyond the general reader. Now I am missing where the characterisation of the DNA story, as a good example, comes from. It may be there somewhere. Myrvin (talk) 13:49, 17 January 2011 (UTC)
No problem Myrvin. Since no-one has offered rationale for keeping this paragraph I'm going to go ahead and remove it. pgr94 (talk) 13:02, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
Aha! I found the Examples of scientific method article. Another odd article, this has all the DNA examples and part of the line you complain of. It looks funny there too, but seems to be from the start of that article. I wonder which came first, Myrvin (talk) 14:16, 17 January 2011 (UTC)

No info about the quantity of replicative papers for other researches.

Part of the scientific method is based on its replicability. It is very important to check the data that is being submitted by the original authors, however the rewardqinvestment ratio of such replications is much lower than performing an original study- that is why such an important but underappreciated work is not done at the volumes it should be, and most of the worlds papers are going unchecked. I was looking for that information here on wikipedia but haven't found it.

If someone who knows about the subject can add it- I would really appreciate it. Thx. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:29, 22 January 2011 (UTC)

I urge you to contribute to the reproducibility article; the confirmation bias is at issue here. Subsequent work in a scientific topic would make news upon the conditions for its disproof. Once the logical basis of a research topic has been obtained, by successively disproving the alternative conditions that could explain some hypothesis, then like Sherlock Holmes, 'what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth'.
In the DNA example in this article, after James Watson and Francis Crick posted their 25 April 1953 Nature paper, their scientific careers were made. Crick finished up his Ph.D. and became a driving force in the project to understand the hypothesis DNA makes RNA makes protein; once this set of pathways was explored, Crick went on to another scientific career in neuroscience where he was considerably less successful. Watson's later contributions were authorship (with others) of Molecular biology of the gene, now in its 6th edition; Watson was co-author of Molecular biology of the cell but has since given up his place in the updates of this book. This book is hefty; it is getting to the point where you would hurt someone if you dropped it on him. If you are interested in reproducibility, at least for the DNA story, might I suggest that you consult the two books listed here.
You are quite right about this issue. Probably it is the schools who should be taking up the flag here, and perhaps the use of virtual experiments may ease the cost of reproducing the prior experiments. But note that computation itself can get expensive. However, like Watson and Crick, simply thinking about a topic might save you money here. It's not so bad; for example the conservation laws of physics can be used in a simulation instead coding up some monster. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 09:43, 22 January 2011 (UTC)
Ancheta Wis, I would say this "reproduction bias" is closer to the File drawer effect than confirmation bias, since it is like the potential null results get filed away in the "experiment not done" file. Assuming the positive result is one of a 1 in 20 fluke (.05), had the reproducing experiment been done, producing a null result 19 in 20 times, and null result filed away since it showed null, this would be the same (or similar, I haven't thought this all the way out) effect as file drawer. The unsigned editor makes a good point that it should at least be briefly mentioned in this article. I dont have a RS, but it might be uncontroversial enough to just WP:Bold in the article without sourcing. So I will WP:Bold stick it in here when I get time to more thorooughly study this article. HkFnsNGA (talk) 09:51, 22 January 2011 (UTC)
On second thought, it is a kind of confirmation bias, in addition to being lost in the "undone experiments" file. HkFnsNGA (talk) 09:54, 22 January 2011 (UTC)

Light travels in a straight line? No it doesn't.

I think the introduction to scientific method is perfect, except shouldn't it be pointed out that even though this method scientifically proves light travels in a straight line, that in fact it does not? It leaves the information a bit misleading to not do so..

The shadows cast by heat waves show that thermal energy bends light, and that would be considered a transparent body. Also, the phenomenon of "Einstein's cross" proves that gravity bends light, gravity exists in transparent bodies. [For those who may not know; E's cross is the effect of the sun's gravity on the light of a star directly opposite it from the Earth: the image of the star is projected at four points to each side of the sun. Thus, the light bends around a gravitational object in four equal directions.] Then there are the transparent liquid experiments, the main course of light will travel along the transparent liquid in whatever shape it is bent--thus bending the light rays (without this effect fiber-optics would never work). Moreover, light rays expand according to a logarithmic curve; although, this could be perceived as a straight line in short distances, it is in fact an expansion curve.

I don't know where to cite this information, or the corresponding experiments which proved it--I am not educated in this effect--but I found it misleading to have in scientific article proof of a phenomenon that has been shown to be incorrect by other experiments. Of course, this makes it perfect for an introduction to scientific method, since scientific method requires that the conclusions can be wrong.

I'm sure there are some scientists contributing who would be totally familiar with these. Sjahm (talk) 23:15, 4 November 2010 (UTC)

But the degree of an effect has to be taken into account, as detailed by the difference between accuracy and precision. So when Alhazen demonstrated the precision of his proposition using the dust particles in the air of the desert, we with hindsight get to find out the limitations of that proposition which you have outlined above. The range of a scientific theory is discussed further down in the article, with the comparison of Newton's gravitational theory with Einstein's gravitational theory. Feynman discusses this in his Character of Physical Law, where a precise physical statement (like Alhazen's statement) can be completely legalistically wrong from the POV of classical logic, as you point out. There are other types of logic, such as intuitionistic logic which can allow us to 'feel' our way to the truth in a constructivist way. The simplifications in scientific thinking allow us to be precise, so that we can make more accurate calculations, predictions, and further corrections, as you have pointed out. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 23:47, 4 November 2010 (UTC)
Copyedit of Scientific_method#Evaluation_and_improvement per this talk section. Thank you for your comment. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 12:53, 5 November 2010 (UTC)
The example seems like a classic case for controversial Type III errors to me (see: Type_I_Error#Various_proposals_for_further_extension). Moving gleefully and easily down the wrong path, maybe. Zulu Papa 5 * (talk) 18:32, 5 November 2010 (UTC)
Except that Alhazen and Peirce especially were very much aware of the role of doubt in critiquing their proposed propositions. I definitely would not classify these two in the role of a 'sorcerer's apprentice' in over their heads. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 18:44, 5 November 2010 (UTC)
Before we get too far afield on this, Alhazen's statements are the basis of optics, which is a practical science now part of electromagnetism. He did good science then, and it is good science now. Please don't throw out Alhazen's statements for effects which do not show up in our everyday realm of experience (i.e, low velocities, low masses, low gravitational fields, in air etc.). They still apply in this realm. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 21:08, 5 November 2010 (UTC)
We shouldn't just assume what is that Alhazen meant by the words that have been translated as "transparent body" - whether this would include water, or heat waves in the air, and so on. One could add something like "The conjecture holds up then and now in its original domain of application." The Tetrast (talk) 22:44, 5 November 2010 (UTC).
I am definitely in over my head here, but it seems like a seeing the trees but not the forest issue. Which can happen by constructing very precise measurements to support elaborate conclusions. I suppose this might be a critique of the scientific method, but wouldn't want to see a critique section. Zulu Papa 5 * (talk) 01:22, 6 November 2010 (UTC)
I thought Light did move in a straight line, and it was space itself that was curved.....And regarding "transparent" matterials, the change in the direction and/or speed of light i'm pretty sure are actually because light gets absorbed and then possibly reemited by matter, so it's not that light moved in a curve, it is more like it disapeared and was created again moving in a different straight direction (several times depending on the thickness of the material) --TiagoTiago (talk) 14:07, 26 January 2011 (UTC)
In noneuclidean geometry, it might be said that a even a straight line doesn't "travel" in a straight line. HkFnsNGA (talk) 14:18, 26 January 2011 (UTC)


The recent edit by Dr Oldekop had me checking the reference for di Francia book. I thought that this edit was dodgy since there claimed to be a citation to back up the previous version. For the book in Google books, I cannot see the term "scientific method" on page 52, nor anything to back up the text. The term only seems to occur on page 7. I think somebody paraphrased the whole chapter. However, the new edit is still dodgy because there is no citation for that either. The OED has:

scientific method, a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses

- which seems better. Myrvin (talk) 09:14, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
Myrvin, my reservation about this admirable definition is '17th century'. Leaving that aside, it would serve to replace the sentence and its citation. (In wiki-speak, the editors also call the 'Introduction' the 'lede') --Ancheta Wis (talk) 12:22, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
Done Myrvin (talk) 14:18, 23 January 2011 (UTC)

Please vote - A consensus vote as to whether to consider the journal Homeopathy an RS for physics, science, or medical conclusions

A consensus vote as to whether to consider the journal Homeopathy an RS for phsyics, science, or medical conclusions is happening here[1]. PPdd (talk) 02:08, 3 February 2011 (UTC)

Vote here. -- Brangifer (talk) 05:03, 3 February 2011 (UTC)

Scientific Control

There is no reference of independent, dependent, and controlled variables in this article. The article Scientific control should be merged in this article.

The merge tag you have added should be in the other direction. I will switch the sense of the tag, OK? --Ancheta Wis (talk) 11:23, 6 March 2011 (UTC) Please respond in one week. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 17:56, 6 March 2011 (UTC)


Ibn Haytham was removed from the introduction, should someone reintroduce him --Faro0485 (talk) 23:50, 11 March 2011 (UTC)

It wasn't a vandal; William M. Connolley is a well-known editor. But you are perfectly free to add him back. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 00:05, 12 March 2011 (UTC)
Faro0485, thank you for reinstating Alhazen; in the caption of the 1572 image which I have just added I did not mention the laws of perspective, as it is not clear that Alhazen knew of them. This illustrates that there was some progress during the 1700 years between Archimedes and the 1572 translation of Alhazen. If you have not seen this image before, I especially like the angry elephants defending the bridge over the sea, which illustrates perspective. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 16:47, 21 March 2011 (UTC)
Some comments starting with the first sentence of the reinstated intro text.
"Scientific method continues with the laws of logic first defined..."
Scientific method continues? Continues from where? This is the first sentence of the introduction; there is nowhere to continue from!
Moving on to the second sentence,
"Aristotle perfected observation and classification based on analysis..."
I'm not sure what this means. If this refers to his classification of living things we might say that Aristotle perfected them to his own satisfaction. However I don't suggest any such change to the text; I only intend to reveal my level of confusion. I'm all for re-removing the first two sentences unless someone is willing to clarify them. --ChrisSteinbach (talk) 22:40, 22 March 2011 (UTC)
Chris, thank you for your comment. I will remove them. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 22:49, 22 March 2011 (UTC)

Edits hidden within HTML comments in the article

This diff captures some edits which were hidden as HTML comments. The edits commented out some perfectly good citations. I discovered this situation while trying to track down the proper Stanovich 2007 citation.

I am not familiar with Stanovich (2007) and would appreciate it if some other editor can vouch for the relevance of the source which I backtracked to. Is this the correct citation for the prose? --Ancheta Wis (talk) 11:10, 17 April 2011 (UTC)

I am the editor who originally referenced Stanovich. I am confused as to why these citations were hidden. The comment on the view history seems to allude to some non-existent explanation on this talk page?-Tesseract2(talk) 14:52, 17 April 2011 (UTC)

Tesseract, thank you for the completed citation. For months, the citation was 'Stanovich 2007 p173' with no title or publ. When trying to guess what the remaining info might be, I found a candidate, but was uncertain if the citation was for the specific sentences. Mystery solved. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 15:33, 17 April 2011 (UTC)

Yeah that was my bad. I probably cited it around the same time I was making way more references to him the general Science article where it is mentioned as a reference.-Tesseract2(talk) 16:44, 17 April 2011 (UTC)


Yes, Reproducibility is mentioned in the article, but my feeling is that it's not addressed as being fundamental to experimentation in SM, yet reproducibility (and the underlying necessity of being able to explain an investigation enough to be able to reproduce it) is a really important component of SM, IMO. (20040302 (talk))

You can be bold. For example, when Alhazen described how to check the straightness of a light ray in a darkened room, he was showing how to reproduce his experiment. But he also was quite capable in mathematics (see Bynum and Porter's selected quote for him -- bibliographic info in the references). Of course, the same is true for Galileo 600 years after him. Here is an experiment Galileo repeated hundreds of times. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 12:49, 26 April 2011 (UTC)


I was wondering how Yobot could use the same ref for two different page numbers; answer -- it ignored the page numbers 940 for one citation, 941 for the second. Reverted. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 13:33, 14 June 2011 (UTC)

In which line do you use page 941? I can't see it. -- Magioladitis (talk) 06:00, 15 June 2011 (UTC)

Edit request from Smonoverix, 19 June 2011

Under section titled: Truth and Belief Sub-section titled: Certainty and myth

Current text: Any scientific theory is closed tied to empirical findings, and always remains subject to falsification if new experimental observation incompatible with it is found.

The 5th word "closed" should probably be "closely" so the sentence should probably read: Any scientific theory is closely tied to empirical findings, and always remains subject to falsification if new experimental observation incompatible with it is found.

Smonoverix (talk) 18:26, 19 June 2011 (UTC)

Yes check.svg Done by Icairns. Feezo (send a signal | watch the sky) 11:12, 24 June 2011 (UTC)

Edit request from Drflatfish, 20 June 2011

This request for a change pertains to the wikipedia entry on the "scientific method". The information on this page concerning Eadweard Muybridge's studies of horse locomotion is factually incorrect. The question that Muybridge set out to resolve was: "do all four feet of the horse leave the ground during a trot?" The page as currently written discusses the gallop of the horse and shows Muybridge's figure of a horse galloping. It is obvious to any rider that all four feet leave the ground during a gallop --- pictures were not necessary to establish this fact. It is a much more subtle and challenging feat to demonstrate that all four hooves leave the ground during at trot, but Muybridge managed to document this by developing stop-action photography.

For a reference and description of this historical event (including the cover of Scientific American, showing a trotting horse), see "Moving pictures: American art and early film, 1880-1910, Volume" By Nancy Mowll Mathews, 2005, page 17. This information can be found online at

Because the entry as currently written is factually incorrect, I request that you either remove the section on Muybridge or (better still) amend it to reflect the fact that Muybridge was investigating horse trotting and change the animation to reflect a trotting horse.

Sincerely, Alice Gibb, Professor of Anatomy and Physiology, Northern Arizona University 6 Drflatfish (talk) 17:13, 20 June 2011 (UTC)

Professor Gibb, the section covers the 'flying gallop', which is an incorrect observation which was falsified by Muybridge. Joseph Needham (1954) Science and Civilisation in China p.166 shows how the 'flying gallop' image propagated from China to the West. The incorrect observation of the gallop propagated from China to the West, over a period of some one thousand years, well before Muybridge's pioneering studies.
The Derby of Epsom painting of a 'flying gallop', shown in the article, simply apes an incorrect observation incorrectly documented centuries earlier, which is the topic of the section. It may be worthwhile to note your statement that experienced riders experience the horse's four hooves off the ground. What matters, however is what do riders experience when the facts are not so well known? What might the Mongols have experienced 800 years ago? Other examples abound; for example, elephants were incorrectly illustrated in Europe up to 1230 AD, with an accurate illustration of an elephant finally appearing in 1255. Konrad Gesner's 1560 illustration of a mandrill, was incorrectly identified as a hyena. These incorrect images were plagiarized over and over, propagating until they were finally recognized to be incorrect. One amusing painting which I have personally seen is of a tiger in Kyoto; the artist had a tiger pelt, but the rendering is of a cat, not a tiger.
I encourage you to examine Needham's reproduction of the Flying Gallop, of a Chinese horseman and his mount. (P. 166) Perhaps it is on the web, but my experience is of the hardbound book (vol I).
In summary, in the process of setting out to document a trot, Muybridge falsified the 'flying gallop' (splayed hooves). This statement stands. As always, you can be bold. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 01:17, 21 June 2011 (UTC)
Not done: due to comment above Jnorton7558 (talk) 03:18, 27 June 2011 (UTC)

Al-Battani citation

Tobby72, ordinarily I avoid citing the 15th edition of Britannica, but the 11th edition does not list al-Battani. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 22:38, 6 July 2011 (UTC)


It may be helpful to collaborate in filling the time gap between Alhazen and Galileo. One question is which European scientists read Arabic directly or in translation. For example Witelo was a successor to Alhazen. I am pretty sure that Chinese astronomical observatories were influenced by Islamic astronomers, so their influence spread both west to Europe and east to China. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 13:32, 7 July 2011 (UTC)

I've just found some useful information:

The rise of universities happened to coincide with the rediscovery and wide circulation of Aristotle's books and their Arabic commentaries. ... Grosseteste was "the principal figure" in bringing about "a more adequate method of scientific inquiry" by which "medieval scientists were able eventually to outstrip their ancient European and Muslim teachers" (Dales 1973:62). ... In scientific works written between 1220 and 1235, Grosseteste developed his scientific method and elaborated its philosophical import in commentaries on Aristotle's Physics and Posterior Analytics and in On Lines, Angles and Figures and The Nature of Places. ... His thinking influenced Roger Bacon, who spread Grosseteste's ideas from Oxford to the University of Paris during a visit there in the 1240s. From the prestigious universities in Oxford and Paris, the new experimental science spread rapidly throughout the medieval universities: "And so it went to Galileo, William Gilbert, Francis Bacon, William Harvey, Descartes, Robert Hooke, Newton, Leibniz, and the world of the seventeenth century" (Crombie 1962:15). So it went to us also. — Hugh G. Gauch (2003). Scientific method in practice. Cambridge University Press. pp.51-53. ISBN 0521017084

While the popular approach commonly known as the scientific method has its roots in the work of Aristotle in ancient Greece and the Arabian physicist Alhazen, known as “Ptolemy the Second,” the contemporary approach of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and interpretation of data resulting in a conclusion finds its source with Roger Bacon, a 13th- century Franciscan friar. — Roland A. Carlstedt (2009). Handbook of Integrative Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Behavioral Medicine: Perspectives, Practices, and Research. Springer Publishing Company. p.34. ISBN 0826110940

Tobby72 (talk) 22:41, 7 July 2011 (UTC)
Tobby72, thank you for the quotations and citations; the triumphalist tone in Gauch is excusable, but it would be good for us to acknowledge the historical accidents that made the situations. It has been pointed out that the nascent scientific revolution in Europe after the first wave of translations of the Aristotelian and Neoplatonist books was well received by European scholars, but the community was snuffed out by the Black Death epidemic which swept Europe.
At the same time that this revolution was occurring in Europe, Baghdad was sacked and Persia laid waste by the Mongols, which effectively ended the scientific communities there for some time.
At this time as well, the Mongols (the grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan eventually founded the Yuan dynasty) also conquered China, and only some fast talking by a scholar-bureaucrat advisor to Genghis Khan saved the lives of the Han ("What shall we do with these cities? We could raze them into pasture for our beasts." -- I learned this from Joseph Needham Science and Civilisation in China); when the Ming dynasty succeeded the Yuan, it produced very weak scholars, which is understandable. Needham notes how weak Ming science was.
Gauch documents the disparity very well. Three civilizations declined and one of them bounced back faster than the others. It is instructive to compare this with the situation in our own time as well. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 17:52, 9 July 2011 (UTC)

Further reading: Chomsky

While browsing the list of recommendations for further reading, I noticed that Chomsky's (1975) Reflections on Language is listed there. Without any elaboration, this implies that those readers of the article who are interested in the topic and wish to learn more about it are recommended to read Chomsky's book -- which is rather surprising, as Chomsky's linguistic research paradigm is famous for not following the scientific method. Are there any objections to removing this book from the list? -- (talk) 14:22, 26 August 2011 (UTC)

If the book makes a point of telling readers that the scientific method isn't followed and why, then it should stay as an opposing viewpoint. If the book simply doesn't follow the method, then it's not relevant and ought to go. SilverCity 14:25, 26 August 2011 (UTC)
Thank you both for this thread. The same argument might be made against Allen Newell's Unified theory of cognition (on the basis of testability). On the other hand, there is a linguistic component in hypothesis formation. Chomsky's position appears to have an ideological / political basis which needs further research to determine its place in hypothesis formation. From the standpoint of belief revision, which is an essential part of scientific method, the researcher needs the intellectual honesty to admit "I'm wrong about hypothesis A" in order to get to some other hypothesis B. Otherwise, the scientific community (for the subject of inquiry) will do this for him; it is essential that hypothesis A and its consequent be disclosed before the test of A (consequent disproven or not), to show A's notability.
That said, it may be worthwhile to annotate Chomsky / Newell's claims, indicating any holes in their theories, as part of further work by the community. Failing any citations showing holes, then "citation needed" tags are in order for their respective claims. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 17:16, 26 August 2011 (UTC)
According to WP:FURTHER the section is to "help interested readers learn more about the article subject" (my emphasis) Tangential material is therefore inappropriate.
I think scientific method is a large enough subject that scientific method should be an overview article and there should be other articles covering the details. For instance, if there is a linguistic component to hypothesis formation, why not cover it in Hypothesis formation?
Likewise for the other further reading entries, if isn't notable enough to be mentioned in the article, then the book doesn't belong in further reading.
Hope that helps. pgr94 (talk) 19:30, 26 August 2011 (UTC)
In fairness to Chomsky, it is possible to counter the claim Reflections on Language lies outside scientific method: (Chomsky 1975, p. 139 -- as quoted in C. Werry Language Sciences 29 (2007) 72-73) has the form of a thought experiment in which Chomsky clearly states a consequent, namely that a neutral scientist S will discover a generative linguistics (Werry p. 73). Apparently this argument will then buttress Chomsky's idea of a generative grammar. Thus we can design an experiment to test this consequent. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 23:08, 27 August 2011 (UTC)
And physiological brain-based research in linguistics is ongoing to this day. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 11:46, 1 September 2011 (UTC)
pgr94, I have removed Chomsky and Newell from Further Reading. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 23:08, 27 August 2011 (UTC)

scientific method does not imply realism

Page 17 of the article: "Philosophy of science looks at the underpinning logic of the scientific method, at what separates science from non-science, and the ethic that is implicit in science. There are basic assumptions derived from philosophy that form the base of the scientific method - namely, that reality is objective and consistent, that humans have the capacity to perceive reality accurately, and that rational explanations exist for elements of the real world. These assumptions from methodological naturalism form the basis on which science is grounded. Logical Positivist, empiricist, falsificationist, and other theories have claimed to give a definitive account of the logic of science, but each has in turn been criticized."

I have never seen a good argument that the scientific method chooses realism over phenomenalism/empiricism. I am not saying that realism is less plausible than various shades of anti-realism. I am simply saying that this dispute is irrelevant by definition of the scientific method. This is why I was surprised with this passage. I am a physicist, so I consulted a colleague of mine, logician in the philosophy department, and he agreed that "you don’t have to be a realist (or grant the assumptions stated in this passage) to give an account of the scientific method. Realists and antirealists may agree on what the scientific method is, but disagree about the status of scientific theories and theoretical entities."

Thank you for considering my comment.Lpantelidis (talk) 21:01, 16 January 2012 (UTC)

Yes, that is why the article does not espouse a viewpoint which favors realism. It is immaterial to the successes of the scientific community. On the other hand, it serves no useful purpose to disavow realism, idealism, formalism, etc. Every researcher has his/her own motivation. But the result (or failure) of each research effort is what counts in the body of collective publications. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 21:31, 16 January 2012 (UTC)

quick question

does the scientific method address the existence of god? does it deal with god, at all? i didnt think so but maybe i misunderstood. (talk) 00:58, 17 September 2011 (UTC)

No it does not. The question of the existence of god is untestable in principle. The scientific method is not for questions like 'What is the meaning of this work of artr', or 'Which moral code is more moral; the Eightfold path of Buddhism, the Ten Commandments, or Kant's Categorical Imperative?' Even if two people had the same experience of witnessing a being appear before them and state that "I am god," they STILL would not be able to conduct a test of the matter, as the meaning of "I" and the meaning of "am" and the meaning of "god" and the meaning of the image appearing before them could always still be questioned further. Science is not about the meaning of things, as that is an interpretation of the facts. Science is about actual facts themselves.
The question of the existence of god is a metaphysical one, and as such is unanswerable for sure. Anyone claiming to KNOW the answer is being intellectually dishonest, as all they can honestly say is that they BELIEVE the answer. Metaphysical questions such as "what is the meaning of life?" and "do we have free will?" are metaphysical ones, not scientific. Greg Bard (talk) 01:13, 17 September 2011 (UTC)
The question is currently tabooed. Some of our greatest scientists have been religious, and their beliefs directly affected their approach to scientific method. For example, Alhazen's humility before God led him directly to his acceptance of human error, and to his resolve to rectify error by arriving at the truth. In my opinion this was courageous of Alhazen, who even performed dissections to get to the truth. How many others would go to such lengths? --Ancheta Wis (talk) 01:53, 17 September 2011 (UTC)
Calling it "tabooed" is not exactly very appropriate because it implies that it's some social convention among scientists. It's not. Is it "taboo" to place round pegs in square holes? Not really, it's is just an inappropriate use of the tools at hand. What inspires scientists to their activities, and what determines the subject matter of their experiments are two totally different matters. No one begrudges a religious scientist who, for instance, studies birds because they were inspired by doves symbolizing peace. However, their methods had better not rely on any presumptions that doves are inherently connected to the abstract concept of peace... or they are not a real scientist. Greg Bard (talk) 02:15, 17 September 2011 (UTC)

Supernatural beings or supernatural phenomenons; specifically God, are not inherently excluded from the scientific method. But a technology capable of detecting and verifying the existence of God, directly or indirectly, has not yet been invented. Another example is that of ‘String Theory’, (I am referring to any of the numerous theories based on string particles.) Although a great deal of elegant mathematical study has been done on the behavior of strings; our most advanced method of detecting new particles, the particle accelerator, is not capable of detecting them. And as I understand it, a particle accelerator can never be powerful enough to detect them. So a new technology must be invented to detect and verify the existence of strings. Because we cannot detect strings, scientist who favor String Theory, find themselves in a similar predicament as those who would scientifically verify the existence of God. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Euphoreus (talkcontribs) 04:16, 9 February 2012 (UTC)

Data driven discovery

I think this article needs more information the emerging process of Data driven discovery. I may do this some time, but thought I would note it here first, in case it inspires other editors. --Oceans and oceans (talk) 02:58, 2 February 2012 (UTC)

I've just created the stub article Data driven science perhaps it can be expanded and/or merged into this article ... --Oceans and oceans (talk) 05:10, 2 February 2012 (UTC)

'Truth' and the Scientific Method

Under the heading, ‘Truth and belief’, this statement is made: “In the same way that Alhazen sought truth during his pioneering studies in optics 1000 years ago, arriving at the truth is the goal of a scientific inquiry.”

Below this statement is made: “Any scientific theory is closely tied to empirical findings, and always remains subject to falsification if new experimental observation incompatible with it is found. That is, no theory can ever be seriously considered certain as new evidence falsifying it can be discovered. Most scientific theories don't result in large changes in human understanding.”

‘Truth’ and ‘certainty’ are often used as synonyms. If, “no theory can ever be seriously considered certain”, then, “arriving at the truth”, is inherently impossible, and therefore, is an impossible goal. Wouldn’t it be more accurate and less misleading to state that, the goal of the scientific method is to obtain a theory which conforms to verifiable observation in controlled experiments. Not as elegant, but more accurate. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Euphoreus (talkcontribs) 04:44, 9 February 2012 (UTC)

The article clearly states that truth is not synonymous with certainty. --Ancheta Wis (talk) 04:51, 9 February 2012 (UTC)
You might arrive at the truth, but you cannot be certain that you are there. Myrvin (talk) 09:37, 9 February 2012 (UTC)
Exactly. And there you recognize the distinction. Inserted note: Sorry, I got mixed up between Myrvin and thread-starter Euphoreus. End of note. 'True' and 'certain' in the sense of '(fully) proven' are not synonymous and should not be used as synonyms. There's a practical difference, not to mention also that 'p' and 'it is proven that p' are formally distinct and have different logical properties. Your word "conforms" might as well be "corresponds," and a claim's or proposition's correspondence to the real is a long-standing (since Aristotle at least) definition of truth. That's the key point - you've simply re-worded the idea of truth, so why not just say "truth." Also, you say 'observation' instead of 'the real' but if you substitute '(directly or indirectly) observABLE' then it falls nearly enough under a definition of the real both as independent of particular people's opinions and as potentially discoverable by any intelligence that pushes investigation far enough - i.e., the real as "objective". The Tetrast (talk) 18:20, 9 February 2012 (UTC). Copyedit The Tetrast (talk) 18:26, 9 February 2012 (UTC). Inserted note on my mixup between commenters. The Tetrast (talk) 20:17, 9 February 2012 (UTC)


This article, like much popular (read uneducated) opinion is confused. My basic objection is that the definition of the scientific method does not include peer review. Of course, for that to be included, it would falsify the claim that "the" scientific method was commonly practiced in the 1700's. Here is my counter-example: Last night I walked into my bedroom and flipped the light switch up. Observation:No light Hypothesis: Light bulb burned out Test: Replaced light bulb and light went on. (or it didn't and I proceeded to check fuse or switch or...) Either I have just earned a PhD in Science or I have just solved a simple problem the way anybody would have done it (replace 'light bulb' with 'wick' for Centuries prior to the 20th) **at any time in the past**. {Yes I appreciate my hyperbole, and one could argue pick it apart as not being systematic or broad, but these objections could be applied to most of the science practiced in the 1700's} Hence the Oxford Dictionary's definition is nonsense: it surely should not be the introduction. So either the scientific method is problem solving in its most rudimentary form or the definition given is just plain wrong. Please read Popper, Kuhn and some of the more modern literature. This article is nonsense. (P.S. unless you want to talk about what US educators are teaching are kids about "science") Without unbiased (whatever that means) peer review it is not science. It would be nice to see the word "objective" defined is a reasonable way here, too. (Being logically 'objective' is not what reviewers aspire to.) (talk) 17:20, 18 March 2012 (UTC), you are aware, I'm sure, that Einstein's 1905 papers were not peer reviewed. --Ancheta Wis   (talk | contribs) 23:00, 18 March 2012 (UTC)
I don't say that nothing further should be added on peer review to the article.
  But it's going kind of far to say that, if something is not peer-reviewed (i.e., refereed for suitability for publication), then that thing is not science, and it's also going far to say that scientific method in a general sense (as opposed to complex or delicate particular procedures) requires or merits a Phd. One's use of good scientific method does not mean that one deserves a PhD. You did use good scientific method in thinking to change the light bulb, given the small scope and simplicity of the question that you faced. Peirce said (in the The Fixation of Belief) that everybody uses scientific method to the extent that he or she knows how to apply it in particular cases. The word "scientific" should not be taken merely as the adjectival form of "science" such that "scientific" would mean what pertains to an actual established science, which is a kind of institution in a general sense. That which one isolated person does may be scientific but is not what is called a science or (part of a) science.
  The phrase "peer review" varies in meaning depending on context (science, clinical medicine, whatever else) and in any case usually means something more specific than peer evaluation of work (which does go to the heart of what makes a science thrive). As regards peer review in science, scholarly peer review, or refereeing, usually means formalized peer evaluation of an article's suitability for publication, and the lack of this for Galileo and many others is not considered to have kept their work from being scientific in method. Galileo has long been considered by many the father of modern scientific method, and if some now credit the earlier Alhazen, it is not because Galileo's methods have lately been found to have been weaker in scientific character than previously thought. As to the history of scientific communication, things are still changing. While scholarly peer review has become a prevalent constraint in scientific publication and, in that regard, scientific communication, citation, etc., the preprint system has grown (see arXiv) as a method of scientific communication. The essence of scientific method has not been considered to consist in any particular institutionalized forms or steps. The basics of scientific method are usually conceived in terms of their more general logical and purposeful character. Again, this is not to say that nothing more should be added to the article as to peer review and its actual practice. The Tetrast (talk) 19:22, 18 March 2012 (UTC). Edited. The Tetrast (talk) 19:38, 18 March 2012 (UTC).


I understand (from Popkin) that the first user of the phrase 'scientific method' (albeit in Latin) was Francisco Sanches in That Nothing is Known while advancing what is now called mitigated skepticism as a way to knowledge since Sextus Empiricus (printed in Latin 1562) proved (to him) the impossibility of apriori wisdom. What he proposed in 1581 is essentially what became the scientific approach. Sanches precedes Bacon, whose proposed method is (I understand) more talismanic than realistic, and only famed because the Royal Society claimed him as its father-figure (BBC In Our Time programme on Bacon). Of course Bacon was English. Pertin1x (talk) 06:34, 18 April 2012 (UTC)

Plus, Bacon was Lord Chancellor and wrote in English. 1911 Britannica claims his writings were his reaction to the scholastic program at the university, and he was determined to fix it. It was the age of discovery, and the European realms were open to these new ideas. How do you propose to incorporate the finding? --Ancheta Wis   (talk | contribs) 10:35, 18 April 2012 (UTC)
You know what-- I tried googling Sanches' use of the latin phrase for scientific method and could not verify the claim. Would you please give the page number in a citation -- for Popkin, apparently? If there is a telling quote it would be appreciated.
Retrospectively speaking, Sanches had no philosophical position to fall back on except faith. Unlike Alhazen, who stated that humans make error, it appears that Sanches' recognition that Sextus Empiricus had a valid point went unrecognized. Apparently his point was missing the critical mass for acceptance. The Portugese schools of navigation made maps state secrets, so the free & unfettered exchange of ideas might not have existed in the community that Sanches apparently needed. At the very least, might Popkin cite commentary from Sanches' community of contemporary scholars? Another possibility might be outright rivalry or hostility to Sanches' point. Any evidence? --Ancheta Wis   (talk | contribs) 23:30, 18 April 2012 (UTC)

I'm away from my Popkin just now and can't give you the quote, and I've no idea how widely Sanches was read. I think neither he nor Bacon were game-changing but giant steps in the great shift from a scholastic paradigm of wisdom to an empirical one between the publication of Sextus in 1562 and the early decades of the C17th - but this is to confuse 'scientific method' with 'scientific revolution'. The point here would be (if true) that Sanches was identifying scientific method in contrast to apriorism. It's not a method in the sense of "here's what you do", it labels a new approach with practical implications which do in fact constitute what we understand by scientific method: observe, theorise, test, always going back to nature and never being certain. Pertin1x (talk) 05:48, 19 April 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for pointing me to Sanches folks. I wrote a whole book called Nobody Don't Know Nothing without being aware of his existence. Myrvin (talk) 06:31, 19 April 2012 (UTC)
These translators [2] talk a lot about FS and the scientific method. But I can't see where the translation uses the term. Myrvin (talk) 06:34, 20 April 2012 (UTC)
He is translated (p.167) as saying that he began "to examine the facts themselves as if no one had ever said anything about them, which is the proper method of acquiring knowledge." Myrvin (talk) 06:40, 20 April 2012 (UTC)
But they do have him writing, in the Latin (p.92): "res ipsas examinare coepi: qui verus est sciendi modus". Myrvin (talk) 06:46, 20 April 2012 (UTC)
It's pretty clear this thread needs to be in the history of scientific method article talk page:
Note: 'modus sciendi' is "method of knowing". 'scientia' is "knowledge".
  • Duns Scotus: (13th c.) "Quia modus sciendi non est scientia; logica est modus sciendi ..." "Because [a] method of knowing is not knowledge; logic is [a] method of knowing ..." Thereupon follows a whole series of "on the one hand, but on the other hand" statements in true Scholastic style, which is exactly the style that Francis Bacon sought to change.
  • Francisco Sanches: (1581) That Nothing Is Known (in Latin, Quod nihil scitur) p.92, thanks to Myrvin: "res ipsas examinare coepi: qui verus est sciendi modus" which I translate as "I began to examine [the] thing itself: that is [the] true method of knowing". As Pertin1x notes, it is another style of thinking, more direct and to-the-point. Isaac Newton had the same kind of reaction to logic-chopping -- when he initially read Euclid: he opened the book, saw the theorems were trifling, and closed the book (He later saw the value in Euclid --Richard Westfall, Never at Rest p98.).
--Ancheta Wis   (talk | contribs) 17:23, 23 April 2012 (UTC)
I checked out the local copy of the translated & annotated Quod nihil scitur (that nothing is known); there are some terrific passages in it: "elegant language is for rhetoricans, poets, courtiers, lovers, harlots, pimps, flatterers, parasites, & other people of that sort, ..., but for scientific language, accuracy suffices. " The annotator notes that Sanches was a physician who had enough of Galen & Aristotelianism and was determined to refute them. So his medical background had a formative influence on modus sciendi (method of knowing) . He promised to write a how-to book. Apparently his how-to book was never published, as he later became professor of medicine in Toulouse & apparently lost the time to write it. But his book That nothing is known ends with his trademark: "QUID?" (What?!) --Ancheta Wis   (talk | contribs) 12:48, 26 April 2012 (UTC)

It's looking more and more as if Sanches deserves a highly honourable mention in both the scientific method article and the 'History of' article. Since the success of science is its method, and the method as we understand it today was the fruit of this late C16th epistemological shift from apriorism to empiricism boosted by the sceptic revival, Sanches, because he not only reflected the change but actively pointed the way forward much earlier than Bacon, should surely be remembered.Pertin1x (talk) 21:30, 26 April 2012 (UTC)

(By the by, I'm very curious about the Guyenne/Toulouse connection of the two great early uptakers of scepticism, Sanches and Montaigne.)Pertin1x (talk) 21:30, 26 April 2012 (UTC)

Okay I've found my Popkin:

"Since, as he had shown, nothing can be known, Sanches put forward a procedure, not to gain knowledge but to deal constructively with human experience. This procedure, for which Sanches introduced the term (for the first time) scientific method, "Método universal de las ciencias," consists in patient, careful empirical research and cautious judgment and evaluation of the data we observe" (Hist of Scepticism from Savonarola to Bayle, Oxford 2003 p.41)

Pertin1x (talk) 20:55, 27 April 2012 (UTC)

I forgot to include Popkin's footnote to this passage, which unfortunately doesn't say exactly where the 'Metodo' quote occurs but says the word 'method' was unknown in the middle ages, began to be used in the early C16th 'to designate a road or way of getting from one place to another' and that Sanches was the first to 'apply method and science together and transform it from a humanistic enterprise into an epistemological one' (note 158 p.316-7). Pertin1x (talk) 21:39, 12 May 2012 (UTC)

Pertin1x, and Myrvin, I could use some advice from you here. I am trying to augment Sanches' Quod nihil scitur (1581). My finding is that as a physician, Sanches and the entire 16th century medical establishment was heavily influenced by Galen. Galen's medical method (Methodus Medendi) had what we now call scientific method at its core, meaning 'to obtain knowledge through judgement and experience' (from Elaine Limbrick's critical edition of That nothing is known p. 54, ISBN 0-521-35077-8). The difference was that Step 1 of our scientific method can be encapsulated in Sanches' Quid? (i.e., What??!!). Thus skepticism is step one. This, of course, echoes Alhazen, Francis Bacon, and Peirce's positions on the role of doubt. Sanches' specific contribution to scientific method was then to move from the general to the specific (what he called 'the thing', in Latin, Res) when trying to anchor our knowledge.
There, I have managed to compress the Sanches, Limbrick and Thomson 1988 critical edition of That Nothing is Known to a few sentences. My question is now, is the above statement fit for the current article? Of course, the history of scientific method article could then contain a more discursive version, with more about the role of skepticism in the 16th century, the influence of Montaigne on Sanches and Descartes, the influence of medicine, surgery, and pharmacology on scientific method, etc. It is very interesting to me that Sanches distrusted mathematical statements, because this meant that he could could then accept only approximations rather than mathematical certitude. Sanches thus stands as an intellectual precursor of the open-ended form of science. --Ancheta Wis   (talk | contribs) 16:03, 14 June 2012 (UTC)
Looks good to me: you already know Sanches better than me. Although Sanches can't echo Bacon of course. I don't think Montaigne influenced Sanches so much as both were shaped by the teaching at Guyenne which seems to have been remarkable. Bacon, of course, was deeply influenced by Montaigne.
I'm with Popkin; the C16th skeptic revival is profoundly underrated and was critical to the birth of modernity, dethroning mediaeval apriorism and putting worldly experience — Preceding unsigned comment added by Pertin1x (talkcontribs) 22:30, 14 June 2012 (UTC)
A question - could you specify what you mean when you say his contribution was "to move from the general to the specific when trying to anchor our knowledge"? Arc de Ciel (talk) 23:52, 14 June 2012 (UTC)
Arc, I mean that Sanches moves from the general considerations of Aristotle and the Scholastics, to specific points about the thing under investigation; here is a sampling of Sanches to show what I mean -- his polemic goes on and on, but Sanches was attempting to demolish Aristotle, for 100 pages in Latin: "... I have never been once led to understand the very smallest fact, or proposition, by Aristotle and the rest; but I was stimulated by their remarks into preparing myself to examine any and every thing; and when I observed their contradictions and difficulties, in order to avoid falling into these myself I dismissed those authors and fled for refuge to the facts, with the intention of seeking in them a basis for judgement." (Limbrick p. 187, using the Thomson translation of Sanches 1581 pp.12-13). Now compare to the Popkin quotation contributed by Pertin1x, above. --Ancheta Wis   (talk | contribs) 01:54, 15 June 2012 (UTC)
So you mean, he was the first to characterize science as a search for facts in addition to generalizations? Or from your quote, I would guess that it would be as opposed to generalizations instead. That sounds reasonable, and I wouldn't object to including it - although I wouldn't make any distinction between facts and generalizations myself (they are both induction on different scales, at least today). I'm also wondering whether the same might be said of others, e.g. Alhazen (500 years earlier, if a reliable source can be found). Arc de Ciel (talk) 03:15, 15 June 2012 (UTC)
Looks like my comment last night got truncated. My feeling is that it is not about generalizations versus facts but apriori versus empirical: rejecting the theory-down approach, tradition and 'authorities' like "Aristotle and the rest" and instead building on raw experience, accepting experience as the only test and authority - in short, as you say, scepticism is step one, which is why the rise of science in the thick of the sceptic revival was no coincidence. Sanches was the guy to point out that scepticism was not fatal to knowledge but meant a new approach: the method. Pertin1x (talk) 22:45, 15 June 2012 (UTC)
But if it is about promoting empirical investigations over a priori, then he definitely wasn't the first, e.g. Alhazen made empirical determinations, as well as a number of others. Not to say that he didn't make important contributions, of course, e.g. perhaps he was the first to completely reject Aristotle - or perhaps a priori knowledge in general, or knowledge from authority in general. I think the last of these would be the most important if it is correct. Arc de Ciel (talk) 23:30, 15 June 2012 (UTC)
You're much stronger on Alhazen but I think it's much stronger than 'promoting' or a shift of emphasis. The importance of scepticism is that it disproves the possibility of apriori (inasmuch as its arguments are valid, and they impressed people like Sanches, Montaigne, right up thro Descartes, Hume and so on). Even if stressing experience predated Sanches (and I think even Aristotle urged observation) the late C16th/earlyC17th was a step-change because of the philosophical climate of the sceptic revival.Pertin1x (talk) 08:09, 16 June 2012 (UTC)
I see - so I infer that his importance is mainly as a leading figure of this particular movement. I'll wait to see what is written before commenting further. :-) Arc de Ciel (talk) 20:09, 16 June 2012 (UTC)
As far as I'm aware he was the first to say natural philosophy must start from sceptic assumptions, which is I think what made it what we recognise as science: evidence is king and even successful theory is provisional.Pertin1x (talk) 21:20, 16 June 2012 (UTC)

I think the additions look good. Perhaps some description of his specific arguments might also be helpful (such as a footnote expanding on the "nothing clear can be known by the methods of Aristotle" sentence). Arc de Ciel (talk) 08:00, 18 June 2012 (UTC)

I don't understand the coyness in translating Sanches' phrase as 'method of knowing' instead of 'scientific method' since 'science' means knowledge. It only came to mean what people in white coats do in the C19th. The first person to use the phrase 'scientific method' surely meant 'method of knowing' by it. Also, to attribute Sanches' position to "innate skepticism" makes skepticism sound like a personal trait when the point is it was a philosophy very persuasive at that moment in European discourse. The suggestion is that the C17th "crystallised" a scientific method precisely because of the skeptic influence of the late C16th, and that Sanches was the skeptic who pointed out the future and called it a method.Pertin1x (talk) 22:46, 19 June 2012 (UTC)

Pertin1x, thank you for your reaction; there is a back-story to the 'scientific method' name versus 'method of knowing'. As Sanches was writing, he was promising a follow-on treatise to Quod Nihil Scitur (1581), which he did not name 'scientific method', as that term came up in the 19th c. What Popkin read as 'scientific method' was part of the title of a Spanish book which Limbrick labels under 'Lost, Unpublished, or Projected works by Sanches', of which 11 titles are known. At least one of the titles was burned in a fire at Toulouse University. Even though France and Italy were decades ahead of Portugal or Spain in liberality (remember Juan Luis Vives' father and a grandparent were burned at the stake in Spain), after Sanches got his professorship in philosophy at Toulouse, he had to be more circumspect, so his Catholicism had to be more orthodox. It all points to a projected title for his treatise on scientific method during most of Sanches' life, rather than the 'how-to' book Sanches was promising.
Limbrick's book came after Popkin's statement that Sanches defined the term, of course; her sources include Neal Ward Gilbert (1960) Renaissance Concepts of Method. Limbrick, in her explorations, is clear that Sanches was a major source for Descartes, as documented by Étienne Gilson's critical edition for Descartes, where he quotes the 1st 20 lines of Sanches in the introduction to Descartes.
My take on Quod Nihil Scitur is that Sanches was clearing away clutter. In his book, he still had to get to basics like the truth. The 16th century still had prominent thinkers who believed in demons, for example, or in the magical powers of garlic to nullify magnetic fields and vampires. Sanches is scathing in his rebuttal of these beliefs as well. Sanches tried to resign his post as physician at the Hotel-Dieu of Toulouse but was dissuaded by the threat of jail and a fine. After Sanches got his 2nd professorship, in medicine, he had more time to write, and was able to write about Galen's methods of medicine (modus medendi), judgement and experience. Her sources include Durling's survey of the editions of Galen during the 16th century.
Vives, Sanches, and Francis Bacon clearly implicate the Aristotelian syllogism as an obstacle to understanding. In my readings about syllogism, I am learning that the topic was reformulated in the 19th century using more modern notation, too late for Bacon or Descartes.
I will be more precise in my next edit on this talk page. I am glad that these issues matter to you. --Ancheta Wis   (talk | contribs) 01:18, 20 June 2012 (UTC)
Can you people please post newer comments in a new section at the bottom of the page? thanks.--Jorgen W (talk) 05:59, 20 June 2012 (UTC)
Ok.Pertin1x (talk) 20:39, 22 June 2012 (UTC)
  1. ^ SCOPE - Salzberg, et al