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How does the scientific method work?

The classical approach to solving anything in science starts with a "problem," which through experimentation and prediction, evolves through the "hypothesis" and "theory" stages into a scientific "law." This is fine as far as it goes, but I like to adjust the wording of the first step, and add two more steps at the end. My version is as follows:

1. Wild and Crazy Idea

If we assume that all science starts as science fiction, I like this terminology better than just calling it a "problem." Getting beyond this involves setting up experiments to verify your idea.

2. Hypothesis

If your experimental data fail to support your idea, you'll need to go back to Step 1. If your experiments do support your idea, move on to Step 3.

3. Theory

Great, your experiments support your hypothesis, and you are now the proud owner of a theory. Getting beyond this into the law stage requires that you can use your theory to predict the results of additional work, and that your predictions hold. As before, if they don't, return to an earlier step and try again. If your predictions hold consistently, move on to the next stage.

4. Law

This is where most discussions of the scientific method end. However, I feel two additional steps are almost guaranteed to occur.

5. Dogma

Laws tend to be supported to such an extent that they almost become dogma. Take gravity for example. When is the last time you dropped a pencil and it floated away. Pretty stupid idea, huh? We are all so sure that gravity is THE LAW that we don't even consider the possibility that there may be exceptions or situations when it breaks down and doesn't work. This leads to the last and final stage:

6. Stagnation

This is the death of scientific thought, and should have no place in YOUR thoughts. Question all scientific laws, especially the ones that are the most firmly steeped in dogma. (But don't be stupid about it - throwing yourself off a cliff to test gravity doesn't make much sense!)


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