Monday, August 09, 2010

Time to ditch those "Scientific Method" posters

I never liked those Scientific Method posters. Or the equivalent lists that occupied Chapter One of so many science textbooks. They seemed too sterile and prescribed, and made science seem like a very clean business carried out by automatons.

So my pulse raced on my first viewing of The Mechanical Universe episode devoted to The Millikan Experiment. The narrative trashes the so-called scientific method. I thought that was fairly bold for a program devoted to science. The Mechanical Universe story laid out the fact that scientists are biased when they enter the lab. They usually know what they're looking for. And so on. It went on to describe how science succeeds despite scientists.

While working on my Master's degree, I found out that the "scientific method" as outlined in posters and schoolbooks was the creation of an education academician. No wonder I didn't care for it!

Carl Sagan suggested we need a Baloney Detection Kit when evaluating scientific claims. Michael Shermer describes, in detail, what such a kit might include. Here it is in video form.

I think a poster form of this Baloney Detection Kit would be a better use of precious science classroom real estate than those tired Scientific Method posters. Even better: a bulletin board where examples of pseudoscience can be added, organized by their most obvious baloney flags. Just a thought.


Stratoz said...

excellent read, will watch the video when I have a chance and consider starting my year with it.

Brian Ellis said...

Great point about there being no real "scientific method" in practice. I think high school students come to believe that if a scientist follows the "method" in one experiment, he can find scientific "truth." And so, they get an impression that science is not really all that rigorous.

It's really important to impress on them the importance of accumulated evidence, and the qualities of good evidence vs. bad evidence. It's a good way to get well-written lab conclusions as well!

Brian Carpenter said...

Great post and so very true. When students reach my physics class at the end of high school, they seem to be convinced of the textbook version of the sci. method.

Do you recall the source that identified the scientific method in textbooks as the work of an education academician? I'd love to use that in some discussions with colleagues.

Jonathan Hanna said...

A group at UC Berkeley has tried to tackle this with a website called Understanding Science. They have an interactive flow chart that shows the process of science, which is pretty cool. They even have a poster! :-)

Anonymous said...

The big problem with the "scientific community" is that its academic machiavellism is incompatible with the scientific method. Please check out Pure science Wiki. That is an Internet platform for the real scientific method.

Martin J Sallberg


Anonymous said...

The link to Pure science Wiki is

Martin J Sallberg