Evaluating Scientific Method as a Way of Knowing
Theory of Knowledge
May 11, 2012
Evaluating Scientific Method as a Way of Knowing
Scientific method is one of those ways of knowing which has been in limelight for centuries and still seems to classify itself as important. Science is mainly driven by logic and reasoning and hence, in the scientific method, logic and reasoning is combined and reasoned with sense perception to form a superior way of knowing which seems to provide more certainty than other ways of knowing. However, the certainty arrived at through scientific methods has been evaluated time and again to explore its limitations. Evidence of acceptance and accuracy of the scientific methods is seen in many discoveries like the Newton’s laws of gravity, discovery of pharmaceutical drugs and investigating properties of various substances around us. However, the scientific method is also challenged by other methods of knowing which seem to provide equally accurate and reasonable data but without using the scientific method, for example, the theory of evolution was built up on observation and the science of homeopathy was built on by ancient manuscripts. Deciding whether the scientific method is the best way of knowing can be challenging, the method can prove itself to be perfectly accurate in some cases but may not be able to explain others.
The scientific method involves a set of steps which are used to investigate claims and phenomenon in the world. The steps mainly include; 1 aim; 2 hypothesis; 3 method; 4 results; 5 conclusions and 6 evaluation.
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As a high school science student, the scientific method works as the fundamental rule for investigating any scientific claims or properties of the common world around us. One such example can be taken from my Physics class where we investigated the properties of light as it passed through different mediums. It is a well-known fact that light behaves differently in different mediums, even for someone not from the scientific world who has seen objects through water can tell there is something funny happening with light as it passes through it. Hence, as science students we investigate this common property using scientific method. As we proceeded with our experiment of observing how the light ray behaved at different angles, our hypothesis that the light rays “bend” when they enter a different medium though air seemed to be proved right. In addition, as the experiment was repeated a pattern or similarity in the results could be seen, hence, the precision was higher. This not only proves that scientific methods provide an easy and clear pathway but also allows us to repeat the procedure with the same accuracy. When evaluated with the truth tests, the results have a higher chance of passing as the results could be repeated several times hence, increasing consistency.
Another example of where scientific method plays and important role is in the discovery of drugs and pharmaceutical products to cure diseases. Since the outcome and effect of the product should be precise, the scientists need to have a solid hypothesis and carry out many experiments to arrive at the desired outcome. Moreover, arriving at the desired result once would not make much of a difference, in the pharmaceutical industry, the drugs are produced over and over again and hence it requires a certain “recipe” for the drug to provide consistency and also work at an efficient balance of economy, this is arrived at by investigating various conditions and methods designed on the basis of the fundamental scientific method. Even though the discovery of Penicillin in 1928 by Alexander Fleming was serendipitous (reference), the importance of the drug was soon in the limelight and the demand for the drug increased, hence, this was when the scientific method came in handy to help provide a method for mass production of Penicillin. (Reference)
In contrast to the two examples provided above, the science of homeopathy defies the certainty of scientific method. Homeopathy is method of curing diseases using very diluted versions of the medicines. This method has been passed down from ancient times and has been proved to work on many users of the medicine. However, when this method is observed and tested on scientifically, it lacks to give a trend or pattern in the results hence making it impossible to explain scientifically why the medicine works. It has also been claimed that homeopathy involves supernatural magic (reference to video and article) and that it cannot be proved scientifically and many are also skeptic about whether or not homeopathy actually works since it fails the scientific method test. The latter argument can be supported by the placebo effect and how it may affect the patients using the medicine. Furthermore, this also brings to light the limitations of the scientific method. Since homeopathy involves diluting the medicine to such low concentrations, the hypothesis to test the medicine should be as precise and also the ‘observer effect’ (reference) can cause the results to alter, the scientist may see what he wishes to see hence it depends on whether the person testing is a skeptic or a believer. Thus, proving that scientific methods cannot always be relied on and that the limitations of scientific methods are many times evident and cannot be overcome.
Another example which brings forth a limitation of the scientific method is the theory of evolution. The accepted theory of evolution was set be Charles Darwin which is also known as the Darwin theory of evolution (reference). Charles Darwin made his theory using numerous observations he made on the Galapagos Islands, he did not use any kind of scientific method of hypothesis or experiments. It was purely observation that led to the groundbreaking theory of evolution (reference). If we try to investigate this theory using the scientific method it is seen that it is not possible to have a fixed hypothesis for the experiment and designing experiments can be difficult as the only method is using animals which would bring in ethical issues. Furthermore, the number of experiments to be carried out will be several and the timeline for the experiments may spread out through generations which would be highly difficult as the observations will have to be passed down through generations of scientists by the time the experiments are completed. It also includes the fact the not every scientist may interpret the data in the same way. Thus, restating the fact that not all theories can be tested using the scientific method.
In conclusion, the scientific method has both limitations and advantages. However, there is a wide misconception that if a theory can be proved by scientific method its superiority instantly rises above other theories. It must be understood that the scientific method holds the same weightage as many other ways of knowing/investigating and it may not be right to assume that one method is superior to the other. Nevertheless, the scientific method is definitely one of the most used methods in the world today as it provides a clear cut image of the situation and since it is human nature to be attracted to things that are simple and easy to understand I think it is justifiable to depend on scientific methods for proving our theories. In spite of the many known limitations of the scientific method it is being using time and again to understand the world around us and I believe that this method is here to stay.
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