The Scientific Method

This was first posted on November 30, 2009.  It seems to have held up pretty well so I’m posting it again:

The now-exposed hoax and fraud of man-made global warming has shown that the scientific method was replaced with politics by a lot of people who should have know better. So what is meant by the “scientific method?” Well, one thing it means all the time and everywhere is that the data be made available to others so they can test the hypothesis to reproduce the results that were claimed. That the global warming proponents hid the data to prevent honest peer review of their hypothesis was a sure sign that the scientific method was not being followed.

Here is what the scientific method is, or is supposed to be:

The Scientific Method

1. The scientific method is a complex, variable, human process which differs in detail from scientist to scientist, and from discovery to discovery. However it may differ in detail or application from time to time it must always involve a cycle of observation, synthesis, hypothesis and prediction.

a. The first step in most scientific studies is the collection of data, including observations, measurement, and experiments.

b. The second step is the recognition of patterns– the search for symmetries. Most scientists have a deeply held belief that there are regularities and patterns in the physical universe.

i. Sometimes this step involves recognizing similarities among seemingly different phenomena, such as different forms of electricity.

ii. Sometimes this step is a mathematical synthesis, fitting disparate data into one type of equation, such as Kepler’s discovery of elliptical planetary orbits.

c. Once a pattern is found, the scientist will propose a possible explanation in the form of a hypothesis.

d. A scientific hypothesis, theory, or law must lead to unambiguous and testable predictions, requiring a new round of observations. Consequently, a scientific theory can always be disproved by an unfulfilled prediction, but it can never be completely proved.

e. At the center of this idealized cycle there is always a paradigm— a prevailing system of expectations about the natural world.  The classic book on scientific paradigms, how they change, and the resistance to every paradigm change, is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn.

2. The scientific method is rarely followed as an exact cycle. Human imagination, intuition, and chance are vital elements of the process.

a. The example of Dmitri Mendeleev and the periodic table of elements exemplifies the scientific method.

b. Often an anomaly leads to new insights.

i. When anomalies are found that violate well-tested theories and laws, it usually means that the old theory or law is a valid special case of a more general law.

ii. An everyday example is provided by the “hypothesis” that all objects fall under the force of gravity. The anomaly of a helium-filled balloon leads to deeper understanding, i.e., if an object is lighter than the air it displaces it will rise rather than fall.

c. The scientific method is an elegant process for learning about the natural world, but it is neither intuitive nor obvious.

When the Earth stopped warming in 1997 and underwent a period of cooling that appears to be continuing today, this was a failure of a major prediction by the global warming proponents. Instead of a new round of data collection followed by a new hypothesis, the proponents merely changed the name of their pet theory from global warming to climate change and did their damnedest to hide the data and demonize other scientists who questioned their methods and conclusions. Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick Trick is an example.  See, The Hockey Stick Illusion, Climategate and the Corruption of Science.  Of course, that was not good science and it turns out, it was not good politics either.

Thinking about science and the sort of reasoning good science demands, here is something to ponder: Seven Fallacies of Thought and Reason: Common Errors in Reasoning and Argument from Pseudoscience.

This book was first published in 1841 and has been continuously in print since then: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds