What Is the Scientific Method?

The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities - perhaps the only one - in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there.

- Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the evolution of the Scientific Method, the systematic and analytical approach to scientific thought. In 1620 the great philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon published the Novum Organum, a work outlining a new system of thought which he believed should inform all enquiry into the laws of nature. Philosophers before him had given their attention to the reasoning that underlies scientific enquiry; but Bacon's emphasis on observation and experience is often seen today as giving rise to a new phenomenon: the scientific method. The scientific method, and the logical processes on which it is based, became a topic of intense debate in the seventeenth century, and thinkers including Isaac Newton, Thomas Huxley and Karl Popper all made important contributions. Some of the greatest discoveries of the modern age were informed by their work, although even today the term 'scientific method' remains difficult to define.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the scientific method on the In Our Time podcast.

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

. . . I was immediately struck by the similarities between his editing process and those associated with scientific investigation and began to wonder whether there was such a thing as a scientific method. Maybe the method on which science relies exists wherever we find systematic investigation. In saying there is no scientific method, what I mean, more precisely, is that there is no distinctly scientific method.

Continue reading James Blachowicz's short article: There Is No Scientific Method

Further Reading

Science is an enormously successful human enterprise. The study of scientific method is the attempt to discern the activities by which that success is achieved. Among the activities often identified as characteristic of science are systematic observation and experimentation, inductive and deductive reasoning, and the formation and testing of hypotheses and theories. How these are carried out in detail can vary greatly, but characteristics like these have been looked to as a way of demarcating scientific activity from non-science, where only enterprises which employ some canonical form of scientific method or methods should be considered science (see also the entry on science and pseudo-science). On the other hand, more recent debate has questioned whether there is anything like a fixed toolkit of methods which is common across science and only science.

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Scientific Method by Hanne Hepburn & Brian Hepburn

Related Topics

Laws of Nature | Science

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.