The Scientific Method?

August 29, 2010

This is very much on my mind lately as I start my first semester of an assistant professor-ship at a community college. This semester I am teaching 2 different introductory biology courses for non-majors and an important question is “what exactly do they NEED to know?”. Of course, covering your college’s curricula is a good start, but what do you do with The Scientific Method? Is it really so important that non-scientists be able to list each distilled “step” (and will they even remember them after the class?)? I show them (and test on) the standard minimalist list of steps (Observations, form a question, etc etc) and then tell them that this is a gross oversimplification and that, while it DOES happen at times it is embedded in a much much much larger and more complicated process. I then show one of the really complicated scientific method figures you can find on the internet that includes “collaboration”, “manuscript rejections”, “being scooped” and “blind stabs in the dark”. I then emphasize that the important part is that, when science is being done “at its best” (don’t ask me what I mean by this) the scientists are willing to give up what they know as “facts” if new observations pop up that contradict it. I said willing, not that they always do (or even should). The other thing I emphasize is the difference between hypothesis and theory, and how “theory” definitions outside of science differ from the formal scientific word. Any feedback/suggestions for how I should teach The Scientific Method – I mean aside from using the basso profundo echoing voice when I say it (they just LOVE that)? I was a researcher for almost 15 years, but its interesting how little researchers think about the process they are using while doing it.

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One Response to “The Scientific Method?”

  1. latentbird Says:

    I think it’s still worth teaching the basics of the “scientific method” just in the way You describe to non-scientists, just because it works everywhere. It also will be nice if you can bring some “everyday life” examples of using this method (it depends on the specialization of the class, of course). Even if they are “non-scientists”, sone ideas and exampes from the “science” can give them ideas and approaches in their future.

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