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Natural Science - Year II

Unit 35: Welcome to Natural Science Year Two

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Science Web Assignment for Unit 35

This Unit's Homework Page History Lecture Science Lecture Lab Parents' Notes

Science Lecture for Unit 35: The Scope of Science

For Class

Methods in Science

One of the "triumphs" of modern science has been the sense that science can prove causal relationships between events and outcomes, or describe some phenomena as consistent throughout time and space. We rely on the science of physics to help engineers design cars with a certain stopping-distance when the brakes are applied, and we get into those cars and drive them, putting our lives at risk, because we trust that the scientific knowledge is correct, and that the physicists and engineers have correctly applied these principles.

Part of this sense of certainty comes out of the deterministic science of classical physics, that is, the science that developed in the wake of Newton's work with the laws of motion. His success in predicting the actual motion of objects, from falling apples to the courses of the planets in the heaves, have allowed us to develop different technologies and to send spacecraft wich accurately arrive and fall into orbit about those planets.

The Experimental Method

Read the summary of the scientific method at Science Buddies, a popular site for students entering science fairs.

  • Does the summary provide an accurate overview of the scientific method?
  • Could you use this method to determine whether two chemicals combine and blow up? What would be the ethical or practical issues?
  • Could you use this method to study whether a drug affects the course of a disease in different people? What would be the ethical or practical issues?
  • Could you use this method to discover how stars generate heat and light? What would be the ethical or practical issues?

The establishment of scientific knowledge relies largely on the experimental method. The classical process comes out of Galileo's work with falling bodies, and rolling balls down inclined planes. It has been summarized in countless textbooks. The actual names and numbers of steps vary, but most will include the following:

  1. Observe some pattern or interesting phenomena.
  2. Construct a testable hypothesis.
  3. Design and run an experiment, collect the data.
  4. Analyze the data.
  5. Publish the results for review

This method works very well when we have a discrete phenomenon that we can observe over and over in a laboratory. But how do we investigate the formation of the earth, the structure of a distant star, or the effect of a particular genetic change on an individual, when we cannot control the factors that might influence the outcome of a given situation? One of our goals this year is to see how different areas of science use not only the experimental method, but develop other means of observing phenomena and drawing conclusions from them, some of which are valid across all sciences, but some of which may only apply to a special area where no other means of observation is possible.

Read the following quotations on scientific method by some of the top scientists of recent decades.

  • What are the "qualifications" that give each person his authority?
  • What limitations do they perceive in using methods of science?
  • What do they think are the advantages of using scientific methods to learn about nature and ourselves?

Study/Discussion Questions

Further Study On your Own (Optional)