Science Investigations (page 2)
Most people know little about the methods of science. Yet, without these methods, the results of scientific work are meaningless. How do we know that the results are accurate and reliable if we do not know what methods have been used to find out those results? Take the question, "Are dogs more intelligent than hogs?" Most people would reply, "Dogs are." But what methods did they use to find this answer? Dogs are regarded by humans as friendly, cute, and loyal, and they are kept close as pets. Hogs and pigs are considered dirty, to be raised mainly for food. Because many people like to be around dogs more than pigs, they make the assumption that dogs are smarter than pigs, but they never test this assumption.
Method of observation is the key to learning the real answer to such a question. How do you go about making fair observations? How do you make observations in which your biases have little effect on the results? When you can be reasonably sure that your methods of investigation are going to help guarantee honest results—results not seriously affected by prejudgment you may have made—then you may say you are being scientific. Controlling the prejudice problem is a key difference between ordinary, "commonsense" knowledge and scientific knowledge.
If you work on a science project and want it to be really scientific, you must be sharply aware, at every step, of your own prejudice about the outcome. This doesn't mean that having a prejudice is altogether wrong, or that it should keep you from doing a particular project. Let's say you like dogs and really don't know anything about the intelligence of pigs and hogs. Okay, so you have a prejudice. You'd like to find out that dogs are more intelligent than pigs. How can you test the intelligence of both kinds of animals without letting your prejudice affect the results? Once you plan a fair method for doing that, you are getting scientific about it.
But science is more than just planning how to get an answer to a question. It is more than using your reasoning or your logic. Science means the actual observation of things, of events, of phenomena. You can't be scientific until you actually do some observing of your subject. Observing, of course, means more than just seeing. It means using all of your senses as well as your measuring instruments, such as rulers, meter sticks, balances, clocks, and thermometers. It means using instruments that amplify the stimuli that your senses receive, such as telescopes, microscopes, sound amplifiers, and oscilloscopes. It means using recording equipment of many kinds (beside pencil or pen), such as cameras and tape recorders.
An important part of being scientific is keeping records because it helps you to report to others accurately and honestly about your observations. Record keeping helps people to check up on you, and the knowledge that others will check up on you helps to keep you from letting your prejudices affect your results.
"Objective" is the word we use to mean keeping our prejudices or biases under control. Being objective means that your findings are not shaped by your feelings or prejudices but by direct observation. It means that others who make similar observations will find that they can agree with you, even though they may have different feelings or prejudices about the results of the investigation. When observers can agree on the results, in spite of their varying prejudices, the results can be called objective. This, then, is why your records are important and why you must plan to report to others on both your methods and your results.
How can we be sure that the things we choose to know, choose to learn, are a good, a true, and a valid selection of all the possible things there are to know? All of our past experiences come to bear on this choosing and this valuing. Our experiences with other people also help to determine our attitudes and values. In addition, experiences related by other people bring us new things to learn. However, some of the knowledge we get from others is valuable and some of it is not. How do we decide which is which?
A living human being has countless experiences every moment. Some experiences take place within ourselves, and others involve ourselves and the surrounding environment. But we cannot possibly notice, observe, or report on all of these experiences, even though they may be changing us in many subtle ways. One cannot notice every heartbeat, every leaf falling, every mosquito buzzing, every drop of rain. And so we select the things we will notice or observe about ourselves or our environment.
Thus, because we make selections, we find that we observe our surroundings with bias or prejudice. What you select to observe, another person may completely miss. Or what you fail to observe one time you may closely study another time.
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