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Communities Resolving Our Problems: the basic idea
[SUP: Finding Problems] [THINK: Shaping Problems] [LEAP: Solving Problems]

The Scientific Method

The scientific method is used as a way to find more reliable answers to questions and better solutions to problems. The Socratic Method and the Scientific Method share many similarities (Dye, 1996, 2007), notably that they both begin with wondering. Though the Socratic Method is used to address any topic to which logic can be applied, science greatly simplifies its task by dealing only with those phenomena that can be reliably and repeatedly observed and measured. This means that there will always be questions for which science will not and cannot find answers. The general multiple procedures of the scientific method have been well defined over the centuries, but some significant philosophic and scientific critics have argued that this is not really how science is practiced and take an even simpler stance.

The Majority View

Crawford and Stucki (1990) offer one of the many restatements of the steps of the method: define the question; observe by gathering information and resources; form a hypothesis; perform experiemnts and collect data; analyze data; interpret data and draw conclusions which support or falsify the hypothesis; and publish results in order to find others to verify the data by repeating the experiments. See also Science Buddies explanation and chart of the Steps of the Scientific Method. The steps are in parallel with the varied language of inquiry and problem solving in many different fields of study.

The Critics

Popper (1983), Feyerabend (1975), Lakatos (1978) and Polanyi (1958) take differing views. Feyerabend argues that science does not really follow such methods in actual practice and further, the only procedure is to study a topic in great depth with creativity and imagination. Popper questions the existence of the scientific method and argued against the existence of a final proof of the truth, that only critical tests of falsification were possible. Lakatos argued that Popper overstated the power of the critical test, that the process of falsification was much more gradual as exceptions to the theory become harder to explain, the gap between theory and results widens and research programs are eventually abandoned. Polanyi questioned the objectivity of the enterprise, arguing that the liberty from political power, the opportunity to seek knowledge for its own sake and creativity were more important than any methodological recipe.

Science today is a vast enterprise advancing all aspect of 21st century culture that has not abandoned the general methodological approach. Its critics have contributed to it by highlighting significant overarching issues in scientific practice. The fundamental human passions of wonder and creativity provide the motivation and the talent to extend the depth and boundaries of science.



Crawford S. & Stucki L. (1990), "Peer review and the changing research record", Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 41, 223-228.

Feyerabend, Paul Karl (1975). Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge. Atlantic Highlands, N.J. : Humanities Press.

Lakatos, I. (1978). The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, (ed. J. Worrall & G. Currie). Cambridge University Press.

Nola, Robert (1987). The Status of Popper's Theory of Scientific Method. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 38(4):441-480; doi:10.1093/bjps/38.4.441.

Polanyi, Michael (1958). Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. University of Chicago Press. Google Books online version.

Popper, Karl (1983). On the Non-Existence of Scientific Method (preface pp. 5-8). Realism and the Aim of Science. Totowa, N.J. : Rowman and Littlefield.

Science Buddies. The Steps of the Scientific Method. Available October 10, 2008 at



THINK: Shaping Problems | Initial publication 10/9/2008  |  Page author: Houghton