The Scientific Method
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In the scientific method, the process of conducting scientific investigation, a researcher develops hypotheses derived from the current state of knowledge, i.e., general theory, and will test these hypotheses against the data of the real world. By rejecting, modifying, or retaining hypotheses the researcher develops his or her scientific explanation to account for the phenomena under investigation. Scientific theories, therefore, are explanations of facts derived by testing hypotheses. The scientific method can never arrive at absolute truth but only operational proof.

The Scientific Method: The Process of Conducting Scientific Inquiry

General Theory

Question General Theory and
Its Underlying Assumptions

General Theory

Develop Research Design (a strategy to investigate the topic including methodology)

Information Inputs (usually archival data)


Formulate Research Hypotheses

Test Hypotheses by Specific Observation

Reject Hypotheses

Modify Hypotheses

Retain Hypotheses


Data Collection

Notice that the method calls for the questioning of general theory at any time. This makes scientific explanation tentative and subject to verification. Testability and verifiability are central to the scientific method. Scientific knowledge progresses based upon hypothesis formation and testing against the objective reality of the real world.

A hypothesis is a tentative explanation in response to a specific scientifically posed question. Social scientists test research hypotheses through making specific observations or conducting experiments. Hence, science does not proceed on the basis of trying to prove something but upon the testing of hypotheses. The process is not one of proof and argument but one of falsification. A "falsified" research hypothesis is the result of contradiction of the hypothesis by the research data. When the data contradict a research hypothesis then, in the process of explanation, the researcher either rejects or modifies the hypothesis. Sets of tested research hypotheses give rise to general theory. 

Verification proceeds by the testing of a research hypothesis by other reputable researchers. A repeatedly tested hypothesis becomes a fact when its continued verification shows that to not consider it so would border on the ridiculous. In science, however, a fact is not an absolute truth, but rather a reasonable certainty, since the scientific method necessitates that all scientific explanation be tentative (see Standards of Proof). 

The scientific worldview of the last four centuries is that of the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm, from the foundational work of Sir Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes, which assumes a knowable universe, an objective reality, regulated by discernable laws. Moreover, in this understanding all innovations must necessarily arise from preexisting energy and matter. In regard to life forms it implies that all innovations in life forms must necessarily arise within preexisting species.

Page last edited: 02/08/09 07:23 PM

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