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scientific method

Contributor(s): Trea Lavery

Scientific method is an approach to seeking knowledge that involves forming and testing a hypothesis. This methodology is used to answer questions in a wide variety of disciplines outside of science, including business. Scientific method provides a logical, systematic way to answer questions and removes subjectivity by requiring each answer to be authenticated with objective evidence that can be reproduced. 

There is not one correct way to list the steps in scientific method. Regardless of how the steps are documented, the goal of scientific method is to gather data that will validate or invalidate a cause and effect relationship. Scientific method is often carried out in a linear manner, but the approach can also be cyclical, because once a conclusion has been reached, it often raises more questions. 

Here is an example of how the steps in scientific method can be stated: 

  • Make an observation
  • Ask a question
  • Gather background information
  • Create a hypothesis
  • Create an experiment to test the hypothesis
  • Analyze the results of the experiment
  • Draw a conclusion
  • Share the conclusion
  • Decide what question (if any) should be asked next

Here is an example of how scientific method might be used to solve a business problem.

An experiment following the scientific method will feature an independent variable and a dependent variable. The independent variable is the one factor which is changed between tests or groups, and the dependent variable is what changes as a result. In this example, the independent variable is which registration box is shown, and the dependent variable is how many people sign up to be members.

scientific method use case

Common mistakes to avoid when using the scientific method

One of the most common mistakes when using the scientific method is allowing there to be bias toward the hypothesis. Forming a hypothesis is an important step, but the goal of the scientific method is not necessarily to prove the hypothesis correct; the purpose is to learn from the experiment. This means that the person asking the question should be careful not to discount data that goes against the hypothesis.

Another common error is not accounting for systematic error in the experiment. It is nearly impossible to control every independent variable in an experiment, especially those which are caused by human error. This is why experiments are repeated many times, but it is still possible to allow errors to influence data analysis and conclusions if they aren't expected or watched out for.

Finally, when analyzing data, a common mistake is to believe that correlation implies causation. This means that although it may seem that two things are happening together, this does not necessarily mean that one is causing the other. For example, if a country's chocolate consumption correlates with its number of Nobel Laureates, it would be incorrect to assume that eating chocolate will increase an individual's chance of winning a Nobel prize. More likely, the correlation simply indicates that both education and chocolate can be accessed by a majority of the country's population. 

History of scientific method

The Greek philosopher Aristotle is sometimes called the father of scientific method, but many others have contributed to scientific method as it has evolved, including the Islamic scholar Ibn al-Haytham, who developed a process for creating an hypothesis and systematic experimentation and Sir Francis Bacon, who emphasized the importance of inductive reasoning. Sir Isaac Newton relied on both inductive and deductive reasoning to explain the results of his experiments and Galileo Galilei emphasized the idea that results should be repeatable. Other well-known contributors to the scientific method include Karl Popper, who introduced the concept of falsifiability and Charles Darwin, who is known for using multiple communication channels to share his conclusions. 

This was last updated in January 2017

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