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Thread: Who invented "The Scientific Method"?

  1. #1
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    Who invented "The Scientific Method"?

    Who invented "The Scientific Method"? I'm not talking about the actual methods of Science, which are varied. I'm talking about the the version that used to be (and perhaps still is) taught in secondary textbooks in the USA. There were definite steps. They were something like:

    1. Observation
    2. Hypothesis
    3. Experiment
    4. Conclusion

    I thought this might come from some distinguished writer on philosophy or the history of science, but I can't find one that formulated such a theory. Perhaps it was invented by a writer of secondary school textbooks?

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    I remember being told Bacon. Although it was certainly roughly stated before, he made it clear and popular, and used it.

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    Somebody is sure to respond "the Greeks," but it's probably older than that.

    Wild speculation is as little a thing only of the past as prudent observation is a thing only of the present.

    Socrates may have been one of the first we know of who put it in words, if not those exact ones, but he surely had predecessors, not to mention that the methodology certainly had parallels in unrelated societies throughout history.

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    I don't think there was any one person, but a combination of people that over time advocated similar approaches - people such as Galileo, Copernicus, Bacon, Newton.

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    I took a course in the history of science. Our study didn't show those gentleman proposing such steps, even implicitly. Newton said something to the effect that "I do not make hypotheses". Bacon was famous for "inductive reasoning" which was to be implemented by having people compile long lists of examples.

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    I already started there. I didn't find the "four step" method.

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    I thought the four steps were:

    1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
    2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
    3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
    4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

    Your list seems to be missing the "Prediction" step.

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    Everyone invents the scientific method. Babies make observations, have expectations, and experiment on their parents before they learn to talk.

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    The description in the OP is at best a guideline and at worst a straw man (we really shouldn't expect more from secondary schools), no one really thinks the scientific method proceeds according to definite steps like that. But the core idea of the scientific method does repeat over and over in science-- it is the process of iteration between observational tests and hypotheses, and when the hypotheses test out, they are incorporated into a theory, which is then further tested. If the theory tests out, it becomes an "accepted theory", but even then we expect someday it will fail to explain some particular observation, and require modification. The turning of that wheel is the scientific method, but there are some key features that underlie that iteration. One is that you are not allowed to know the answer before you look (Galileo gave a particularly clear demonstration of that, as did Einstein), and another is that you must seek unifying concepts and the streamlining of unnecessary complication. Finally, Feynman's definition may be the most insightful-- he said "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool."

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    Quote Originally Posted by tashirosgt View Post
    I already started there. I didn't find the "four step" method.
    I followed the main article ("History of the scientific method") link and browsed the contents, and it looks like quite a number of individuals articulated processes that are at least very similar to the - as Ken G pointed out, drastically oversimplified - grade school textbook formulation. I'd say that Ibn al-Haytham's version looks like it could have been an attempt to improve on the textbook formulation except that it was written down nearly 1,000 years ago.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nauthiz View Post
    I'd say that Ibn al-Haytham's version looks like it could have been an attempt to improve on the textbook formulation except that it was written down nearly 1,000 years ago.
    Yes, that really astonished me too, I commented on that on a thread awhile back. His description of science seems centuries, if not a millennium, ahead of his day. A remarkable genius, this is a physician and a philosopher, and he was not from the West, where most of the science we hear about comes from.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kleindoofy View Post
    Somebody is sure to respond "the Greeks," but it's probably older than that.
    And that would, at least for the Greeks, seem to be false.
    With the exception of their engineers, the testing against reality step seems to be missing for them.

    Aristotle wanted all knowledge deduced from first principles, but that only works when you have accurate knowledge about which first principle accurately describes the world, and without testing you can't know if they do true.
    This way of thinking results in such silliness as six-legged spiders.
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    Well, falsification was pretty recent.

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    are you all saying that it wasn't some guy named "Scientific" that figured it out?

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by novaderrik View Post
    are you all saying that it wasn't some guy named "Scientific" that figured it out?
    You mean that dude Edmund didn't invent it? Anyway, what method did the scientific method inventor use to invent the scientific method?

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    Lucky guess?

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by kleindoofy View Post
    Somebody is sure to respond "the Greeks," but it's probably older than that.
    In one form or another, I'm sure it's as old as mankind. It's merely been successively codified into what it exists as today.

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