lab 5 Phy


PHY111, 112, 161, 172, 262 ON-LINE LAB


The Scientific Method NAU User ID:

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In this lab assignment you will be asked to read and think about the basics of scientific discovery, along with the steps and processes that make something truly “scientific.”

Science has been defined as “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”

We certainly live in a world that relies heavily on science and technology. Yet many people do not ever really take the time to stop and consider what is implied when something is called “scientific.” Since physics is the most fundamental of all sciences, and we are students studying this subject, lets take a closer look and delve into the real meaning of the word “scientific.”

1. Defining Terms:

Theory is a word that most of us use frequently. The common use of the word often means something like a speculative guess. We often use it to mean something for which we have no proof. For instance, we may say something like: “Well that’s just your theory, you don’t really have any proof.”

However, in science a theory, or more accurately a scientific theory , means something quite different. Take some time to find some good definitions for the word theory in a science context, and then explain in your own words how this differs from the more common usage of the word:

Hypothesis is another commonly used word, it is often used interchangeably with the word theory. However, in a scientific context it means something quite different. Please explain the scientific use of the word hypothesis:

Real science is often said to be empirical in nature. What is the definition of the word empirical?

Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy are only a few of the many subjects that rely quite heavily on the empirical process. Can you think of some other subjects that are often termed as “sciences”, and even though important areas of study, may be less reliant on empiricism? Explain your choices:

2. The Scientific Method

What is the scientific method? What are each of the specific steps? How does it differ from other ways of interpreting the universe around us? Please answer with at least a full paragraph.

3. Cargo Cult Science

Richard Feynman, was a Nobel Prize winning American theoretical physicist. He was a very “colorful” individual and teacher, who was interested in a variety of subjects besides physics. One of his most well-known talks was one he gave in 1974 as a Caltech commencement address. The topic of the address was Cargo Cult Science. This talk was later turned into an essay and it was also included as the final chapter in his book Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman.

Below is a link to the essay with a small amount of added commentary. Please read it in its entirety. Although the talk was given over four and a half decades ago you should find it both informative and entertaining.

What does Feynman mean by the term cargo cult science?

Do you think it is possible for a modern scientist to be “doing cargo cult science”? Explain.

Is it possible to do “good” empirical science and still get the wrong answers? If so, list several historical examples. If not, explain why you think it isn’t possible:

Give an historical example in physics in which a theory proved to be fundamentally and seriously flawed. How was the flaw discovered and what theory replaced the old one?

4. Not all studies are created equal

Let’s take just a moment and consider scientific research in general. We often read headlines claiming new discovery’s in every field of science. Many times, these “discoveries” can seem contradictory and less than reliable. Sadly, this is often actually the case. One area of study where this seems to occur frequently in the field of health and medical research. Though it is by no means the only place where this kind of situation is found. So with this in mind we seem to be left with an important question: How we can rate or qualify the research we read about, and how much should we trust any given “scientific study?

To help us answer this, please watch the following short video:

What is your takeaway from this video?

Of course, there’s a lot more involved in determining the quality of any given scientific study than what was discussed in the video. It’s important to remember that researchers in all areas of science must present their papers to panels of other scientists for peer review before publishing. Every attempt is made to catch errors in methodology and data analysis by these panels. Unfortunately, the process is not perfect, so errors and faulty reasoning can and do at times slip though. This is why it is incumbent on you, the scientific student, to read and study with a critical eye. Remember, some of history’s greatest discoveries have been made because one scientist found an error in another’s research and corrected the flaw.

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