Scientific method

The painting 'The Epsom Derby' (1821) by Théodore Gericault (1791-1824) shows a horse race. All the horses have their feet in the air, no horse foot touches the ground.
Muybridge's photographs of The Horse in Motion, 1878, were used to answer the question whether all four feet of a galloping horse are ever off the ground at the same time. This demonstrates a use of photography as an experimental tool in science.

Scientific method refers to ways to investigate phenomena, get new knowledge, correct errors and mistakes, and test theories.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that scientific method is: "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses".[1]

A scientist gathers empirical and measurable evidence, and uses sound reasoning.[2] New knowledge often needs adjusting, or fitting into, previous knowledge.[3]


What distinguishes a scientific method of inquiry is a question known as 'the criterion'. It is an answer to the question: is there a way to tell whether a concept or theory is science, as opposed to some other kind of knowledge or belief? There have been many ideas as to how it should be expressed. Logical positivists thought a theory was scientific if it could be verified;[4][5][6] but Karl Popper thought this was a mistake. He thought a theory was not scientific unless there was some way it might be refuted.[7][8][9][10] On the other hand, Paul Feyerabend thought there was no criterion. For him, "anything goes", or whatever works, works.[11]

Scientists try to let reality speak for itself. They support a theory when its predictions are confirmed, and challenge it when its predictions prove false. Scientific researchers offer hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experiments to test these hypotheses. Since big theories cannot be tested directly, it is done by testing predictions derived from the theory. These steps must be repeatable, to guard against mistake or confusion by any particular experimenter.

Scientific inquiry is generally intended to be as objective as possible. To reduce biased interpretations of results, scientists publish their work, and so share data and methods with other scientists.

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