The Scientific Method

Science is a modern concept. In ancient times the closest people came to science was to argue over ideas but not to test them. For a long time it was thought that the Earth was at the centre of the Universe just because Aristotle had put forward this idea and his ideas were promoted by the Roman Catholic church, and nobody thought his ideas should be tested to see if they were true.

When scientists started doing experiments, mostly they worked alone. They could look for patterns or test hypotheses. Often their results were not publicised, so only the scientist who conducted the experiment knew what they had discovered. When scientists began to publicise their ideas, it meant other scientists could reproduce the experiment and see if there were any errors. They could make predictions and conduct experiments to see if they were realised.

A good theory is one that makes predictions that can be tested. If it does, and the results closely fit the predictions, then this is good evidence to support the prediction. If the test gives results that do not fit the predictions of the theory then the theory will have to be abandoned or modified.

Once a theory has accumulated evidence to support it, it may seem like a novelty. It often takes time for people to find a use for a new discovery. After the discovery that electricity could be generated by moving a coil of wire relative to a magnetic field, it took the best part of 100 years for large scale electricity generation to happen.

Now it is important that new discoveries or theories are widely published, so that they can be quickly tested. The internet is an aid to quickly and widely publish ideas, and enable scientists on the other side of the world to communicate every day.

New ideas are often controversial and may seem a bit like hokus pokus. The theory of continental drift was rejected for decades, until evidence accumulated in the 1950's to support it. If the internet had been arround at the time, evidence might have accumulated much faster because people would have been more able to communicate.

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