You Are A Scientist


I worry about the bad press science regularly gets. It seems to me, from some of the crap that’s written and said, that many folk have no idea what science is. Please allow me to set the record straight.
Science is a tool kit; a method of enquiry. We ALL use it.
For example: imagine you decide to make a cuppa. You fill the kettle, switch it on, and nothing happens.  What would you do next?  You might pray for divine intervention or wonder why you had been so cursed.  But I think both of these are unlikely.  I’m guessing your actions would go something like:

1. Fiddle with the switch, to see if there was a dodgy connection.

2. Try plugging into a different socket, to see if the socket was the source of the problem.

3. Try plugging another (known to be working) appliance into the original socket, reason as #2.

4. Either swap the plug fuse or use another lead, to test for a blown fuse.

5. If still nothing, conclude that it’s probably a burnt out heating element.

6. Buy a new kettle.

The above process is science.  Sure, the activities usually labeled so are often a lot more elaborate.  Uncovering why a particular neuron fires is more challenging than kettle failure and the experiment design reflects that.  But the logical process is essentially the same.  We try to reduce the variables, measure the results of minimal variation, and then construct a theory of that could explain those results.

One word in the last sentence is key: “theory”.  Science is about explaining how things could work.  We put together explanations that fit the facts or data that we have.  But nothing is ever “cast in stone”.  SCIENCE IS NOT ABOUT PROOF.  Just as the above example, burnt out element is not the only possible explanation that fits the facts.  It could be a broken cable or a loose connection in the handle or any number of other things, all of which are testable, given the time, tools and electrical competence.

Folk like to use “scientific proof” but it is an oxymoron: there is no such thing.  I wince whenever I hear it.  And please don’t bother to tell me that (some) scientists use the phrase: I know.  I can only say they should be ashamed of themselves.


About micklively

Fifty-something, pacifist, six sigma black belt, lean implementer, brewer, vintner, guitarist, wood-turner, and slave to collies.
This entry was posted in experiment, proof, science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to You Are A Scientist

  1. Pingback: Reclassify. | Live Love Laugh

  2. observer says:

    Perhaps all of us do not use the scientific approach.

    A religious approach could be take the broken kettle as a sign from God you have been drinking too much tea and must stop drinking tea (substitute beverage of choice made using the kettle if tea is not appropriate). In this case it may not matter if the fault lies with the kettle or the power socket as the message is unaltered.

    Another, and perhaps more popular approach would be the agony Aunt/Uncle approach seeing this as an opportunity to declare that faulty kettles are the result of all the worlds manufacture being moved to China and that in the old days the element was coiled wire and you could repair the element yourself.

    Other ideas?

    • micklively says:

      I don’t believe that even the most devout would follow your first suggestion.
      There are those who might follow your second but in addition, rather than alternative, to discovering the source of the fault.
      Many thanks for your feedback.

  3. Arkenaten says:

    The light on my kettle went out three days ago – I am serious – and no amount of fiddling screwing or gentle slapping would get it to work. IN THE BIN.

    Now , to me, this is Proof that the kettle was bust. So there …. what do you know , hey? 😉

    • micklively says:

      Words fail me Ark. 😉

      • Arkenaten says:

        We haven’t bought a new one yet.
        The missus informs me she wants to try some place that specializes in ”seconds” as her mate picked up a microwave dirt cheap and she wants one too.
        So she’s waiting until her friend’s afternoon off work and then she’s going barnstorming for electrical goods – apparently.
        Meantime I am using an old beat up silver kettle brought up to Johannesburg by the bloody Voortrekkers from Cape Town.
        I think the kettle gave up the ghost because it is the wrong colour.

        I shall make sure she looks for a red one …. or something.
        A much more scientific colour.

        • micklively says:

          My knowledge of Sarth Ifrikan history is pretty thin so Voortrekker white goods are beyond me. Did they bring power stations too?
          My gut tells me that your judgement that red is a scientific colour must be correct, though I can’t, for the life of me, imagine why.
          Keep smiling!

I will be pleased to read your thoughts, even if you don't agree.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s