Things We Thought Were True Before the Scientific Method
Girls with cameras monitoring their brainwaves

Experiments! A critical part of the scientific method. These young women participate in an experiment that's designed to monitor their brainwaves while watching TV commercials.

© David Levenson/Corbis

Historically speaking, science has dragged us out of some pretty embarrassing and dangerous parties. Hey, science can identify. It dabbled in some pretty far-out ideas in its youth, too.

Ask science about some of its more embarrassing moments, and it will probably bore you with some lecture about how it used to totally be into logic and deduction (a top-down approach that infers specific cases from general principles), but then matured and got into induction (a bottom-up approach that draws broad conclusions from many observations).

Of course, science will downplay how long and embarrassing that adolescence actually was. Its dalliance with the it's-so-wrong-but-feels-so-right natural philosophy of Aristotle outlasted the Dark Ages by centuries. In fact, science didn't really shake its (literal) demons until a 16th-century intervention by Galileo, who hit it with some shattering observations, and by Francis Bacon, who made it take a hard look at itself. After that, science moved out of its parents' basement, boxed up its astrology posters and got a 9-to-5 job doing evidence-based inquiry via observations, hypotheses, data gathering, experimentation and testing, aka the scientific method.

But it had some great stories to tell.