How the Scientific Method Works


Limitations of the Scientific Method

Clearly, the scientific method is a powerful tool, but it does have its limitations. These limitations are based on the fact that a hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable and that experiments and observations be repeatable. This places certain topics beyond the reach of the scientific method. Science cannot prove or refute the existence of God or any other supernatural entity. Sometimes, scientific principles are used to try to lend credibility to certain nonscientific ideas, such as intelligent design. Intelligent design is the assertion that certain aspects of the origin of the universe and life can be explained only in the context of an intelligent, divine power. Proponents of intelligent design try to pass this concept off as a scientific theory to make it more palatable to developers of public school curriculums. But intelligent design is not science because the existence of a divine being cannot be tested with an experiment.

Science is also incapable of making value judgments. It cannot say global warming is bad, for example. It can study the causes and effects of global warming and report on those results, but it cannot assert that driving SUVs is wrong or that people who haven't replaced their regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs are irresponsible. Occasionally, certain organizations use scientific data to advance their causes. This blurs the line between science and morality and encourages the creation of "pseudo-science," which tries to legitimize a product or idea with a claim that has not been subjected to rigorous testing.

And yet, used properly, the scientific method is one of the most valuable tools humans have ever created. It helps us solve everyday problems around the house and, at the same time, helps us understand profound questions about the world and universe in which we live.

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Sources

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  • Introduction to the Scientific Method on Web Site of Frank Wolfs, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester. http://teacher.pas.rochester.edu/phy_labs/AppendixE/AppendixE.html
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