Good Science vs Bad Science

Science follows certain rules and guidelines based upon the scientific method which says that you must:

  1. ask a question

  2. do some background research

  3. construct a hypothesis

  4. test your hypothesis by doing an experiment

  5. analyze the data from the experiment and draw a conclusion regarding the hypothesis that you tested

  6. if your experiment shows that your hypothesis is false, think some more and go back to step 3

  7. if your experiment shows that your hypothesis is true communicate your results.

There are many steps along the way to getting to a result and then communicating those results and there are many pitfalls along that road. The first pitfall comes from our very nature as humans and the fact that science is a human endeavor. In our eagerness to prove or disprove something that we are passionate about we may unwittingly skip a step, discredit an observation or overemphasize an observation, take shortcuts to proper methodology or construct a weak test of the hypothesis. We may interject opinions into our observations and treat them as facts and we may, often without realizing it, start with a conclusion instead of a hypothesis and then design a “study” that proves the conclusion. This is why a most important part of good science is that the work be published. If it is not published then no one can try to reproduce it and prove that the conclusions are valid. And in good science, if others cannot reliably duplicate the findings using the same methods then there is reason to doubt that the hypothesis has been proven and the hypothesis must be considered to be invalid.

The good scientist is also their own greatest critic. Noted American physicist Richard Feynman (1918 – 1988) is noted for saying, “…if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it; other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.”

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