Research Report #8:
Science & the Scientific Method Are Essentially a Problem Solving Process
Importance of the Scientific Method
The fact that science is basically a problem solving process has not been taught enough and thus the public is not sufficiently familiar with this concept. Science is its method so it follows naturally that the scientific method is a problem solving method. Keep this in mind at all times and you have the main big picture of science – that science is its method.
Here are a few quotes to support this:
From The Nature of Scientific Thought (1963) by Marshall Walker
The scientific method is a survival technique that first appeared in primitive form in the first organism that included a memory. As the brain and nervous system increased in complexity through evolutionary processes, the sophistication of the scientific method increased. Man has the most complex brain and nervous system known, and the scientific method in its most sophisticated form is used by man as he strives for survival and comfort.
From The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) by Thomas S. Kuhn
Because the unit of scientific achievement is the solved problem and because the group knows well which problems have already been solved, few scientists will easily be persuaded to adopt a viewpoint that again opens to question many problems that had previously been solved. Nature itself must first undermine professional security by making prior achievements seem problematic. Furthermore, even when that has occurred and a new candidate for paradigm has been evoked, scientists will be reluctant to embrace it unless convinced that two all-important conditions are being met. First, the new candidate must seem to resolve some outstanding and generally recognized problem that can be met in no other way. Second, the new paradigm must promise to preserve a relatively large part of the concrete problem-solving ability that has accrued to science through its predecessors.
Teaching the Scientific Method
A strange situation exists. The scientific method is essentially the best and most reliable of all problem solving and decision making methods, but because of misunderstandings about it, the scientific method is hardly taught at all in our schools, including colleges and universities. This situation is what I have termed
The Biggest Educational and Intellectual Blunder in History
If I am correct about this, then great opportunities are available to our educators, organizations, and people to take actions to correct the situation.
Here is one of many quotations on the need to teach problem solving skills those interested in education will be especially interested in. It is from the famous report “A Nation at Risk” (1983).
The curriculum in the crucial eight grades leading to the high-school years should be specifically designed to provide a sound base for study in those and later years in such areas as English language development and writing, computational and problem-solving skills, science, social studies, foreign language, and the arts. These years should foster an enthusiasm for learning and the development of the individual’s gifts and talents.
Here is a quotation about the need in organizations, business, industry and the professions from Brain Power: Learn to Improve Your Thinking Skills by Karl Albrecht (1980):
Although I favor training managers and professional people in the broad gamut of clear thinking skills, the two functional thinking skills of problem solving and idea production merit the greatest emphasis in a business-oriented training course. A manager who can learn to use an overall problem-solving model in personal thinking as well as in group problem-solving activities can make much more effective decisions than managers typically do, and the consequences can often contribute directly to increased profitability.
Scientific Method for Kids
John Holt’s statement in Learning All the Time (1989):
Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. The process by which children turn experience into knowledge is exactly the same, point for point, as the process by which those whom we call scientists make scientific knowledge. Children observe, they wonder, they speculate, and they ask themselves questions. They think up possible answers, they make theories, they hypothesize, and then they test theories by asking questions or by further observations or experiments or reading. Then they modify the theories as needed, or reject them, and the process continues. This is what in “grown-up” life is called the – capital S, capital M – Scientific Method. It is precisely what these little guys start doing as soon as they are born. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process, we disturb it. If we continue this long enough, the process stops. The independent scientist in the child disappears.