by J. SCOTT ARMSTRONG AND KESTEN C. GREEN
What is the “Scientific method”?
Saturday’s March for Science calls for “robustly funded” science and “political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.” But is this just an attempt to dress up the marchers’ political beliefs as science? And what do they mean by science?
Fortunately for those who care, there is a remarkable level of agreement in the writings of scientific pioneers such as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Benjamin Franklin on the nature of the scientific method. That agreement is also reflected in the definition provided by the Oxford English Dictionary.
We have expanded on the established definition and identified eight necessary criteria for a work to be considered useful science. The criteria include objectivity and full disclosure. We expect that most scientists would agree with these criteria as obviously true and important.
The pioneers of science charted the way by describing how to comply with the criteria. To be objective, according to Newton, the study should compare all reasonable hypotheses by using a fair and balanced experimental design.
We have summarized the eight criteria on a one-page checklist (available at guidelinesforscience.com). You can easily refer to it to assess whether something you are looking at is a work of science. By using the checklist, you do not have to depend on an authority to tell you “this is what the science says.” Knowing and agreeing with the criteria in the checklist does not help. To be useful, the checklist must be used.
The checklist is concerned only with the scientific method, so one does not need to be an expert in the field or topic to use it. In fact, experts may have difficulty rating the scientific compliance of works in their own field. They are likely to be biased against findings that challenge conventional wisdom.