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The Empirical Method

By NAS

May 26, 2019


The Jodrell Bank radio telescope is a tool for using the empirical method

The Scientific Empirical Method 

The term empirical method is defined as being 'based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.'

The following set of rules defines the empirical method: -

  • Observe an event or phenomenon and gather as much information about it as possible. Compare what other people have observed.
  • Identify patterns in the observations and put numbers on the data. When feasible, fit equations to the numbers.
  • Describe the phenomenon, together with mathematics. That description is then a hypothesis.
  • Perform experiments to gather further data to determine how well the hypothesis predicts independent future observations and data. This crucial experimental step ‘closes the loop’ on the hypothesis because, without experimentation, it will be impossible to understand what is happening deeply.
  • If preliminary results differ from those predicted by the hypothesis, then the explanation must be modified or even rejected, with a reexamination of the assumptions made in developing the hypothesis.
  • When the hypothesis successfully predicts the results of more than one experiment, a scientific theory will have been formulated.
  • If two or more theories successfully predict a phenomenon well, choose the most straightforward one. This ‘principle of simplicity’ is the William of Occam approach (1280-1349), so much so that it is known as Ockham’s Razor.” William used an imaginary razor to eliminate unnecessary theories.

It is a method of testing and referring against one’s experience through observation and experiment.


Scientific Advancement

The Safire project uses the  empirical method

Great leaps in science are made by scientists well versed in two or more scientific disciplines and see connections between them. That’s when areas in one field of study become amazingly applicable to those in the other. We witness this occurring today when electricity and magnetism are applied to astrophysics.

Previously, the many astrophysics theories were solely based on the ‘belief’ that gravitational interactions dominate the Universe. With the application of electricity and magnetism, astrophysical phenomena are being looked at in a new light.

What if Statements

“What if” ideas are NOT science. Anyone can develop a “what if” statement that leads to other “what ifs.” They are NOT science because they are NOT verifiable facts. For instance, today, astrophysicists postulate the existence of unseen entities to explain particular observations. They invent dark matter and dark energy to explain the physics of spiral galaxy rotation—these “what ifs” are merely speculation.

Good science demands many reasons and confirmed scientific observations as the foundation for theories and hypotheses. 

“It's impossible to verify or confirm a scientific theory,” said the philosopher Karl Popper.

It's only possible to disprove a theory. No number of observations can confirm a hypothesis. However, just ONE contradictory observation is all that’s needed to refute a hypothesis.

“Good tests falsify theories,” Popper said. The line separating real science and pseudoscience is in the willingness of scientists to make testable predictions. Any theories failing these tests must be rejected.

Discarding a pet theory is sad but necessary. According to the late American physicist Richard Feynman, it makes no difference how good an argument is or how smart the theorist. If it DISAGREES with experiment, it's WRONG.

What astroscientists ought to do is to go into the lab and test their hypotheses.

Unfortunately, today’s astroscientists seem to ignore the empirical scientific method and opt to use the much easier deductive logic-based method. 

Mathematics is NOT science. It's a sequence of logical steps deriving proof leading to a final statement consistent with the initial one. Sets of axioms and the use of logic do NOT necessarily associate with reality. Unless, of course, they can be demonstrated to be associated with it by observation and experiment.

You are now MUCH wiser.

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