Nature of Science and Scientific Method

The Nature of Science and the Scientific Method

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Science is a broad subject encompassing the living world, the material world, physical phenomena, planet earth and space. The word science comes from the Latin word “scientia” or “sciens” which means “to know”.

What is Science?

Science is the systematic study of the nature and manner of an object. It uses key skills, such as:

  • observing,
  • hypothesizing,
  • experimentation,
  • measuring,
  • collecting data and
  • reporting

to work out why things happen in the way that they do.

There are four main branches of science.

  1. Physical Science: These are mainly concerned with the study of non-living objects such as planets, molecules, gravity and forces etc. Physical science is divided up into:
  • Astronomy (space)
  • Geology or Geoscience (physical properties and composition of Earth)
  • Chemistry (the composition of substances and how they behave)
  • Physics (the principles that govern matter)


  1. Social Sciences: These sciences are mainly concerned with the study of human behavior and their relationship with society. Areas within social science include:
  • Anthropology (human behavior and development)
  • Sociology (human society)
  • Geology (the earth’s phenomena)
  • Philosophy (the pursuit of knowledge)
  • Economics (consumerism, goods and services)


  1. Biological (or Life) Sciences: This science involves the study of living organisms at all levels of organization.
  • Functional Biology (how a living structure works)
  • Cellular Biology (cells)
  • Botany (plants)
  • Zoology (animals)
  • Ecology (the environment)
  • Paleontology (prehistoric life)


  1. Formal Sciences: These sciences include the study of formal systems and abstract concepts. These include:
  • Mathematics
  • Logic

What is the Nature of Science?

Teaching the Nature of Science and Scientific Method starts with the nature of science which describes the special characteristics, values, and assumptions that scientific knowledge is based on and how that knowledge is developed. There are five main features that describe the nature of Science; these are:

1. Science is tentative:

This means that scientific ideas are constantly being changed, remodeled and upgraded to reflect what we currently understand about a scientific theory.

2. Science is based on empirical evidence:

This means that scientific knowledge is based on true findings which have been derived from observations made of the natural world.

3. Science is inferential, imaginative and creative:

There is not just one way to do science, and no ‘universally accepted scientific method’. Therefore, scientists often must problem solve and tackle their investigation from multiple perspectives. Scientists must also be able to look at the data they have collected and form a conclusion based on what they have observed, this sometimes takes requires some “out of the box” thinking.

4. Science is subjective and based on theory:

This means that science relies heavily on observation, evidence, peer review and rational argument.

5. Science is linked to many societies and cultures:

People from different cultures and different societies have contributed to current scientific knowledge. Therefore, it reflects many social and cultural traditions and or viewpoints.


What is the Scientific Method?

The scientific method is an efficient and organized process to test ideas systematically. It is an experimental step-bystep process for an investigation to collect data and reach a conclusion.

Nature of Science and Scientific Method


Steps in Scientific Method

The scientific method is an ongoing process that includes six main steps.

Each step is related to the others and follows in a sequence. These steps can be used for any scientific inquiry and are as follows:

1. Observation

  • Observing uses your senses to collect data about an object or event. This data may qualitative (descriptive) or quantitative (numerical).

Nature of Science and Scientific Method

2. Questioning

  • All scientific investigations begin with an open-ended question.
  • Sometimes, the question may be written as an aim, which clarifies what you are trying to find out.
  • More often than not, the answer to the question or aim may then lead to more even more questions being asked, leading to further investigations.

Nature of Science and Scientific Method

3. Hypothesis

  • A hypothesis is a prediction that is based on observations and the scientific knowledge that you already have.
  • This information may come through research or as a result of prior knowledge from lessons.
  • A hypothesis must include two variables. The first is the independent variable, which outlines the factor that you plan to change.
  • This variable will have a range of values included. For high school science investigations this should be at least three values, but could be as many as five. For example, if the independent variable is the temperature, the range of values may be 10oC, 20oC, 30oC, 40oC and 50oC.
  • The other variable which must be stated in the hypothesis is the dependent variable. This is the variable which is measured as a result of changing the independent variable. For example, if the independent variable is the temperature, the dependent variable may be the activity level (or reaction rate) of an enzyme.
  • A hypothesis will describe the relationship between the independent and dependent variables.

Nature of Science and Scientific Method

4. Experiment

  • Once a hypothesis has been formulated, a testable method must be designed and then carried out to collect data and determine whether the hypothesis is correct.
  • The experiment must take into consideration other factors which may influence the results of the investigation.
  • These considerations are called controlled variables and must be described carefully in the method.
  • The method must also include multiple tests for each value of the independent variable.

Nature of Science and Scientific Method


5. Interpretation

  • Once all data has been collected, it must be interpreted and organized. This is usually in the form of charts, tables, graphs and sometimes, calculations.
  • Interpreting the data then allows a conclusion to be reached.

Nature of Science and Scientific Method

6. Evaluation

  • The evaluation is the final step in the investigative process.
  • It ties together, the observations and data from the experiment as well as any theories and research that have also be used.
  • The purpose of the evaluation is to critique the findings of the investigation.
  • Often, this critique involves discussion of the reliability of the data and any issues that needed to be overcome to ensure that the experiment was a fair test.

Nature of Science and Scientific Method


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