The Scientific Method

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The Scientific Method, as it is understood today, has evolved into a nearly perfect system.  Unfortunately, it is not always used and this is especially true in medicine.   There one routinely finds studies masquerading as actual science.   Over the years, various studies have concluded various things only to have other studies contradict those conclusions.  Unfortunately, a similar failure extends into physics.  Too many physicists have gotten the idea that if the mathematics is elegant, the physics is sound.  They have fallen into the trap of thinking that mathematics and physics are the same thing.  They are not; one is an abstract subject that is extremely useful in many other fields while the other describes reality, the observable.  In mathematics, imaginary numbers, for example, exist; physics deals with the reality of matter, energy, time and space.

The key difference between religion and science is the Scientific Method.  This method can be stated in a number of ways but regardless of how many steps a particular version lists, the Scientific Method can be boiled down into four key steps and one important caveat.

The Scientific Method

  1. Recognition; seeing a phenomenon with no known theory to explain it or seeing something in an existing theory that seems odd.

  2. Formulation; gathering enough information to formulate a hypothesis to explain the phenomenon or to modify an existing theory.

  3. Prediction; working out a testable prediction that if confirmed proves or disproves the hypothesis.

  4. Testing; coming up with and doing an experiment to see if a prediction is true.  Alternatively, looking to see if a predicted phenomenon exists.

The Caveat

As with anything, the Scientific Method is subject to human frailties.  For example, a scientist may have a strong bias for his hypothesis and that fact could impair his judgment.  And then there is the individual who tests a hypothesis who may have strong opinions for or against it and so, part of the Scientific Method is verification; repeating Step #4 in other words.  This should be done by several other scientists.  Supporting this caveat is the ever present possibility that a solitary unbiased scientist could make an error of one kind or another.  With numerous scientists doing the same or similar experiments the likelihood of unseen errors diminishes.

The Work Energy Theorem and the Scientific Method

Historically, the only experiment conducted prior to the general acceptance of Leibniz's proposal was done by Du Châtelet.  No one  repeated the experiment.  When Leibniz's proposal was accepted, it was accepted on the basis that momentum could not represent mechanical energy.  (See the "Explosion Scenario")  This fact, all by itself, should be enough to re-visit how mechanical energy is quantified.

Many physics students witness or do an experiment themselves that, on the surface, seems to confirm the validity of the Work Energy Theorem.  This particular experiment evolved from the statements made by Dr. Thomas Young during his lecture series circa 1805.   This experiment contains an unseen flaw and one that is ironically similar to the mistake Du Châtelet made.  Click on "The Academic Experiment" to see it and an analysis showing its flawed premise and execution.

Many science teachers and physics professors in teaching the Work Energy Theorem show students how to derive its mathematics from Newton's Second Law of Motion and or momentum.   And students being students accept whatever derivation is offered as proof that the Work Energy Theorem is valid.  The problem with this is that the derivation of a new physics phenomenon from one or more existing ones does not qualify as scientific proof according to the Scientific Method.  Such a derivation only qualifies as one of the steps at best, Step #2.   Click on "Deriving the Work Energy Theorem" to see a very simple example based on James Clerk Maxwell's  (1831-1879) version given in his 1877 book, "Matter and Motion". 

 

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