The Real Scientific Method

Dr. Zvi Shkedi

Scientific Research does NOT Begin with a Hypothesis.

"The Scientific Method" requires that all scientific ideas and theories be verified and validated by experiments. A scientific idea or theory must be presented in a form which can be tested by experiments. Such experiments must be capable of validating or refuting the correctness of the idea or theory.

Every experimental result needs to be uniformly reproduced and validated by other experimental scientists in order to be accepted as scientific. Similarly, every suggested theory must be tested and validated by experiments, and be capable of making testable predictions in order to be accepted as a scientific theory.

One concept which can cause great harm to the education of science students is the "hypothesis". A hypothesis is, by definition, based on assumptions or imagination rather than fact or reality. A hypothesis is a form of speculation; an attempt to guess an answer in advance. Speculations are bad enemies of science and are the feedstock of pseudo-science.

In the USA, students are taught that "The Scientific Method" begins with a hypothesis. This is a mistake - a bad educational mistake. Scientific research does NOT begin with a hypothesis. Scientific research begins with curiosity; with a quest and a desire to learn and understand. The author of this article has performed many scientific research experiments; published many articles describing scientific research; and has read hundreds of such articles written by other scientists. Never did a hypothesis appear in any of these publications. Scientists do NOT begin their research with a hypothesis. Scientists begin their research with a quest and a desire to learn and understand. It would be extremely rare to find a scientific publication which contains a hypothesis. In over 30 years of reading scientific publications, in the fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, materials science, and electronics, the author of this article has seen only one such article, and the hypothesis in it was proven by other scientists to be wrong.

The famous scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, said on the subject of hypotheses:
"I do not feign (Feign: fabricate; invent; imagine) hypotheses. For whatever is not deduced from the phenomena must be called a hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, or based on occult qualities, or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy."[1]
Newton, given an opportunity to speculate about his discoveries, would not risk feigning a hypothesis to explain something which he did not understand. Hypotheses have no place in experimental science.

A famous non-scientist who did feign a hypothesis, was Charles Darwin. Darwin had no formal education in science, neither did he ever perform an original scientific experiment. When he published his ideas about evolution, he admitted to them being speculative and "beyond the bounds of true science":
"it is almost incredible to me, for I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science."[2]
"It is a mere rag of an hypothesis with as many flaws and holes as sound parts."[3]
"my work will be grievously hypothetical, and large parts by no means worthy of being called induction, my commonest error being probably induction from too few facts."[4]
Charles Darwin was fully aware of his ideas being speculations, hypothetical, and non-scientific.

Thomas Edison, when he invented the light bulb, did not begin his research with a hypothesis. He began his research with a desire to find a way to convert electric energy into light. He made about 9000 experiments. None of these experiments began with a hypothesis. They began with a question, something like: "Let's see what happens if..." Most of his experiments did not work, yet, none of his experiments was a failure. Each experiment was another step which brought him closer to his goal.

Children can learn science and perform experiments before they learn how to read. Ask a child: "What happens if we put a pot full of ice on fire?" or "What happens to salt or sugar if we drop it in water?" Then, let them perform the experiments on their own. The thrill of discovery is an experience that lasts a lifetime. Don't deny them this thrill. Never give them the answer in advance, nor ask them to guess an answer in advance.

The use of a hypothesis is a detrimental de-motivator to students. Imagine a student, beginning an attempt to discover the freezing temperature of water, with a hypothesis: "I think that water freezes at 41 degrees." How many wrong guesses would it take to frustrate the student? Instead of a hypothesis, let the student pose a question: "What is the freezing point of water?" This makes it much easier and more interesting to design and perform the experiments.

Speculations and hypotheses have no place in science; certainly not in science education. Science teachers need to stop misleading students into believing that scientific research begins with a hypothesis. Science students do not even need to know that the word "hypothesis" exists or what it means. Science classes in elementary school and in high school are not classes in advanced philosophy. It is common practice, in science fairs in schools, to have students begin their presentations by describing their hypothesis. This needs to change. There is no need to teach students how to speculate. There is no need to invent an imaginary answer before they even start their investigation. Scientists do not invent hypotheses; students should neither.

Students need to learn that scientific research begins with curiosity; with a quest and a desire to learn and understand. Let students learn how to develop their scientific curiosity and observation skills. Let students begin their science projects with a question, then proceed to searching for factual, non-speculative, answers.


  1. Isaac Newton, The Principia, a New Translation by Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman. Univ. of California 1999, p. 274-276.
  2. Charles Darwin in a letter to Harvard biology professor Asa Gray. 18 June 1857.
  3. Charles Darwin in a letter to Prof. Thomas Henry Huxley, 2 June 1859.
  4. Charles Darwin, Letter to Asa Gray, 29 November 1859.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The big problem with the "scientific community" is that its academic machiavellism is incompatible with the scientific method. Please check out Pure science Wiki. That is an Internet platform for the real scientific method.

Martin J Sallberg