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'Myth' of the Scientific Method

You learn the scientific method in elementary school. You make an observation, which leads to a hypothesis. You test the hypothesis by gathering data and then accept, reject, or refine the hypothesis, which then leads to the development of new theories and observations that set the cycle off again.

But at the Crux, Daniel Thurs writes that the scientific method is "a myth." In an excerpt from an essay appearing in Newton's Apple and Other Myths About Science, he writes that he scientific method is instead a rhetorical device.

"Granted, that may not appear to be good news at first, but it actually is," Thurs argues. "The scientific method as rhetoric is far more complex, interesting, and revealing than it is as a direct reflection of the ways scientists work."

He traces the adoption of the term in the English-speaking world and follows how it has then been used in public discourse. By the early 20th century, he says the phrase had acquired multiple meanings, enabling it to be a useful tool.

"The scientific method remained the only stable bridge to make what happened in the lab relevant to the realm of ordinary life," Thurs says. "It showed why science was important and provided an outlet for harnessing that importance, one open even to the average citizen otherwise bewildered by scientific information.

It, he adds, developed an appearance of prestige, though he notes it lost some of it in the middle of the 20th century as it came under scrutiny as inflexible.

"Still, the scientific method did what keywords are supposed to do," Thurs adds. "It didn't reflect reality — it helped create it. It helped to define a vision of science that was separate from other kinds of knowledge, justified the value of that science for those left on the outside, and served as a symbol of scientific prestige."