As postulated by Sir Francis Bacon:
- Research the background of the issue you want to address.
- Formulate a testable hypothesis.
- Design an experimental or theoretical investigation to provide a test of the hypothesis.
- Gather data from the investigation.
- Compare the data to the hypothesis. If:
- the data supports the hypothesis, then devise a new, more rigorous test of the hypothesis and repeat. If, after many repetitions, the hypothesis is still supported, then it moves into the realm of scientific “theory.”
- the data does not support the hypothesis, then the hypothesis is rejected. Throw it out and go back to step 2.
I contend that this does not accurately describe the thrust of modern science. Rather, I suggest the following summary:
- Research the background of the issue you want to address. Find a specific question that you want to answer (it need not be a simple yes/no question, either).
- Gather data that may help address the question, in either experimental or theoretical work. (This is, in many ways, an extension of step 1.)
- After you have a body of data, then formulate a hypothetical answer to the question you asked; an answer that fits available data. (I.e., use inductive reasoning.)
- Devise a new test of the predictive power of the hypothesis: If the hypothesis is true, then some other hitherto unknown fact must also be true.
- Carry out the new test. If:
- the new data supports the hypothesis, then continue to devise new, more rigorous tests of the hypothesis and repeat. If, after many repetitions, the hypothesis is still supported, then it moves into the realm of scientific “theory.”
- the new data does not support the hypothesis, then modify the hypothesis to account for the new data as well as previous data. Repeat steps 4-5. If, after many repetitions, data exists that the hypothesis cannot account for even after many modifications, then you must back up further into the process: repeat steps 3-5 (“maybe this other thing is going on, instead…”), then 2-5 (“maybe we need to look more closely at this phenomenon and it will shed light on how we form our hypothesis…”), then 1-5 (“maybe someone else has a better idea than we do…”).