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Problem Solving in Fire Investigations HANDOUT 2

Problem Solving in Fire Investigations HANDOUT 2

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Published by Mark
Handout Packet for 2012 Fire Prevention Institute Session - Fire Investigation Problem Solving
Handout Packet for 2012 Fire Prevention Institute Session - Fire Investigation Problem Solving

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Published by: Mark on Oct 21, 2012
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Problem Solving in Fire Investigations
Student Handout
towards more of ascience-based profession, most investigators are embracing the meth-odology suggested in the scientific method as the process one can usein answering questions as to the origin and cause of a fire or explosion.Where there have been numerous articles explaining the procedureas to what are the steps and how testing is done, there has been littleexplanation of what is behind the terms, hypothesis and hypothesistesting. As our knowledge increases, we develop a better understand-ing that allows one to be more comfortable in performing to process.The purpose behind the development and testing of a hypothesis is toassist the investigator in lowering his or her potential error rate whenreaching a conclusion. Different documents are not uniform regard-ing the number of steps in the scientific method, but they all contain basic components the investigator must complete if the process is to be valid. Phrases used in describing the procedure “Developing a Hy- pothesis,” and “Testing Your Hypothesis” has become synonymouswith the proper procedures to be followed in reaching a conclusion.When it comes to the word “Hypothesis” or the term, “Testing aHypothesis” investigators, like many other persons first hearing theseterms, do not understand the meaning, and therefore take a negative position when hearing it used. Like anything new there is a hesitantin accepting and working within the process. It is natural with any process; the more comfortable a person is, the more the acceptablethat person is to performing the task in a specific way. It is for thisreason, it is important for the investigator, not only have a good work-ing knowledge about how to perform the task, but understand the rea-soning behind the tasks. To do this one needs to answer the followingquestions. What is a “Hypothesis,” and what does the term “Testingthe Hypothesis mean? A hypothesis is nothing more than a suggestedexplanation of an event or reasoned proposal suggesting a possiblecorrelation between multiple events that took place ending with theincident taking place. The hypothesis testing process is nothing morethan a tool available to assist the investigator in reaching the correctconclusion as to the cause of the incident. The objective of the testing process is to reach a point that after all testing there is no negativeinfluence on the final hypothesis because of the testing. It is under-stood that through the testing process, some testing will disprove thesuggested hypothesis, but the important factor is, when this process isused and the testing cannot disprove the hypothesis the investigator then has a viable explanation for what took place during the fire or explosion incident.For a hypothesis to be valid, it must be testable through experi-ment or a cognitive process
. Everyone knows the meaning of theword experiment, but how many understand the meaning of the word“Cognitive”? With one’s use of the scientific method in conducting theinvestigations of different incidents, one will hear and see the word“Cognitive” many times where there is a discussion of hypothesis test-ing. The cognitive process is the manipulation of events, concepts,images, thoughts or other symbolic material in the mind. The cogni-tive process is the higher mental processes of reasoning, planning and problem solving
. This is nothing more than a systematic progressionfrom “Testing the Hypothesis,” to “Cognitive Process” and finely tothe meat of the subject “Problem Solving.” The investigation of a fireis nothing more than solving a specific problem through the identifica-tion of the reason for the incident. Now we take this process one-stepfurther when it comes to the scientific method of problem solving,here there are three components to address, the collection of data, thedevelopment of a hypothesis, and the testing of the hypothesis. It must be recognized that not all persons perform the functions necessary tocomplete these tasks in the same way, and the difference in the waythe task is preformed, in most case, does not have a direct relationshipto the accuracy of the findings.Any hypotheses, which one expresses as being a scientific hy- pothesis, must be testable within the abilities of science, because,without the support of science, the hypothesis remains simply an ideawithout use
. The hypothesis one develops after collecting all avail-able data must also predict that certain events will occur if certainevents take place within a specific time and order. Once there is ahypothesis, there needs to be a method to determine if this hypothesisis supportable, and to do this we test the hypothesis with the idea of disproving the hypothesis. In the general scientific community, thereis a consensus of the theory that proof in science cannot be attained,however the more critical the test that the hypothesis passes, the moreconfidence we can have in the hypothesis
.When a fire investigator develops a single idea, model, or hypoth-esis to explain a set of observations, it must be understood that thismethod is fraught with many pitfalls that can lead to incorrect conclu-sions. First, a fire investigator with a single hypothesis is like a henwith one chick, she defends this one chick because it is the only onethat she possesses. Second, data that does not fit the hypothesis is easyto ignore because there is no other place to use it, and this can leadto the discarding of correct data. The data collected must support thehypothesis, yet the investigator must understand the best-supportedhypothesis can still fail on a single critical observation. Third, a fireinvestigator with a single hypothesis has his or her ego at stake, andthus resists counter hypotheses made by other investigators or dataavailable. Because fire investigators are like everyday people, whenit comes to their egos, there is resistance to alternative hypotheses,resulting in a loss of objectivity, and sometimes bitterness ensue andcontroversy abound when others try to disprove that individual’s hy- pothesis
By—James L. Mazerat and Robert A. Green
It is very important for one to understand that in testing a hy- pothesis, one can only disprove the hypothesis, and the hypothesisitself can never be proven correct beyond all doubt. Not disprovingthe hypothesis through testing does not guarantee the hypothesis iscorrect, because the results of testing only mean the data used in thetesting process was insufficient to disprove the hypothesis at the timeof the testing
. Albert Einstein, because of his profession as an inven-tor, had much experience with the development and testing processwhen it came to a hypothesis, and in doing so he said,
“No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”
One only need to look at the changes brought aboutdue to the advancement of science over the last couple of decades tounderstand how the development of new facts to be used in the test of an accepted hypothesis will now prove that hypothesis incorrect.In reaching a conclusion, the investigator must be satisfied he or she did everything possible to determine that none of the availabledata will disprove their hypothesis. In the testing process, an investi-gator can use information from many different sources to conduct thisevaluation. The investigator can discuss the options with others intheir profession, conduct experiments, or conduct research based onwork produced by others, because, the more diverse the sources oneuses in conducting evaluations or testing, the greater the anticipateddegree of accuracy in the hypothesis test process. Many investigatorsfail to think outside the box, and design the testing of their hypothesison a specific document, such as NFPA 921. While different schools, books, and other documents will aid an investigator in evaluating ahypothesis, these sources may not contain all the information avail-able on the subject. Because each incident is so specific, there is littlechance one book or a document will give the investigator all the infor-mation needed to develop and then conduct the testing of the hypoth-esis. As one finds disagreement in different test, it is also a miscon-ception for an investigator to believe it is possible to get everyone toagree with the hypothesis developed. There will always be someonewho will disagree with the hypothesis developed by the investigator,for the reason that fire investigation is not an exact science, and itis not possible to replicate what took place during an incident. Thisoccurs because of the factor that one must use their perception of their observations to reach a hypothesis, and two people have differ-ent perceptions after viewing the same object; there will always be the potential for disagreement.The best process to use when developing a hypothesis is the“Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses,” which contain simulta-neous and continuous development and testing of a number of hy- potheses. The method of multiple working hypotheses is when a fireinvestigator thinks of all possible hypotheses that might account for his or her observations, and then goes on to test each one that has been developed. When it comes to testing each hypothesis developedthrough your observations at the scene, it is not necessary that there be a physical testing process for each one. While you are performingany task, your brain is constantly gathering information based on your observations, testing this data using data it has stored, and then reach-ing a conclusion. The testing is all taking place in your mind, and thisto some extent takes place as you conduct your investigation. Usingthis method of continuous multiple working hypotheses the investiga-tor is attaching his or her ego, not to a single hypothesis, but to thedevelopment and testing of all of the possible hypotheses.The importance of understanding this methodology is the mostefficient known method of advancing science through hypothesisand theories. Because it is accepted that one can never prove the hy- pothesis and theories in science only disprove them, the true answer may never be attainable, but the supporting evidence, resistance todisproof, and the logical data from the findings that fit with other scientific knowledge on the subject can provide the investigator witha specific degree of confidence in the conclusion. By elevating thedegree of confidence about a conclusion, a fire investigator can makea valuable decision about the issues even if an answer does not have ahigh level of certainty
.Remembering one only develops a hypothesis only after evaluat-ing all available data, and then from this information the person has anumber of different ways to test the hypothesis. There are three waysfor one to go about in disproving a hypothesis. These are:1. What is found contradicts the hypothesis.2. In replicating the event, the same base data fails to repro-duce the same event.3. It is supplanted by a new hypothesis, which explains moreof the data, or explains the same data more elegantly
.If fire investigation were a pure science, which allowed a controlof all environments making replication possible, it would be easy totest a hypothesis by running a test using the same data. The idea of this type of testing being practical can be determined through the re-sults of the testing conducted by Daniel Madrzykowski at the NationalInstitute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In the report, he indi-cates it was not possible to produce general pattern consensus whilereproducing the same scenario. There were cases where the replicatedexperiments also produced some significant differences in the severityof burning, locations of patterns and types of patterns present
.If all testing of a hypothesis is done with the intention of disprov-ing the hypothesis, then a single test, if confirmed, may disprove ahypothesis, but it cannot prove the hypothesis to be correct. A givenseries of tests may corroborate the hypothesis, but a subsequent ex- periment under different conditions may disprove it. With this being possible, there always exists the possibility that even though one per-forms all the testing possible to confirm his or her hypothesis, another  person can develop new test criteria that disproves the hypothesis. It isfor this reason, no matter what the status of the investigation; one must be willing to re-evaluate the hypothesis using the different criteria.It is a consensus in the scientific community that there is no abso-lute knowledge in science, there is only progress, which is optimisti-cally a progression towards a more complete and accurate understand-ing of the event. From our past, we have seen many times that newobservations will cause changes in current scientific opinions, or thedevelopment of better theories. Some hypotheses offer such strong predictions, and withstand testing for such a long period of time, thatdata becomes generally accepted, first as “theories” and then as “lawsof science.” However, even these are not “absolute,” In that a sci-entific law is just a “very strongly supported inference.” We do notknow, with any degree of certainty that any one theory or hypothesiswill survive in the light of new data or technology. As an example, for how many years were we taught the certainty that Pluto was a planet?Until recently, this hypothesis was correct, but now there are a number of scientists claiming there is new data that does in fact disprove thishypothesis. Presently, others are testing the data used to develop their hypothesis on the subject.An investigator must be careful when evaluating his or othershypothesis not to let a bias interfere with how the hypothesis tested
.There are a number of different kinds of bias for the investigator torecognize if the assessment of the hypothesis is to be valid, and for thisreason, the person conducting the evaluation of the hypothesis musttake time to consider their process and determine if any of these biasesare present before conducting the review
.Another bias is known as “Anchoring,” which is a term used in psychology to describe the tendency persons have to rely heavily, or “anchor,” on one piece of information or knowledge when conductingan evaluation of their own or another’s hypothesis. During the normalevaluation process, individuals will find themselves anchoring their 

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