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Guide to working scientifically

The hypothesis & variables:


Experimental science is based on investigating hypotheses. These are statements or
predictions about what may be true (educated guesses). Hypotheses can be written, “If
we know A, then if X is changed, Y will happen”, where X and Y are called variables:

 X = the independent variable, or what is manipulated and assumed to affect the


outcome. This is also called the „experimental variable‟ or „treatment‟.
 Y = the dependent variable, or what is measured as an outcome of changing X.
This can be considered as a „treatment effect‟ caused by changing X (i.e. not
due to chance).

Importantly, only 1 independent variable is altered in each experiment, as this


isolates the effect it has on the outcome, and makes writing your report easier (Silyn-
Roberts 2002).

Making a strong hypothesis:


Stanbrough (2007) presented a simple method to test what makes a strong hypothesis
by defining 2 requirements which must be met:

 The hypothesis must be testable. Proposed hypotheses are either confirmed or


disconfirmed by interpreting experimental results.
 The hypothesis must be able to be proved wrong. This property is called
„falsification‟.

The hypothesis, blood is circulated by forces which are physically undetectable, is not
a scientific hypothesis. This is because there is no possible result that could tell
whether it is correct. Statements such as these are speculation and cannot be supported
by science.

The hypothesis, life exists on other planets, can be tested, but is not a scientific
hypothesis. This is because it cannot be proven wrong. Even if endless satellites were
launched to different planets and none of them found any signs of life, this does not
prove that life does not exist on another planet, only that we have found no signs of it.

The hypothesis, increased heart rate will increase blood flow in the aorta, is based on
an understanding of what the heart does and is a scientific hypothesis. It is testable, a
probe can be inserted to measure blood flow in the aorta and the heart rate can be
increased by a variety of stimuli. It is also able to be proven wrong, if blood flow in
the aorta remains constant when heart rate is increased.

You will do a lot of generating hypotheses during this course, and the website by
Stanbrough (2007) should prove to be a valuable resource.

Controls:
Controls are necessary for scientific experiments, they provide points of reference
against which other results can be compared (Johnson and Besselen 2002). You
should become familiar with at least two types of controls:
 Negative control – a value of what happens under normal conditions, without
treatment.
 Positive control – a quantifiable amount of effect from a specific treatment.

If you were designing an experiment to measure changes in breathing rate due to


reduced temperature, breathing rate at ambient temperature (e.g. 23 °C) could act as a
negative control; values at altered temperatures could be compared to this. Breathing
rate at -273 °C (absolute zero) could act as a positive control against which values
could also be compared, because you know exactly how much breathing would occur
at this temperature, before conducting your experiment (none). The reference points
provided by control samples allow scientists to have context for the effects of
treatments.

References:
Johnson, P. D. and D. G. Besselen (2002). "Practical aspects of experimental design
in animal research." Institute for Laboratory Animal Research Journal 43(4):
202-206.
Silyn-Roberts, H. (2002). "Section 2: Writing a Report", in, Writing for science : a
practical handbook for science, engineering and technology students, Prentice
Hall, Auckland, N.Z. :, pp 33-68.
Stanbrough, J. L. (2007). "Hypotheses." Retrieved December 5th, 2007, from
http://www.batesville.k12.in.us/Physics/PhyNet/AboutScience/Hypotheses.ht
ml.