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Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking
Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking
Why Scientific Thinking?
Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.
The Elements of Scientific Thought
Scientific Purpose of Points ofView Scientific frame of Thinking reference, Scientific Implications and Consequences
goal, perspective, objective orientation
Scientific thinking is that mode of thinking - about any scientific subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.
Scientific Question at Issue
A well cultivated scientific thinker: • raises vital scientific questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely; • gathers and assesses relevant scientific data and informa tion, using abstract ideas to interpret them effectively; • comes to well-reasoned scientific conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards; • thinks openmindedly within convergent systems of scien tific thought, recognizing and assessing scientific assump tions, implications, and practical consequences; and • communicates effectively with others in proposing solu tions to complex scientific problems. Scientific thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities as well as a commitment to developing scientific skills, abilities, and dispositions.
02006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www.critiea/thinking. org
data, facts, observations,
Used with Sensitivity to Universal Intellectual Standards
Accuracy Precision Relevance
Foundation for Critical Thinking
solve some scientific PROBLEM. • Consider alternative concepts or alternative definitions of concepts. 7) All scientific reasoning contains INFERENCES or INTERPRETATIONS by which we draw scientific CONCLUSIONS and give meaning to scientific data. • Distinguish your purpose from related purposes. • Express the question in several ways to clarify its meaning and scope. accurate. • Restrict your claims to those supported by the data you have. • Break the question into sub-questions. • Check inferences for their consistency with each other. and shaped by. • Make sure you have gathered sufficient data. to settle some scientific QUESTION. 8) All scientific reasoning leads somewhere or has IMPLICATIONS and CONSEQUENCES. • Determine if the question has one right answer. o 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www. INFORMATION. • Take time to state your purpose clearly. 2) All scientific reasoning is an attempt to figure something out.org . 4) All scientific reasoning is done from some POINT OF VIEW.org i i • Consider all possible implications. 6) All scientific reasoning is expressed through.4 Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking 5 A Checklist for Scientific Reasoning 1) All scientific reasoning has a PURPOSE. and relevant to the question at issue. • Identify your point of view. • Take time to clearly and precisely state the question at issue. I I o 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www. or requires reasoning from more than one hypothesis or point of view. • Choose realistic scientific purposes. • Make sure you are using concepts and theories with care and precision. • Trace the implications and consequences that follow from your data and reasoning. • Seek other scientific points of view and identify their strengths as well as weaknesses. • Search for data that opposes your position as well as alternative theories. Make sure it is scientific. 5) All scientific reasoning is based on scientific DATA. • Make sure that all data used is clear. • Clearly identify your assumptions and determine whether they are justifiable. 3) All scientific reasoning is based on ASSUMPTIONS.critlcalthinklng. • Search for negative as well as positive implications. • Consider how your assumptions are shaping your point of view.criticalthinking. • Identify key scientific concepts and explain them clearly. • Identify assumptions which led you to your conclusions. scientific CONCEPTS and THEORIES. • Infer only what the data implies. • Check periodically to be sure you are still on target. and EVIDENCE.
the experimenter sets up the experiment so as to maintain control over all likely causal factors being examined. which seem to most directly cause the phenomena. They Seek to Formulate Physical Laws. They Observe. the greater the pressure the less the volume . They Design Experiments. 1. As a result of this belief. upon the belief that the same cause operating under the same conditions. (Can we state the precise quantitative relationship in the form of a law?) The quantitative cause-effect relationship.crltica/thinking. This relationship is known as C 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www. (When we isolate potential causal factors. Explain. (What conditions seem to affect the phenomena we are observing?) In order to determine the causal relations of physical occurrences or phenomena. ) Scientific Thinking Seeks to Quantify. will result in the same effects at any time. They Strive for Exact Measurement.the greater the volume the less the pres sure. For example. 3. scientists seek to identify factors that affect what they are studying.. it is found that for a constant mass of gas. (What are the precise quantitative relationships between essential factors and their effects?) Scientists seek to determine the exact quantitative relationships between essential factors and resulting effects.6 Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking 7 Questions Using the Elements of Scientific Thought (in a scientific paper. and Predict Relationships in Nature Scientific thinking is based on a belief in the intelligibility of nature. scientists pursue the following goals.org . at a constant temperature. and which do not?) In scientific experiments. 2. 4. theory.. is known as a physical law. with its limitations clearly specified. in other words. that is.crltica/thlnking. or principle here? Can I explain the relevant theory? Assumptions What am I taking for granted? What assumption has led me to that conclusion? 1m I' tl s! What are the implications of the data I have pica on collected? What are the implications of my Consequences inferences? Points of View From what point of view am I looking at this issue? Is there another point of view I should consider? C 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www. the volume is inversely related to the pressure applied to it.org Scientific Purpose Scientific Questions What am I trying to accomplish? What is my central aim? My purpose? What question am I raising? What problem am I addressing? Scientific Information Scientific Inferences! Conclusions Scientific Concepts What data am I using in coming to that conclusion? What information do I need to settle the question? How did I reach this conclusion? Is there another way to interpret the information? What is the main concept. This relationship is constant for most gases within a moderate range of pressure. Experimenters then isolate each variable and observe its effect on the phenomena being studied to determine which factors are essential to the causal effect.
which of course they do. etc. Wesley Hiler. and an increase in B causes a decrease in A. thus bringing more oxygen into the lungs and blood stream. There are species where one female lays thousands of eggs. which causes more B. Positive feedback causality takes place in auditoriums where the microphone is placed too near a speaker.8 Miniature Guide on SCientific Thinking Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking 9 Boylels Law. To illustrate the difference. When more oxygen is needed.crlticalthinking. let us consider the relationship between smoking and lung cancer. 4. 3. 'Linear causality: where A causes B. Positive feedback in the form of 'vicious circle' interactions is a major cause of both domestic violence and war. Chain reaction causality takes place where cell division enables a tiny fertilized egg to grow into an elephant. other things held constant. 6. gases are aggregates of discrete molecules that incessantly fly about and collide with them selves and the wall of the container that holds them. 'Chain reaction causality: such as takes place in explosions: a small initial cause. They Study Related or Similar Phenomena. o 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www. If a generalization is formulated. but B has no effect on A. They Seek to Test. 8. 3) necessary and sufficient causes. I) If smoking were a sufficient cause of lung cancer. Scientific Thinking Requires Precision* To be Precise in Speaking of causal Relationships. It states that every portion of matter attracts every other portion with a force directly proportional to the product of the two masses. Positive feedback which produces desirable results is referred to as a 'benign circle' interaction. 'Negative feedback causality: such as takes place in the homeostatic mecha nisms throughout the body. Another set of distinctions essential to precise scientific thinking are the following: linear.criticalthinking. relatively constant. An example of linear causality would be the effect of the sun on the temperature of the earth. the kinetic theory of gas was formulated to explain what is documented in Boyle's Law. can we make a generalization that covers them a1l1) A study of many related or similar phenomena is typically carried out to determine whether a generalization or hypothesis can be formulated that accounts for. and 4) contributory causes. The Law of Gravitation. Sunshine warms up the earth. 5. General physical laws and comprehensive physical theories are broadly applicable in predicting and explaining the physical world. 2. Modify. extending it to all known phenomena to which it may have any relation. Scientjsts Seek to Establish General Physical Laws as well as Comprehensive Physical Theories. It is a physical J. Scientists must Distinguish Between Different forms of such Relationships For example. and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two. One way of analyzing causality is to consider the following four categories: I.org . or explains. 'Circular causality: takes place in vicious circle interaction. but it does not explain the relationship. scientists test. 3) If smoking were both a sufficient and necessary cause. (When we examine many related or similar phenomena.org o 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www. modify. Negative feedback causal ity is found in all the thousands of homeostatic mechanisms of our bodies which keep temperature. They Formulate General Hypotheses or Physical Theories. etc. the greater the number of collisions against the surfaces of the space. The smaller the space they are forced to occupy. everyone who smoked. It holds that all species of plants and animals develop from earlier forms by hereditary transmission of slight variations in successive generations and that natural selection deter mines which forms will survive. restricting its use where necessary. Each person's reaction to the other person's anger generates more anger until an explosion of anger takes place. and Refine Hypotheses. and these produce thousands more. we breathe faster. until the system breaks down or reaches a level of maximum effect. only smokers would get lung cancer. where A causes B. An example is loving behavior which is recip rocated and intensifies the feelings of love. or broaden ing its use in suggesting and predicting new phenomena.gw because it defines a cause effect relationship. and refine it through comprehensive study and experimentation. everyone who smoked would get lung cancer. 2) If smoking were a necessary cause of lung cancer. hormone levels. them all. smokers would have a higher rate of lung cancer than non-smokers . such as a tiny spark. A load tone is produced. non-smokers would never get it. oxygen level. According to this theory. * This page and the next were originally formulated by Dr. When possible. one set of distinctions essential to precise scientific thinking are the following: I) sufficient causes. 4) If smoking were a contributing cause of lung cancer. is a general physical law. can start a chain reaction in which each reaction sets off many other reactions. A theoretical generalization is formulated (if one is found to be plausible). and chain reaction causality. Soon a few germs will spread throughout the body. which in turn produces an increase in A. such that an equilibrium is established. where A causes B. 7. 2) necessary causes. and only those who smoked would get lung cancer. but the earth's temperature has virtually no effect on the sun. Darwin's Theory of Evolution is a comprehensive physical theory.. Another example of a chain reaction is the reproduction of bacteria where each cell divides every few minutes. circular. For example. for example. blood sugar.
criticalthinking. we cannot tell anything about it because we don't yet know what it is saying.10 Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking 11 Experimental Thinking Requires Experimental Controls To maintain control over all likely casual factors being examined." their defense would be clear." Precision: Could you give me more details? Could you be more specific? A statement can be both clear and accurate. but not relevant to the question at issue. or situation. In fact." (We don't know how hot it is. commuting. These variables would have to be controlled in some way before one could conclude that drinking red wine lowers the incidence of heart attacks. (For example. experimenters isolate each variable and observe its effects on the phenomena being studied to determine which factors are essen tial to the causal effects. Often. but not precise. Accuracy: Is that really true? How could we check that? How could we find out if that is true? A statement can be clear but not accurate. and tell the other group to drink apple juice. for example diet. We could also take a group of patients who have had a heart attack. while only one of the variables is truly respon sible for the effect. Can we conclude from this statistical study that the regular drinking of moderate amounts of red wine can prevent the occurrence of heart attacks? No. we focus here on some of the most significant: Clarity: Could you elaborate further on that point? Could you express that point in another way? Could you give me an illustration? Could you give me an example? Clarity is a gateway standard. Experiments Can Go Awry When Scientists Fail to Control for Confounded Variables. as in "Most creatures with a spine are over 300 pounds in weight.) o 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www.criticalthinking. After a number of years we could compare the rate of incidence of heart attacks in the two groups. as in "The solution in the beaker is hot. at one time many intelligent people believed the earth was flat. but irrelevant. issue.org . and sufficiently precise.) Relevance: How is that connected to the question? How does that bear on the issue? A statement can be clear. While there are a number of universal standards. it has been found that in France. air pollution. etc. and instruct one half to drink a little red wine every day. we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. If a person who believed in astrology defended his/her view by saying "Many intelligent people believe in astrology. because there are many other differences between the life styles of people in France and those in northern Europe. where people drink a lot of red wine. the incidence of heart attacks is lower than in countries of northern Europe where red wine is less popular. smoking.org o 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www. accurate. If a statement is unclear. Or we might study northern Europeans who drink red wine and see if the incidence of heart attack is lower among them than among northern Europeans who do not drink red wine. climate. One or more of these confounded variables might be the actual cause of the low incidence of heart attacks in France. A possible experimental design would be to compare Frenchmen who drink red wine with those who drink no alcohol at all or drink beer . a range of variables are 'associated' with a given effect. inherited pre-disposi tions. accu rate. work habits. For example. and precise. Universal Intellectual Standards Essential to Sound Scientific Thinking Universal intellectual standards are standards which must be applied to thinking whenever one is interested in checking the quality of reasoning about a problem.making sure that these groups do not differ on any other measurable variables. These other variables are 'associated' or 'confounded' with the red wine variable. To think scientifically entails having command of these standards.
accurate.? Are these two theories consistent? Is this implied by the data we have? Significance Is this the central idea to focus on? Which set of data is most important? [ Fairness J Do I have a vested Inte.om anothe' pe"pertlve? Do we need to consider another point of view? Do we need to look at this in other ways? .criticalthinking.e data? How could we verify or test that theory? Precision Breadth: Do we need to consider another point of view? Is there another way to look at this question? What would this look like from the point of view of a conflicting theory. both consistent with available evidence). When we think. J Me all the datacon. the theory (hypothesis) which implied them may itself be accepted as true. but lack breadth (as in an argument from either of two conflicting theories. When the combination of thoughts are mutually supporting and make sense in combination. is contradictory in some sense.est In thl' Issue which keep< me from looking at it objectively? Am I misrepresenting a view with which I disagree? lNWW. accurate. and relevant. relevant. For example. precise. or does not "make sense. and relevant. and deep.org r ( _ --l Breadth LogiC Do we need to look at thl' I." In scientific thinking. Intellectual Standards in Scientific Thinking ( Clarity J Could you elaborate further on your hypothesis (or idea)? Could you give me a more detailed explanation of the phenomenon you have in mind? [ A ccuracy J How could we check on tho. new concep tual schemes become working hypotheses when we deduce from them logical consequences which can be tested by experiment. If many of such consequences are shown to be true.iliJ What factors make this a difficult scientific problem? What are some of the complexities we must consider? Logic: Does this really make sense? Does that follow from what you said? How does that follow? But before you implied this and now you are saying that. but superficial (that is. superficially. the statement "Just Say No" which is often used to discourage children and teens from using drugs. precise. accurate. we bring a variety of thoughts together into some order. it lacks depth because it treats an extremely complex issue. precise. the thinking is "logical." the combination is "not logical. the pervasive problem of drug use among young people.criticalthlnklng. C 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking lNWW.'stent with each othe. hypothesis or conceptual scheme? A line of reasoning may be clear. It fails to deal with the complexities of the issue. Nevertheless.org C 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking .72 Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking Miniature Guide on Scientific Thinking 73 Depth: How does your answer address the complexities in the question? How are you taking into account the problems in the question? Is that dealing with the most significant factors? A statement can be clear. I don't see how both can be true. J iR}l e evance ---l Could you be more specific? Could you give me more details on the phenomenon? Could you be more exact as to how the mechanism takes place? How do those data relate to the problem? How do they bear on the question? [D. lack depth). is clear." When the combination is not mutually supporting.
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