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Experimentation and Realism

Activity SOCTEC1 1T, AY 2011-2012

Experimentation is a step in the scientific method wherein the validity of a particular hypothesis or theory is tested. Alternatively, it could also be a venue for resolving substantive and methodological issues.

Kinds of Experiments
Methodological experiments = development of some particular technique or inquiry (e.g. trial and error types or factfinding types) Creative experiments = creation of some new phenomena (e.g. particle accelerators)

What is a good experiment?

Replicabilitywe expect that the same experiment can be repeated by other experimenters Accuracywe expect accurate and clearly measurable results Precisionwe expect that meaningful results will be clearly understandable and analyzable and that they lead to some fairly definitive interpretation Generalizabilitywe want the results of our experiment to go beyond the specifics of that particular experiment; we want to be able to apply the results and conclusions to other cases Simplicityceteris paribus, we want simpler experiments to more complicated ones, both in terms of the design and analysis Focuswe want clearly defined experiments in the sense that of clearly defined hypotheses being tested and of what would count as meaningful results and answers Absence of systematic errorwe want experiments designed and executed in such a way that it eliminates or minimizes built-in error Utilitywe want experiments to provide us with useful information Consistencywe want the design of the experiment to be consistent with already accepted procedures, information, or theories.

Today we will conduct some good experiments and see whether we could somehow get a grip of what it is like to do some experiments. Your task is to follow the procedure of each experiment and try to observe whats going on in them.

Experiment 1: Cornstarch Suspension

1 cup cornstarch Mixing bowl 1/2 cup water Spoon Pie plate or a leche flan container Food coloring

Empty 1 cup of cornstarch into a large bowl. Stir while you add water SLOWLY -- don't add all of it if you don't need to.
You need the consistency of thick pancake batter. It's better to add too little water than too much. Take your time!

Add a few drops of food coloring. Stick your hands in the mixture.
Record what it feels like. What happens when you try to roll some into a ball and then leave it alone?

Pour the WATER into a pie plate. (Water is a liquid)

smack it with your hand record what happens

Empty the pie plate. Pour the cornstarch mixture into a pie plate.
smack it with your hand record what happens (does it act differently than the water?)

Experiment 2: Electromagnets
A large iron nail (about 3 inches) About 3 feet of THIN COATED copper wire A fresh 9 volt battery Some paper clips

Leave about 8 inches of wire loose at one end and wrap most of the rest of the wire around the nail. Try not to overlap the wires. Cut the wire (if needed) so that there is about another 8 inches loose at the other end too. Now remove about an inch of the plastic coating from both ends of the wire and attach the one wire to one end of a battery and the other wire to the other end of the battery. (It is best to tape the wires to the battery - be careful though, the wire could get very hot!) Now you have an ELECTROMAGNET! Put the point of the nail near a few paper clips and it should pick them up! NOTE: Making an electromagnet uses up the battery somewhat quickly which is why the battery may get warm, so disconnect the wires when you are done.

Does the number of times you wrap the wire around the nail affect the strength of the nail? Does the thickness or length of the nail affect the electromagnets strength? Does the thickness of the wire affect the power of the electromagnet?

Questions to ponder
How can you best explain the difference between the water and the cornstarch solution in experiment 1? How can you best explain how the electromagnets work?

Next Meeting
Topic: Realism and Science
Results in science picture what the world is actually like. Is this true?

Ian Hacking, Representing and intervening Arthur Fine, The natural ontological attitude