The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses."
The chief characteristic which arguably distinguishes the scientific method from other methods of acquiring knowledge is that scientists attempt to let the scientific method deliver truths about reality, supporting a theory when a theory's predictions are confirmed and challenging a theory when its predictions prove false. Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methods of obtaining knowledge. Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses via predictions which can be derived from them. These steps must be repeatable, to guard against mistake or confusion in any particular experimenter. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many independently derived hypotheses together in a coherent, supportive structure. Theories, in turn, may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.
Scientific inquiry is generally intended to be as objective as possible in order to reduce biased interpretations of results. Another basic expectation is to document, archive, and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, giving them the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This practice is sometimes referred to as replicability or full disclosure, and it allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established, especially when data is sampled or compared to chance.
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- Newton, Isaac (25 May 1726). Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Third ed.). University of California Press. pp. 794–6. ISBN 0-520-08817-4.
- "scientific method". Oxford Dictionaries (US English). Oxford University Press. http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/scientific-method?q=scientific+method. Retrieved 01 June 2013.
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