To understand how science works, you have to understand the scientific method.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Brittany: Hi, Emma.

Emma: Hi, Brittany.

Brittany: So we had a couple of episodes on Science and the Pandemic, and it dawned on me that we actually never covered in an episode like what science is, you know, and how we define it. So today I want us to answer the question, you know, what is science? And there is a lot of controversy over science right now with the pandemic because I think the official, and I’m saying that in scare quotes, official government scientists, you know, they want you to think that the experts determine what science is. But after this episode, I think you might feel differently cuz I almost feel like science. And I’m not saying that some people will, you know, go to school and are not more qualified than others. But I think that science is actually a very, and I use the word democratic, very broadly, but something that everyone can participate in. You don’t have to be a scientist to do it. So, okay, let’s get started. So, what is science? And when I think of this, I think of the scientific method that is what science is. So when I was in school, I think we were taught, there were like five to seven steps when I was Googling it. Every single site had a different amount of steps, but it’s all that’s funny principles. So we’re gonna go over the ones I, found it’s not, I don’t think it’s quite seven, but it is, it’s all the same process. Sometimes they just pair it together. Sometimes they make like a weird one that doesn’t need to be its own. So the first one is to just observe the world around you and they ask questions. And that’s pretty easy because I think if anyone’s ever talked to a four year old or three year old, they ask why a lot because they’re just learning how to form sentences and form ideas. And so they want to know everything, right? And sometimes it gets real annoying as an adult because you why, you think about it and you’re like, that’s actually really cool because that’s science. That’s them trying to figure out the way the world works. So I’m gonna use Isaac Newton as an example when we talk about this, and Isaac Newton, sir Isaac Newton, he was the one who discovered gravity. And you might remember from school if you’ve heard that, or reading a book that he was sitting under a tree or this is how legend has it, he was sitting under a tree at an apple fell and hit his head. And he was like, okay, why did the apple fall? Because at this time they didn’t know what gravity was. And this is what he discovered. He was kind of the pioneer of figuring this out. And gravity is, you know, what keeps us to this is gonna sound like keeps us to the ground. If you’ve ever seen like space stuff, you see that they’re floating around because there is no gravity. So gravity, that force that keeps us, you know, I don’t wanna say nailed down. I don’t know what the right way to say, but you get it. We’re not floating around. So we can make these observations and we can ask questions just like Isaac Newton did. So let’s talk about that. So that is actually the observation, right? That is the question. So he sat under the tree, the apple fell, he was thinking, why did this happen? And that was the question, you know, why did this apple fall? Why is there something that’s pulling that apple down? Because clearly there has to be something to push the apple down. It didn’t just randomly fall. So Emma, what can you tell us about what happens next in this whole method?

Emma: Yes. So the next step in the scientific method is coming up with a hypothesis. And that’s a pretty funny word. It’s like kind of a weird one that you don’t really hear day to day. Basically, a hypothesis is a statement that you are going to investigate and that you’re gonna try to get to the bottom of. So after observing something that you want to explore further, you narrow down what you’re actually testing. And all of that starts with this statement, this hypothesis. So basically what this is let’s say Isaac Newton, you know, the, or Sir Isaac Newton, I should say give him his real title. His apple falls and hits him on the head and he says, I hypothesize that the apple fell because a monkey threw it at me, or something like that. And he comes up with this specific statement, because to investigate something, it has to be really specific. You have to be able to prove whether or not that one specific statement is true. And that’s why a lot of people have to go through the scientific methods several times, yes, many times before they ever get their answer. But it’s the best way to narrow things down and to be sure of what you’re investigating. So, you can come up with a hypothesis for all sorts of things in your life, but to really get to the bottom of a question, you kind of have to come up with that narrow statement first. And for for Newton, he says, why did the apple fall? I hypothesized that there was another force acting on the apple, so it wasn’t a monkey throwing it at him. But he ended up figuring it out. And that’s kind of the starting point. So you might have to come up with a whole bunch of these before you ever get your answer if you get one.

Brittany: And I think you brought up a really good point, right? He didn’t just say what makes the apple fall, right? like you said, the monkey versus the force. He imagined that, okay, there has to be some sort of fo force pooling on it. And so that’s what he was gonna test. If he tested the monkeys, it might, it could have been a whole different thing or would’ve been. So the next step is to gather your research. So there’s always preliminary research. Preliminary means pre like before you start anything. So you have to gather, you know, some research so you know how things work. So if you were gonna do, I don’t know. So I did a science experiment in sixth grade where I tested which mouthwash worked best. This is probably a very flat experiment, but I took my teeth cuz my, the tooth fairy or whatever you believe in, he, she, whatever you said, leave me my teeth, I’d get a dollar. And then I’d get my teeth and I collected my teeth, which is kind of gross, but I thought it was cool. So, I took my actual teeth and I soaked them in different liquids like coca-cola, apple juice. And then I put ’em in like whitening mouthwash to see what actually would whiten it better. No, I did mouthwash to see what would clean the germs. And I got Petri dishes and that helps like bacteria grow. Yeah. And I like scrubbed them after or like swipe them and swab them and put them in there to see what had the least bacteria after the mouthwash. I don’t even remember what my results were, but, So I did right?

Emma: That’s awesome.

Brittany: I think my hypothesis it wasn’t which, you know, hurt, like what dissolves the teeth quicker. I think it was like, I think this mouthwash works the best. So you have to be very specific or no, sorry, that this was on gathering data. So I had to gather data on like, okay, what does Coca-Cola do to teeth? What does apple juice, you know, how does mouthwash work? So you have to get your data before you actually test and data. I wanna define what data is. Data’s just like, it’s the information you get after you test the experiment, right? So we’ll get into that in a minute. So to test your hypothesis, you have to have different variables. There’s different variables. So I’m gonna go over them right now. So in, there’s an independent variable and just think about independent, like it stands alone, it’s independent, it can do things on its own. The independence is going to stay the same cuz you need some sort of like controlled meaning things that stay the same that you’re going to do. So I’m gonna read and I got this from a great site called, I think it’s your dictionary, so wanna make sure I give them credit. So you need some kind of control and you need to be able to modify, change a variable. A variable is something, it’s gonna vary, it’s gonna change. And that’s really important to be able to measure the effects of what you’re doing or the consequences. So that’s called again, the independent variable. And it’s is all about, you know, cause and effect. If I do something, something else is going to happen. And a really good way to think about your independent variable is your cause, what causes the effect. So let’s say we were doing an experiment to see what brand of diapers by diapers holds the most liquid. The independent variable would be the brand of diapers. So I think a brand is like Huggies. So it’s, you know, does, you know, let’s see how Huggies, it’s always gonna stay the same. You’re always gonna use Huggies in that, experiment. And then you’re gonna check everything else. So in an experiment, if you were studying plant growth in different types of soil, that independent or controlled very, or again, independent variable, that would be the soil. Cause the soil’s gonna be the same in every single different thing you test. So then you have the dependent variable and that’s your effect. So the independent, that’s your cause. And then dependent variable is what’s going to be the effect. So when it comes to an experiment, you are the independent or dependent variables are what you change and what you measure. So for example, let’s go back to the diaper example. In the diaper experiment, your dependent variable might be how much liquid you add to the diapers to see how much they can hold, right? So that’s gonna be, that’s gonna be the effect. So then in the plant experiment, the dependent variable would be the growth of the plant. So the soil’s gonna stay the same. That’s gonna be, you know, regardless, but the growth of the plant, that’s gonna change depending on,  how you change the independent variable, the soil. And I know, or the amount of light, which I know this is very confusing. I actually didn’t understand this and I feel like that set me up to hate science when I was a kid. Because I just had a teacher who was just kind of, you know, okay, so now we have the control variables. And when you do a science experiment, some of the variables need to remain constant. So these are your control variables. And by keeping that constant, you ensure that your results are going to be accurate. So if you have an without control, then you can’t be completely sure what the cause is, and the effect, right? So to help you understand, let’s go back to the diapers. So the control variable in the diaper experiment would be the size of the diaper you use. So let’s dissect this a little bit. If you were to use a smaller diaper, but then use like, even if it was the same brand and then put the liquid in it, a bigger diaper is going to naturally hold more liquid, right? So you have to use the same site, you have to keep them consistent. Even if you’re using different brands. To test each one, you have to keep things consistent. So you wanna use the same size diapers, cuz if you use different, your results can be different. So let’s go to the plant experiment. Your temperature is the control variable. So when you’re testing growth in the soil, if you remember that, you’ve gotta make sure that all your plants are in the same temperature. Because if you don’t have that, you might mix up what’s happening, right? It may not be the cause and effect you were testing because then you throw in different temperatures and then it’s like, wait a second. Was it the temperature? Was it something else? So that’s very important. And then we do have other types. Those were the big three, but there are other ones and they can affect the exper the experiments as well. So there’s intervening variables. And when it comes to those, they’re hard to define because they aren’t as like straightforward and clear-cut as like the independent and the controlled. So these are what we call as abstract, excuse me, correlations between your dependent and independent variables. So you can’t observe and research, for example, back to our, or no, this is a different experiment, but an experiment you find a link between having low income, so you’re making less, and having heart disease. So basically your link would be, oh, okay. I think that people who make less money actually have a higher chance of heart disease, but being poor doesn’t necessarily cause heart disease, right? So it’d be like, people sometimes say correlation doesn’t equal causation. So you could say like, all right, maybe poor people have more, you know, they get heart disease more, but it’s not because they’re poor. There might be another factor that has to do with being poor. Like maybe they don’t have access to as much medical care, so it would actually be access to medical care. It, you know, impacts heart disease. So you have to be careful of understanding that there are different things, you know, maybe not having access to healthy food. And I know no, I’m getting lengthy. We’re gonna get through the other ones quickly, but, so actually, you know what, we don’t need to those. So those are just some other ones. You can look up the other ones on your own because there are a lot. But the main ones you wanna remember are dependent and controlled. So, Emma, I’m gonna kick it back to you.

Emma: Awesome. Yes. The variables are super important and it’s good to have those straight. I would mix ’em up all the time as a kid. And like you said, I think it made science a lot less fun for me. So once you test your hypothesis, you have your variables and you conduct your experiments, like Brittany said, maybe it’s growing plants in a certain soil or testing certain diapers. You wanna be careful that you’re gathering really accurate data. And once again, data is the information that you get from your experiment. So make sure that you have really good notes that you’re writing everything down as it’s happening. Cuz it’s so easy to forget stuff once it, once it’s already happened, and I would recommend before starting an experiment that you actually make a chart or some sort of table where you have spaces to write down the things that you need to write down so that it’s easy when you’re doing your experiment and then you take that information and you look at it, you see what happened. Like Brittany said, there can be all sorts of correlations and if you know anything about making graphs or charts or that sort of thing, if you’ve started that with your math, studies, you can use that to actually see what this data is doing. So you’re drawing your own conclusions. And that means using my data, this is what I think happened. And the cool thing about this is that all of science is a question. So you could have one, you know, one result and one conclusion that you really believe and you could do the experiment again and find something completely different that totally undermines what you thought before. So there really is no settled science ever because scientists can always retest their hypotheses. You know, once new information or technology comes around, maybe you’re able to test things better or closer. And people used to think that the world was flat and then they had more information and learned that it’s not, people used to think that the universe revolved around our son and then we realized that it’s actually much bigger and our son is just one little star in this massive expansive universe. So when you hear someone say, trust the science is settled, that statement in itself is literally anti-science. If, if you know anything about science, you know that science cannot be settled. So that’s why peer-reviewed studies happen. It’s basically what that means is if someone comes up with a study, they go through this scientific method at a really high level. A lot of times it’s in universities they do peer-reviewed studies where other scientists look into your research, they go through what you did, and they give their opinion. Although there is trouble with that too because a lot of times people are all kind of working for the same interests. And that gets really complicated. Maybe we’ll have to do a follow-up episode on that. But what do you do with your conclusions? What you have to do there is find a way to communicate them to others. So you publish a report or some other means of showing what you learned. So if you do this in school, a lot of times there will be kind of a science report at the end of your experiment where you summarize everything and there’s a whole, you know, form of doing that. That’s very specific and kind of goes through how you do it. But Brittany, I think, this is a really important thing for us to know about and learn. And you can even utilize aspects of the scientific method in your own life. Even if you’re not, you know, taking tons of diligent notes and you don’t plan to publish it, it’s really helpful to know how to test ideas that you have.

Brittany: I think you’re absolutely right. And I think your point about science not being settled is very important. And that’s a very big takeaway from this. But, you know, I’d really love to encourage you guys to run your own science experiments. You know, find an observation you wanna test and tell us about it on Facebook. You know, I know that some of your parents belong to the Tuttle Twins groups. I’d love to see pictures and hear all about what you did. So there’s a challenge for you.

Emma: Yes, totally. And we’re also on Instagram if you guys wanna tag us there. I believe it’s just at Tuttle Twins but it should be pretty easy to find. Definitely show us any experiments that you guys do. We are gonna wrap it up here today. Thank you so much for listening and thanks Brittany for helping me explain this.

Brittany: Of course. Talk to you later.

Emma: Okay.