A Science Explan”-ation”

Greetings, HaQ readers, on a Sunday evening! Fair warning, folks – I’m a scientist, I think that’s cool as hell, and I’m about to share it with you…

abi_full_disk_low_res_jan_15_2017
NOAA satellite image of Earth

As you may have seen or heard, this was a weekend when thousands around the globe celebrated Earth Day and the March for Science. Truly a celebration for me because I have a job in university science and it is part of my day, every day. In truth, it’s part of your day, too, no matter what you do. It doesn’t matter whether you are a finance whiz (mathematics), a farmer (agriculture), or a parent raising a family (nutrition, child psychology, the repair of boo-boos, and the ability to make it work) – you know and apply some aspect of science in much of what you do.

Don’t believe me? Let me show you. There are four aspects to doing science – four “-ations”:

  • Observation
  • Contemplation
  • Speculation
  • Experimentation

Observation: The part of science I still love most is observing the world, walking out with eyes open to what is known, what is new, and what is unexpected. Nearly all inquiry starts with an observation that makes someone say, “Hmmm… I wonder why that is?”  And if you’ve ever said that – you’ve taken the role of the scientist.

Contemplation: Once a scientist sees something that needs an explanation, the first thing they usually do is plumb the knowledge we already have for an answer. If you’ve ever looked up an unknown plant or bird online or in a field guide, you’ve done this. You compare your observation to what’s known, you evaluate what’s similar and what’s different and decide if this represents something known or, even more interesting, something that requires more study.

Speculation: This is where scientists get to be creative, and it’s so much fun. When what you observe doesn’t fit any known explanation, a new explanation is needed. To do this, a scientist gets to consider what is known and what is missing, and create a new maybe, a hypothesis. If you’ve ever scratched your head over something unexpected and thought about it a while, and come up with a possible explanation – you’ve done this. This is the “because – then maybe” – because we know A, B, and C, then maybe the explanation for this observation is D.  This is the set up for the last bit. The one we associate most with science.

Experimentation: Once speculation brings  a new hypothesis, experimentation is what scientists do to test it. If you’ve ever said, “I’m not sure – try this…” you’ve done an experiment. Scientists will construct a test of the system to observe their hypothesis in action. One thing that may not be obvious, is that one of the goals of experimentation is to DISprove the hypothesis. It is truly tested. If a hypothesis survives a well-constructed experiment, it is considered supported. That doesn’t mean it’s set in stone – just that the data (the results of the experiment) so far provide evidence that it is true.

The data generated from experimentation then become part of the observable world. And most often those observations lead to new questions. And we get to go back to the start.

This is another reason why I love scientific work – it’s never “done”. There is always another interesting question. What an amazing privilege!


The image above is a lovely composite of NOAA satellite images posted on the NASA website. NOAA and NASA are just two of the many government agencies funding and carrying out amazing scientific research.

Stay tuned for more on the Here’s a Quarter blog next week! As always, your thoughts and comments are always welcome – they are moderated (I know – adulting again), so they may take a little while to appear, but I read them all and appreciate that you were here. Thank you!

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