How Scientific Objectivity Influences Scientific Progress

Instructor: Erika Steele

Erika has taught college Biology, Microbiology, and Environmental Science. She has a PhD in Science Education.

Scientists make new discoveries by making careful observations and analyzing results in a way that is honest, objective, and based on what is already understood. This lesson will define objectivity and explain why it is important to scientific progress.

Objectivity in Science

Science provides a way of thinking about and solving problems in the world. It is used to explain the behavior of both people and atoms alike. Scientists set out to answer questions by creating experiments that test their ideas about how something works. Objectivity is necessary to get an accurate explanation of how things work in the world.

Ideas that show objectivity are based on facts and are free from bias or personal opinion. In science, even hypotheses, or ideas about how something may work, are written in a way that are objective. This means that experiments may prove a hypothesis false if the data does not support it. Scientists will alter hypotheses and theories when new knowledge is developed. Objectivity is important in science because scientific studies seek to get as close to the truth as possible, not just prove a hypothesis. Experiments should be designed to be objective and not to get the answers that a scientists wants.

Results Lead to New Knowledge: Why Objectivity is Important

Results are a part of scientific studies where it is important to remain objective. Scientific knowledge builds on itself; one discovery leads to another. For example, you may have already known that two scientists, James Watson and Francis Crick, discovered the structure of DNA. However, did you know that they would not have been able to discover the structure without the work of other scientists? Rosalind Franklin's initial experiments showed that the structure of DNA was a double helix and not a triple helix. Another scientist necessary for Watson and Crick's discoveries about the structure of DNA was Erwin Chargaff. Chargaff did experiments to show how the different molecules in DNA strands pair together. If either Rosalind Franklin or Erwin Chargaff had not been objective about their results, Watson and Crick may not have made any progress with their ability to understand the structure of DNA.

The lack of objectivity in science can hurt scientific progress, even if the scientist has good intentions. An example of this can be found with global warming or climate change. Some scientists believe that the modern weather we have is the result of normal fluctuations in patterns, others believe that human activities have changed the Earth's weather patterns.

In 2007, a statistician named Steve McIntyre indicated that a scientist who wrote a critical paper supporting the idea of climate change wasn't objective with results from his experiments. McIntyre found that certain scientists may have exaggerated data supporting climate change, and this finding affected all research on global warming. Any research based on the paper that McIntyre refuted lost credibility because of its lack of objectivity. It may seem that McIntyre's findings may help scientists who believe that weather conditions are the result of normal fluctuations in the Earth's climate, but what if global warming does impact the climate? Regardless of what anyone personally believes about a scientific topic, it is important to analyze and consider all data, even if they don't like the answers. Progress in science depends on the ability to remain objective with results.

Science Can't Answer Every Question

Science is based on assumptions, or ideas that are taken to be true. Assumptions in science are a bit different from the assumptions that you make in everyday life; scientific assumptions have evidence based on research to support them and have been accepted as true. The assumptions made in science are based on observations about the natural world and form the foundations of hypotheses and theories. Scientific assumptions include the idea that observations about the world around us have natural explanations and that these occurrences are predictable. For instance, if you were to drop a ball, you may predict that the ball will fall down unless another force makes it move in another direction. The assumption is that the ball will fall down because of gravity.

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