Reclaim your inner scientist

If you think Science is something done by a guy that looks like Albert Einstein in a lab coat, scratch that and look in a mirror. You were born and still are a scientist. Each of us is born with an innate ability to apply the scientific method. While we can argue nature versus nurture as to whether this becomes a core part of our being as we grow up, it is something that most of us lose awareness of as we grow into adulthood. (Apologies if you actually do look like Albert Einstein).

What is todays science based on after all- hypothesis testing. And what is a hypothesis? That thing that is the anchor of all good science fair projects? A small Tyrannosaurus from a show my children watch repeatedly states, “A hypothesis is an idea you can test.”

Applying hypotheses based on observations -available evidence- is what we as a species have done for time immemorial sometimes with fatal consequences, sometimes with the reward of survival and offspring, sometimes with the generation of seemingly nonsensical habits and traditions. For my kids at the moment it is how they are exploring the world for themselves. What happens if

This core principle of hypothesis testing that drives science does not require “correct” interpretation. Correctness is potentially more a matter of tradition than we realize. Even the the current vogue for statistical significance being tied to a probability (p) value of 0.05 acknowledges it is possible for a scientist to be wrong in interpreting evidence. This probability value is the equivalent of getting the wrong answer 5% of the time. The point is that your experiment should be born out by other tests and repeatability.

The for our scientist ancestors, that probability could be a life or death split, but enough carried on to accumulate a body of ancestral knowledge that is still applied in many cultures. But modern science is more than that what if question and a p value.

The problem we face is that of the idea of the proverbial ivory tower. Science has become something simultaneously opaque and rarified to most people and seemingly irrelevant to their lives. However, as a means of exploring and understanding our lives and our world, science should remain with us in adulthood. Science is not something to be doled out in occasional news bites by academics.

We should have the skills to test a hypothesis on our own, and evaluate those of others. Whether you are trying to perfect a recipe in the kitchen, figure out how much fertilizer to apply to your garden, or fix that strange sound that is coming from your car, a hypothesis can help. It can help (greatly) if you take notes, and without any formal statistical tests, you can apply your results to a second “experiment” and validate them for yourself.

You can be the scientist you were born to be without a grand research scheme and in a way that will help you do better in life. Whether your experiments support or fail to support your baking/gardening/car fixing hypothesis, you will have concrete evidence to base your next move on. These little bits of evidence based information can quickly add up to better recipes, bigger vegetables and flowers or a smoothly running car. So try some science today. You did it once, you can do it again.