The scientific method is an integral part of conducting research. It was first formally described by philosopher Thomas Hobbes back in 1654, though it has been around much longer than that!
The term “scientific” comes from the Latin word for knowledge or study, scientia. So, using his own definition, someone who uses the scientific method must be studying or knowing something about how to use logic and reasoning to evaluate claims.
That seems pretty clear! But what is this thing called the scientific method? And how does it apply to researching health and wellness issues?
Here are the steps of the scientific method as applied to health and nutrition studies:
Step #1: A hypothesis (or theory)
For example, let’s say you want to learn more about why most people get sick when they take a hot bath.
Your hypothetical healthy person wants to know why bathing in very warm water makes them feel ill.
So, their body gets into action and tries to keep themselves cool by sweating. Unfortunately, along with the sweat, your skin produces chemicals such as histamine and serotonin. When these hormones try to bind to each other, it can cause a reaction like a runny nose or diarrhea.
This is because both histamine and serotonin work together to regulate temperature so naturally we have to deal with some degree of inflammation due to heat.
Develop a thesis
Thesis development is an integral part of conducting research. This process typically begins with defining your topic or question and then developing a hypothesis or statement about the topic.
Your hypothesis should be clear and descriptive. It should make sense, but it also must be testable. If you cannot perform experiments to prove or disprove your hypothesis, then it does not qualify as a strong one.
After your hypothesis is confirmed, the next step is to develop a theory or explanation for why your hypothesis is true. You may refer back to the initial topic to find the element that supports your theory.
Once this is done, you can begin testing your theory by performing experiments or investigations.
A lot of people talk about the importance of doing good, honest work, but they fail to explain how conducting research is done. This can be tricky to understand if you’re not very familiar with scientific methods.
So what is research? Investigating something that has already happened or testing whether or not one thing works better than another are examples of research.
When we say “test” here, we mean using an empirical (real-world experiences) approach to determine the effectiveness of a given concept or procedure. An example of this would be asking someone who used a certain product for a while if they felt it was worth buying or not!
Another important part of research is defining variables. This means making sure that things like products, procedures, and participants do not influence the results. For instance, when evaluating a new health plan, make sure you are comparing like plans so that only participant preference influences which one you choose.
Research also involves gathering as much information as possible through observations, questions asked of participants, experiments conducted, and other ways of finding out. All these components combine into the analysis and interpretation of findings.
The term research is sometimes used very loosely, to include anything from asking someone how their day was to making a product claim about some health intervention or diet.
By that definition, most people are doing research all the time! Because we’re constantly seeking answers, exploring possibilities, and testing hypotheses, it can seem like there’s never a down moment where you don’t have something categorized as research going on.
That isn’t quite right though. To use the word research properly, we must first define what it means.
The scientific method refers to a process for determining whether an idea has proof behind it. This process was developed over 2,000 years ago and is one of the main reasons why we know so much about our world; science has helped us prove theories that work and disproved those that do not.
Since scientists adopt a systematic approach to gathering information, they get similar results no matter who they are or what area of study they pursue. This helps ensure that what comes out of the experiment is true under any conditions. It also allows others to repeat the experiments to see if the same findings occur.
There are five basic steps in the scientific method which shift into higher gear as stages. These stages are observation, experimentation, theory, confirmation, and application. All of these take place within context and framework of truth.
Observation happens when things change around you and your perception changes along with them.
The second major part of the scientific method is peer review. This process happens at two levels – internal and external. Internal peer reviews occur within the same field or area as the research being conducted. For example, if someone studies how to improve your diet through cooking, they would look at other recipes and evaluate whether that specific recipe has good pictures or not, whether it uses healthy ingredients, and whether it tastes better than others.
They might also compare the cost of the recipe with what people have stated about their health benefits. After analyzing all these factors, they can come to one conclusion: this particular cookbook does not seem to help you lose weight effectively.
External peer reviews happen outside the domain of the original research. A doctor may refer to a journal article to see if there are any similar studies done on the same topic. Or she/he may talk to colleagues who work in the area to get more insights into the best practices.
These conversations can give clues about whether the results of the new study are an outlier or not. They can also tell us whether the researchers were trustworthy and had clear biases. All of these things contribute to our trust in the conclusions of the paper.
Recognized levels of evidence
The level of proof for any claim or theory is called “evidence”. Evidence comes in two forms: strong, moderate, or weak.
The term ‘strong’ means very much like how we use the word ‘definite’. Something is considered definite when you can clearly tell if something is true or not by looking at it or doing something with it.
A concept that correlates to strong evidence is ‘proof’. If an experiment or analysis of data proves that A happens more often than B, then we have strong evidence that A occurs.
We call this strong evidence because there are clear rules about what we mean when we say ‘A happens more often than B’. We define ‘more often’ as being higher than some number (called a benchmark).
When we have strong evidence that A happens more times than B, we know with certainty that A will happen at least once during our experiment or study.
This way, we have determined that at least one instance of event A has occurred.
The second major tool used to determine if research conclusions are reliable is confidence levels. A confidence level describes how certain researchers feel about an outcome of a study.
Most studies have some degree of uncertainty. This means that there is not a clear winner or loser when it comes to the topic under discussion. For example, most studies will conclude that eating chocolate tastes better than plain old food!
However, this does not mean that one type of food is always best over another. In fact, nutritionists agree that everything in life has little bits of health benefits but you should be careful how much you eat them because they do not all work for everyone.
There is no way to know what will help your body function properly without trying out different foods, so by limiting yourself from some foods, you could be leaving yourself with poor nutritional choices.
Another way to conduct research is to study how people have done things before and see what works and what does not. This is called observational studies or empirical studies.
Observational studies look at all of the data gathered about a certain thing and determine if there are general rules that can be applied with more examples. For example, you could watch the movie Gone With The Wind many times and get different conclusions depending on whether you like it as a drama, action movie, or historical film.
There are also qualitative studies that focus on determining factors and patterns of behavior rather than testing theories. These studies typically use interviews or surveys to gather information.
These two strategies — observational and quantitative (or testable) — are important parts of scientific methodology. Empirical studies are just that: studies that analyze observations and/or experiments.
However, using only one type of study may limit the insights we gain from our findings.
A key component of conducting research is determining how many people you will include in your study as participants or subjects. This is what we refer to as a sample size, and it determines how many individuals you will be able to evaluate with accuracy!
In observational studies, like most medical research, there are limited numbers of patients being treated for a disease or condition. Therefore, it is very difficult to determine whether one treatment is more effective than another due to the small participant population.
By using the scientific method, however, researchers can often rely on randomizing groups of participants so that each group receives an equal amount of attention and resources, if needed.
This helps ensure that whatever treatments are administered to the participant population are fair and unbiased. It also aids in eliminating potential confounding factors that may influence results.
Confounders are things such as gender, age, health status, and lifestyle habits, just to name a few. Being aware of these is important since they could affect how well a particular therapy works.