Scientific inquiry in biology

Background: Scientific inquiry in biology
starts by observing the living species around us. Science is a way
of knowing. It is not the only way, but it is a good way. Other
ways of knowing include mathematics, logic, history, philosophy,
and theology.
What separates science from the other methods of seeking truth
is that it is testable (i.e. one can devise experiments to test the
validity of an idea); it is falsifiable (i.e. an experiment can
reveal if an idea is false); and, it involves natural causality
(i.e. the method involves and depends upon the natural laws of the
universe which cause things to happen in a predictable and
repeatable manner.)
Observation: Scientific inquiry begins when
something interesting gets your attention.
Question: Following an observation, a question
arises in your mind. It may be something like: “I wonder what…?
Or “I wonder how …? Or, “I wonder why…?
Assignment details:
In this assignment, we will take a look at science and the
scientific method. Then, you will design a (pretend) scientific
study to answer a specific question based upon an observation.
First, choose ONE of the following Observations
Option A:
Observation: During the winter, you spread salt
daily on your driveway to melt the snow. In the springtime, when
the lawn begins to grow, you notice that there is no grass growing
for about 3 inches from the driveway. Furthermore, the grass seems
to be growing more slowly up to about 1 foot from the driveway.
Question: Might grass growth be inhibited by
Option B:
Observation: Your neighbor added a farmer’s
porch to his house and painted the ceiling of it blue. When you
asked him why, he told you he had read that the sky blue ceiling
would fool wasps into thinking it was the sky and they would not
build any nests under the eaves of the porch or along the
Question: Would a blue ceiling really deter
wasps from building nests on the porch?
Option C:
Observation: When taking a hike, you notice
that a ruby-throated hummingbird seems interested in your red hat.
It hovers over the hat and then darts away.
Question: Do ruby-throated hummingbirds prefer
some colors more than others when visiting flowers?
After choosing ONE of the above options
(observation and question), you will do some library /Internet
research about the subject. Once you have become familiar with the
topic, propose a testable hypothesis to answer the question; and,
follow the rest of scientific method to determine if your
hypothesis is correct by designing a controlled experiment.
You will not actually do the experiment or collect
results. Rather you will propose a workable controlled experiment
and make up what would seem to be reasonable results. You will then
discuss those imagined results and draw a conclusion (based upon
your imagined results) about whether or not to accept your
Complete the steps of the scientific method for your
choice of observation and question using the directions below. Use
these headings in your paper, please.
The Introduction is an investigation of what is currently known
about the question being asked. Before one proposes a hypothesis or
dashes off to the lab to do an experiment, a thorough search is
made in the existing literature about the specific question and
about topics related to the question. Once one is familiar with
what is known about the question under consideration, one is in a
position to propose a reasonable hypothesis to test the
This is an educated guess, or “best” guess, about what might be
the explanation for the question asked. A hypothesis should be a
one sentence statement (not a question) that can be tested in an
experiment. The ability to test a hypothesis implies that it has a
natural, repeatable cause.
What do you predict as an outcome for the controlled experiment
(i.e. results) if the hypothesis is true? This should be in the
form of an “If…….., then……….” statement.
Controlled Experimental Method:
The hypothesis is tested in a controlled experiment. A
controlled experiment compares a “Control” (i.e.
the normal, unmodified, or unrestricted, or uninhibited set-up,
based on the observation) to one or several
“Experimental” set-ups. The conditions in the
experimental set-ups are identical to the Control in every way,
e.g. temperature, composition, shape, kind, etc.,
except for the one Experimental variable that is being
tested. The results obtained from the Experimental set-ups will be
compared to each other and to those obtained from the Control. If
done correctly, any differences in the results may be attributed to
the Experimental variable under consideration.
When designing an experiment, it is important to use multiples,
(i.e. replicates), for each set-up, to avoid drawing the wrong
conclusion. If the experiment only has one control and only one
experimental set up with just one test subject in each, there is
always the chance that a single living organism (test subject)
could get sick or even die for reasons not caused by the
experimental variable. And, because living organisms are
genetically different, the results from just one test subject in a
given set up may not be typical for the species as a whole. This
could result in errors when interpreting the results. This kind of
problem is avoided by using multiple controls and multiple
experimental set-ups with multiple test subjects.
Be sure to provide sufficient details in your method
section so that someone could reproduce your experiment.
The experimental method section should also state clearly how
data (numbers) will be collected during the experiment which will
be used to compare results in each test set up.
Since this is a “thought experiment,” you will make up results
according to what you think might happen if you actually did the
Results should include detailed raw data (numbers) rather than
just a summary of the results. For example, if data are collected
daily for five weeks, results should include the actual data from
each day, and not just a summary of what happened at the end of the
five weeks. Recorded results should match the experimental
In this section, state clearly whether you reject or accept the
hypothesis based on the (pretend) results. Discuss what this means
in terms of the hypothesis, such as the need for additional
experiments, or the practical uses or implications of the
Provide references in APA format. This includes a reference list
and in-text citations for references used in the Introduction
Give your paper a title and number and identify each section as
specified above. Although the hypothesis and prediction will be one
sentence answers, the other sections will need to be paragraphs to
adequately explain your experiment.

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