Why Does It Matter?
As with any subject that employs the scientific method (most any hard science and even soft sciences), it is important to understand the scientific method because it is the central process that scientists engage in, in order to obtain knowledge. Reassuringly, the scientific method has existed for a long time, and was used by greats that will be remembered forever, such as Galileo and Isaac Newton to name a few. And if going over a topic that you almost undoubtedly covered every year in science classes since the 3rd grade seems useless to you, you are sure to be surprised to learn now that the MCAT will test your knowledge of this concept. One way that the MCAT will test you on this is through questions that fall under the category of "scientific inquiry & reasoning skills." Specifically, per the AAMC website and as an MCAT instructor might forewarn you, the MCAT will feature questions that involve "reasoning about the design and execution of research," which will ask you to demonstrate in some way your understanding of scientific methodology. Without getting too far into specifics, you can probably already guess that these questions may focus on the ways in which scientists utilize theory, past research, and their own observations in order to formulate a hypothesis and conduct new research. So, hear me out when I say that it is not only useful to review this topic, but it will no doubt appear in your life once again if you go on to take the MCAT.
Natural Laws: Back to Basics
That being said, let's start reviewing the scientific method! One of the biggest mistakes you can make in taking a scientific approach to problem solving is making assumptions. Assumptions are not the way of science; rather, science involves careful observation. It is here that we will introduce our first vocabulary term: study it, understand it, know it like the back of your hand. There will be thousands more terms, equations, formulas, theories, rules, and exceptions to learn, so start practicing now. Natural laws are statements, often in a mathematical form, inferred from induction, which is a type of reasoning. A notable example of a natural law that may help you to remember what a natural law is, is the law of radioactive decay, which through lots of observation was developed in order to tell the time taken for the radioactivity of a substance to diminish entirely. When thinking about natural laws, it is absolutely crucial that you do not remember them as "absolute truth" or always correct. Over time, continued and new observations may require the modification of a natural law, such as that formulated by Nicolas Copernicus when he said that the Earth orbits the sun in a circular manner; later, it was found by Johannes Kepler that this was mostly true, except that the orbit of Earth, as well as other planets around the sun, was in an elliptical fashion, rather than a circular one! It is through the development of experiments that scientists are able to assess the validity of natural laws (Petrucci et al. 2010).
Phew! Now that we've covered natural laws, stay tuned for the next post in this two-part series about the scientific method. I could've easily combined the two but I think it's better to keep things in bite-sized pieces when possible, considering that the next post will be a bit lengthy.
A prospective medical student, looking to help others succeed.