Biology » Introduction to Biology » The Scientific Method

The Nature of Biology

Let’s look at how biologists use scientific research to study the natural world and make important discoveries.

Kinds of Information

Scientific information can usually be broken down into two main types—quantitative or qualitative. In quantitative research, results are compared by using numbers. Imagine an experiment to see when different materials begin to melt. The temperature at which wax, iron, and glass each begins to melt is different. Temperatures often are measured in degrees, which are numbers on a scale. These temperatures are a type of quantitative data in quantitative research.

Qualitative research is based on observation. It is also called descriptive research because it describes scientists’ observations when they do their research. If a scientist wanted to figure out how a beaver builds a dam, numbers would not be very helpful. The scientist would observe the beaver and see how the dam is built. Then the scientist would describe, in detail, all the steps the beaver takes to build the dam.

beaver-building-dam

A beaver, “nature’s engineer,” hard at work building a dam.

Science and Society

Scientific research often provides society with important information. What we learn from scientific research cannot be defined as good or bad. Ethics must play a role in deciding how the information will be used.

Ethics are the moral principles and values held by humans. Ethics are how we decide what is right or wrong, good or bad. Suppose scientists develop a new vaccine to cure a disease, but they can only produce 1000 doses each year. Ethics help society decide who should receive those doses. Society as a whole must take responsibility for making sure that scientific discoveries are used in an ethical way.

Some scientific study is done only to learn new things. This type of science is called pure science. Pure science is not done so that the results can be used for a specific need. The research is filed away for later use.

Science that solves a problem is technology. Technology (pronounced tek NAHL uh jee) means using scientific research to meet society’s needs or solve its problems. Technology has helped reduce the amount of manual labor needed to make and raise crops. It has also helped cut down on environmental pollution.

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