Essential Science Review Concepts for Oceanography
The following sections provide a brief overview of important concepts that are important to discussions in all subsequent chapters. These discussions are a mix of essential concepts provided in introductory courses in physical science, chemistry, biology, physics, and earth science.
The Scientific Method
The scientific method is how scientific ideas are tested and validated and applies to research conducted in nearly all professions.
The scientific method involves:
- Collection of data and observations leads to multiple hypotheses (educated guesses).
- Each hypothesis is rigorously tested and it fails (rejected) or passes (and become a theory).
- Tests/experiments must be thoroughly researched and accurately reported.
- Tests/experiments result must be reproducible.
Define science, observation, hypothesis, fact, theory, scientific law, and scientific methods.
Science is the systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. The overall goal of science is to understand how the natural world works. The fundamental assumption of science is that the natural world behaves in a consistent and predictable manner.
The scientific method involves the observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis, and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis.
Observation is the act of noting and recording something, such as a phenomenon, with instruments, in order to gain information. An example is the collection for data for temperature, oxygen levels, and pollutants in seawater at different depths in a harbor to monitor water quality for sea life protection.
A fact is knowledge or information based on real occurrences; something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed.
A hypothesis is a tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation. An example of the testable hypotheses: Observed high levels of certain types of bacteria in seawater samples from a harbor might be linked to an influx of raw sewage leaking from a nearby sewage treatment facility.
A theory is a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena. Note that in science the word theory means something far more certain and concrete than the popular use of the word, which we can define as an assumption based on limited information. Established scientific theories are based on vast amounts of information and knowledge, giving us high confidence that they are correct.
Figure 1.10. The Scientific Method involves an ongoing cycle of inquiry.
Figure 1.11. NOAA research ship, the Ronald H. Brown, illustrates one of perhaps hundreds of vessels around the world involved in marine research and investigations.
Figure 1.12. The Alvin, a deep-sea exploration submersible.
Making Assumptions Can Be A Dangerous Thing.
An assumption is a thing or idea that is accepted as certain to happen, without proof. Misinterpreted observations can easily be used as proof or evidence in helping to establish a fact or resolve the truth of a statement. However, assumptions are often used as guiding principles in decision making when proof or facts are not resolved or accepted. Classic assumptions in history include ideas such as the Earth is flat, or the Earth is the center of the Universe. Throughout history, political, religious, economic special interests, and strongly-held societal beliefs have been used as underlying assumptions; sometimes they hold true, others are often proven wrong by new scientific evidence. The term educated guess (a hypothesis based on some related knowledge and experience, and therefore likely to be correct) may be no more than an assumption.