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Thread: The Scientific Method - when did teaching it as steps begin?

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    The Scientific Method - when did teaching it as steps begin?

    In USA secondary education and on web pages, it's currently popular to teach and describe "the scientific method" as a series of steps. When did this trend begin?

    (I predict some members will want to comment on the long history of the scientific method, but that's not what I'm asking about. I'm asking about a particular method of describing and teaching it. )

    This paper http://edci770.pbworks.com/w/file/fe...udolph2005.pdf suggests that the USA approach of teaching the scientific method as steps owes it origin to the philosopher and psychologist John Dewey and his 5 steps of rational thought. Wikipedia says the first edition his book "How We Think" appeared in 1910.

    When I searched "General Science" texts on Google books, the texts I found from the early 1900's don't bother devoting a chapter to the scientific method. They simply launch into teaching topics in science.

    Are secondary students in the UK and Europe taught the scientific method as a specific topic? Is it described as a series of steps?

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    It was for me from 2nd Grade onwards (Late 90s and 2000s, New York), usually at the beginning of the year along with the metric system, with the idea that with those tools in hand we could launch into science topics. Most classrooms had the steps listed on a poster.
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    So what are the steps?

    Grant Hutchison

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    There are several examples on the interweb, here is one.

    https://images.app.goo.gl/18o84xuQej9gT4tw9

    Basically:

    Observe
    Question
    Research
    Hypothesize
    Experiment
    Test
    Draw conclusions
    Report/Document

  5. 2019-Oct-26, 08:34 PM

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    So what are the steps?

    Grant Hutchison
    "Observation, Hypothesis,Experiment, Conclusion" were the steps when I was in high school in the 1960's. Perhaps our school district was behind the times. On the web, I see that the number steps ranges from 5 to 7. It's interesting to do a web search on images associated with the phrase "scientific method" - lots of flow diagrams. Who started this?

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    Hmmm.
    When I search on "the scientific method", Google provides a list of "People Also Asked". The four on offer are:

    What are the six steps of the scientific method?
    What are the 7 steps of the scientific method?
    What is the scientific method steps?
    What are the ten steps of the scientific method?

    That's certainly telling us something, but probably mainly about what the scientific method isn't.

    Grant Hutchison

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    I Like The Four Step Approach Myself

    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Hmmm.
    When I search on "the scientific method", Google provides a list of "People Also Asked". The four on offer are:

    What are the six steps of the scientific method?
    What are the 7 steps of the scientific method?
    What is the scientific method steps?
    What are the ten steps of the scientific method?

    That's certainly telling us something, but probably mainly about what the scientific method isn't.

    Grant Hutchison
    Regards, John M.
    I'm not a hardnosed mainstreamer; I just like the observations, theories, predictions, and results to match.

    "Mainstream isn’t a faith system. It is a verified body of work that must be taken into account if you wish to add to that body of work, or if you want to change the conclusions of that body of work." - korjik

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    Observe
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    Get suspended

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    Lol

    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck View Post
    Observe
    Hypothesize
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    All too true.

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    Circa 1500

    N. deG. Tyson attributes modern science to Galileo and Bacon. IIRC, there have been and are some fierce debates about the process. Observations, predictions, and repeatability seem to me to be key. Hypothesize anything you want; it has to pass the tests.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    So what are the steps?

    Grant Hutchison
    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    There are several examples on the interweb, here is one.

    https://images.app.goo.gl/18o84xuQej9gT4tw9

    Basically:

    Observe
    Question
    Research
    Hypothesize
    Experiment
    Test
    Draw conclusions
    Report/Document
    Basically that.
    The greatest journey of all time, for all to see
    Every mission makes our dreams reality
    And our destiny begins with you and me
    Through all space and time, the achievement of mankind
    As we sail the sea of discovery, on heroes’ wings we fly!

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    To me the question is when did it start getting called a "method". If you teach the scientific method at all, you pretty much have to teach it as a kind of series of steps, since that's what a method is. Yes it's silly to think it's some kind of recipe, but seeing it as a "method" means your focus is on process rather than merely outcome. It's like mathematics-- if you are saying 2+2=4 your focus will be on outcome because the "truth" is pretty obvious, but when you get to advanced mathematics, it's all about process because you can't just see to the answer. I don't know when science first started getting taught as a process instead of a set of established outcomes, and indeed I would say that from what I've seen, it mostly still isn't taught that way a lot of the time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    To me the question is when did it start getting called a "method".
    When I do a Google ngram search ( https://books.google.com/ngrams/grap...method%3B%2Cc0 ) it indicates the phrase goes back to 1800. The wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientist says the term "scientist" was coined in 1833.

    However, although I can find examples of the phrase "scientific method" in the 1800's and early 1900/s by searching Google books, I haven't found a book that presents it as a series of steps. In fact, I haven't found it presented as series of steps when looking for books up to the 1940's. However I didn't' find any secondary school General Science texts from the 1940's to look at.

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    I think Elizabeth Kubler-Ross might have been talking about Kuhn's scientific revolutions with:

    1. Denial
    2. Anger
    3. Bargaining
    4. Depression
    5. Acceptance then...... DEATH

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model

    The German physicist Max Planck said that science advances one funeral at a time. Or more precisely: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962; second edition 1970; third edition 1996; fourth edition 2012) is a book about the history of science by the philosopher Thomas S. Kuhn. Its publication was a landmark event in the history, philosophy, and sociology of scientific knowledge. Kuhn challenged the then prevailing view of progress in "normal science". Normal scientific progress was viewed as "development-by-accumulation" of accepted facts and theories. Kuhn argued for an episodic model in which periods of such conceptual continuity in normal science were interrupted by periods of revolutionary science. The discovery of "anomalies" during revolutions in science leads to new paradigms. New paradigms then ask new questions of old data, move beyond the mere "puzzle-solving" of the previous paradigm, change the rules of the game and the "map" directing new research.[1]
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck View Post
    Observe
    Hypothesize
    Post in ATM
    Get suspended
    funny!!!
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Mendenhall View Post
    N. deG. Tyson attributes modern science to Galileo and Bacon. IIRC, there have been and are some fierce debates about the process. Observations, predictions, and repeatability seem to me to be key. Hypothesize anything you want; it has to pass the tests.
    Yes I always thought of Bacon... but ... 'standing on the shoulders of giants' and all that... what about this guy? ( .. not that I am ignoring Muslim scholars that followed Aristotle... just that the scientific revolution ended up happening in Western Europe)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Grosseteste


    It has been argued that Grosseteste played a key role in the development of the scientific method. Grosseteste did introduce to the Latin West the notion of controlled experiment and related it to demonstrative science, as one among many ways of arriving at such knowledge.[19] Although Grosseteste did not always follow his own advice during his investigations, his work is seen as instrumental in the history of the development of the Western scientific tradition.

    Grosseteste was the first of the Scholastics to fully understand Aristotle's vision of the dual path of scientific reasoning: generalising from particular observations into a universal law, and then back again from universal laws to prediction of particulars. Grosseteste called this "resolution and composition". So, for example, looking at the particulars of the moon, it is possible to arrive at universal laws about nature. Conversely once these universal laws are understood, it is possible to make predictions and observations about other objects besides the moon. Grosseteste said further that both paths should be verified through experimentation to verify the principles involved. These ideas established a tradition that carried forward to Padua and Galileo Galilei in the 17th century.

    As important as "resolution and composition" would become to the future of Western scientific tradition, more important to his own time was his idea of the subordination of the sciences. For example, when looking at geometry and optics, optics is subordinate to geometry because optics depends on geometry, and so optics was a prime example of a subalternate science. Thus Grosseteste concluded, following much of what Boethius had argued, that mathematics was the highest of all sciences, and the basis for all others, since every natural science ultimately depended on mathematics. He supported this conclusion by looking at light, which he believed to be the "first form" of all things, the source of all generation and motion (approximately what is now known as biology and physics). Hence, since light could be reduced to lines and points, and thus fully explained in the realm of mathematics, mathematics was the highest order of the sciences.


    Grosseteste's work in optics was also relevant and would be continued by Roger Bacon, who often mentioned his indebtedness to him although there is no proof that the two ever met. In De Iride Grosseteste writes:

    This part of optics, when well understood, shows us how we may make things a very long distance off appear as if placed very close, and large near things appear very small, and how we may make small things placed at a distance appear any size we want, so that it may be possible for us to read the smallest letters at incredible distances, or to count sand, or seed, or any sort of minute objects.


    Grossesteste is now believed to have had a very modern understanding of colour, and supposed errors in his account have been found to be based on corrupt late copies of his essay on the nature of colour, written in about 1225 (De Luce). In 2014 Grosseteste's 1225 treatise De Luce (On Light) was translated from Latin and interpreted by an interdisciplinary project led by Durham University, that included Latinists, philologists, medieval historians, physicists and cosmologists. De Luce explores the nature of matter and the cosmos. Four centuries before Isaac Newton proposed gravity and seven centuries before the Big Bang theory, Grosseteste described the birth of the Universe in an explosion and the crystallisation of matter to form stars and planets in a set of nested spheres around Earth. De Luce is the first attempt to describe the heavens and Earth using a single set of physical laws.[21] The 'Ordered Universe' collaboration of scientists and historians at Durham University studying medieval science regard him as a key figure in showing that pre-Renaissance science was far more advanced than previously thought.[22]
    Last edited by plant; 2019-Oct-28 at 12:47 PM.
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

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    By the way if anyone has kids.. these 'wallbook' posters are AMAZING.
    The 'posterbook of science one is great',... i'll have to see if Grosseteste is on it!

    https://www.whatonearthbooks.com/us/...e-u-s-edition/

    but all the others are brilliant..

    https://www.whatonearthbooks.com/us/...ory/wallbooks/

    p.s. i have no financial link to the author, but I have 3 of these...
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

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    Some time ago there was a review of the three PhD routes:
    No stone unturned,
    Fancy that!
    Bandwagon.

    These can get funding while original or counter hypotheses are hard to fund. No stone unturned is to explore the far boundaries of well established science, bandwagons are fashionable areas, while fancy that studies are checking on the obvious, e.g. it turns out people do not like sudden loud noises.

    But of course things may have moved on.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by tashirosgt View Post
    However, although I can find examples of the phrase "scientific method" in the 1800's and early 1900/s by searching Google books, I haven't found a book that presents it as a series of steps. In fact, I haven't found it presented as series of steps when looking for books up to the 1940's.
    But the term "method" essentially means some kind of systematic procedure, so that means "steps." It might not have been quite a recipe-oriented as "rinse, lather, and repeat", but it's some kind of steps any time you have a specific method. Perhaps the history is, it took a little while to recognize that science was a process rather than a body of truths, and once that was recognized (perhaps throughout the 1800s), there was a later tendency to try to clearly lay out the specific "steps" involved, and that's where it may have become a bit too rote.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2019-Oct-28 at 01:46 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    Grossesteste is now believed to have had a very modern understanding of colour, and supposed errors in his account have been found to be based on corrupt late copies of his essay on the nature of colour, written in about 1225 (De Luce). In 2014 Grosseteste's 1225 treatise De Luce (On Light) was translated from Latin and interpreted by an interdisciplinary project led by Durham University, that included Latinists, philologists, medieval historians, physicists and cosmologists. De Luce explores the nature of matter and the cosmos. Four centuries before Isaac Newton proposed gravity and seven centuries before the Big Bang theory, Grosseteste described the birth of the Universe in an explosion and the crystallisation of matter to form stars and planets in a set of nested spheres around Earth. De Luce is the first attempt to describe the heavens and Earth using a single set of physical laws.[21] The 'Ordered Universe' collaboration of scientists and historians at Durham University studying medieval science regard him as a key figure in showing that pre-Renaissance science was far more advanced than previously thought.[22]
    That's quite interesting, thank you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    By the way if anyone has kids.. these 'wallbook' posters are AMAZING.
    The 'posterbook of science one is great',... i'll have to see if Grosseteste is on it!

    https://www.whatonearthbooks.com/us/...e-u-s-edition/
    Remarkable. I wish I had this when my kids were little.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    But the term "method" essentially means some kind of systematic procedure, so that means "steps."
    there was a later tendency to try to clearly lay out the specific "steps" involved, and that's where it may have become a bit too rote.
    I agree that anything that was a "method" in the 1800's probably became formulated as a series of steps or a flow diagram by the 1960's if it survived. That general trend is interesting. How much of it was due to the influence of computers? They led to algorithms and flow diagrams becoming familiar procedures of thought. When did it become common for people to describe processes using block diagrams? Did the pre-computer efficiency experts contribute to the trend by their detailed analysis of tasks?

    I agree that nowadays any "method" is liable to be described as specific steps. It's hard for people in the modern age to realize they are using intellectual approaches that may be unique to their era. Looking back into history, I don't think a "method" lead to a description as a series of steps or a diagram in a short period of time.

    So, yes, the general trend (in modern times) for a method to be formulated in terms of steps explains the particular fate of the scientific method. But I'm interested in the particulars of that example. My question and interest (at the moment) is when and how the general idea of "scientific method" was explicitly formulated as a series of steps - and who did it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tashirosgt View Post
    I agree that anything that was a "method" in the 1800's probably became formulated as a series of steps or a flow diagram by the 1960's if it survived. That general trend is interesting. How much of it was due to the influence of computers? They led to algorithms and flow diagrams becoming familiar procedures of thought. When did it become common for people to describe processes using block diagrams? Did the pre-computer efficiency experts contribute to the trend by their detailed analysis of tasks?

    I agree that nowadays any "method" is liable to be described as specific steps. It's hard for people in the modern age to realize they are using intellectual approaches that may be unique to their era. Looking back into history, I don't think a "method" lead to a description as a series of steps or a diagram in a short period of time.

    So, yes, the general trend (in modern times) for a method to be formulated in terms of steps explains the particular fate of the scientific method. But I'm interested in the particulars of that example. My question and interest (at the moment) is when and how the general idea of "scientific method" was explicitly formulated as a series of steps - and who did it.
    From what Wikipedia says, the earliest method for documenting a process dates back to 1921:

    History[edit]

    The first structured method for documenting process flow, the flow process chart, was introduced by Frank Gilbreth to members of American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1921 as the presentation “Process Charts—First Steps in Finding the One Best Way”.[5] Gilbreth's tools quickly found their way into industrial engineering curricula.
    In the early 1930s, an industrial engineer, Allan H. Mogensen began training business people in the use of some of the tools of industrial engineering at his Work Simplification Conferences in Lake Placid, New York. A 1944 graduate of Mogensen's class, Art Spinanger, took the tools back to Procter and Gamble where he developed their Deliberate Methods Change Program. Another 1944 graduate, Ben S. Graham, Director of Formcraft Engineering at Standard Register Industrial, adapted the flow process chart to information processing with his development of the multi-flow process chart to display multiple documents and their relationships. In 1947, ASME adopted a symbol set as the ASME Standard for Operation and Flow Process Charts, derived from Gilbreth's original work.[5]
    The modern Functional Flow Block Diagram was developed by TRW Incorporated, a defense-related business, in the 1950s.[6] In the 1960s it was exploited by NASA to visualize the time sequence of events in space systems and flight missions.[7] FFBDs became widely used in classical systems engineering to show the order of execution of system functions.[3]
    And FWIW in business consulting I was taught an issues-based methodology which mimics the steps listed in the earlier posts; identify a topic, conduct research, develop a hypothesis, determine findings, synthesize results, document the whole enchilada, submit the bill (wait...that last step isn't mentioned above).

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    Quote Originally Posted by tashirosgt View Post
    I agree that anything that was a "method" in the 1800's probably became formulated as a series of steps or a flow diagram by the 1960's if it survived. That general trend is interesting. How much of it was due to the influence of computers? They led to algorithms and flow diagrams becoming familiar procedures of thought. When did it become common for people to describe processes using block diagrams? Did the pre-computer efficiency experts contribute to the trend by their detailed analysis of tasks?
    Algorithmic processes were used way back in ancient Sumerian/Babylonian times, dating back to about 3000BC. I think the answer to your question is embedded in the History of Mathematics. Al-Khwarizmi (750-850BC) played a role in the formalisation of algebra, (which is all about method/process).
    The notion that computers somehow resulted in algorithms, doesn't recognise the mathematical/algebraic basis behind digital logic. Even to this day, University Engineering faculties teach subjects such as digital logic, prior to introducing digital circuit design .. which is the underlying theoretical basis which guides the design of computer's digital circuits.

    Quote Originally Posted by tashirosgt
    I agree that nowadays any "method" is liable to be described as specific steps. It's hard for people in the modern age to realize they are using intellectual approaches that may be unique to their era.
    There is lots of historical evidence that the intellect which eventually led to what we mean by 'method' is very ancient (in human-history terms) though.

    Quote Originally Posted by tashirosgt
    Looking back into history, I don't think a "method" lead to a description as a series of steps or a diagram in a short period of time.
    I guess if one recognises and wishes to demonstrate the amplification effect, (in terms of usefulness), of any newly discovered technique amongst broader groups of people, (beyond the individual), its virtually mandatory to communicate that by documenting/formalising any process steps for achieving that.

    Quote Originally Posted by tashirosgt
    So, yes, the general trend (in modern times) for a method to be formulated in terms of steps explains the particular fate of the scientific method. But I'm interested in the particulars of that example. My question and interest (at the moment) is when and how the general idea of "scientific method" was explicitly formulated as a series of steps - and who did it.
    I'd say teaching mathematicians, in academic institutions in western universtities, must have played a big role in formalising 'the process' .. it surely would be unavoidable for them, in order for them to effectively teach science to their students who would have already achieved proficiency in mathematics(?)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Remarkable. I wish I had this when my kids were little.

    Actually to be honest i bought them for myself... i have an infographic addiction.
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

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    Quote Originally Posted by Selfsim View Post
    There is lots of historical evidence that the intellect which eventually led to what we mean by 'method' is very ancient (in human-history terms) though.
    I agree that the scientific method has a long history. I also agree that one can take the modern perspective of viewing it as sequence of activities and analyze the thinking and actions of scientists of centuries ago in those terms. However, I don't know examples of scientists of centuries ago who self-described something resembling the modern version of the scientific method in a step-by-step way.

    My interest (in this thread) doesn't concern how well the modern step-by-step presentation describes the scientific methods of the past or of the present. I'm merely curious about when and why the format of the modern description originated.

    I'd say teaching mathematicians, in academic institutions in western universtities, must have played a big role in formalising 'the process' .. it surely would be unavoidable for them, in order for them to effectively teach science to their students who would have already achieved proficiency in mathematics(?)

    Teaching does lead to finding concise ways to describe things - lists of commandments, maxims of warfare etc. I can visual a conscientious 8th grade science teacher inventing the modern description of the scientific method. Mathematical algorithms do have a long history. When did people begin applying the idea of algorithms to describe complex social and intellectual activities?

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    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    From what Wikipedia says, the earliest method for documenting a process dates back to 1921:
    Thank you for that information! If we harp on the fact that process flow is a USA invention, we'll probably get some different opinions.

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    I realise that my experience is not that ancient, but I remember my chemistry classes from the late '70s where we had to write our reports first listing the required equipment and chemicals, then the method, then the results, then the conclusion. I also used to have a Mrs Beetons book of household management (1861) where details of how to prepare a meal were listed and described in much the same way. I think there has probably always been a description of method either orally or in written format since civilisation began. Otherwise results would have varied too widely to allow reproduction. To focus on the scientific method as the origin of method itself is a little unfair to the rest of technology in my opinion. To distinguish between "method" and "a series of steps" is merely an argument over terminology.

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    Quote Originally Posted by headrush View Post
    To focus on the scientific method as the origin of method itself is a little unfair to the rest of technology in my opinion.
    I think of unfairness as something that applies to dealing with people. So I interpret your remark to mean that evolution of descriptions of the scientific method is just one example of the evolution of descriptions of methods in general. Yes, I agree. I agree that there are historical examples of methods being described as a series of steps, but I don't agree that such descriptions had the same prominence as they have today.

    Did the style of cookbooks in previous centuries taint that style in the view of scientists and other writers in those centuries? Would a natural philosopher find it undignified to write in the cookbook style? Even today a "cookbook approach" has negative connotations. Perhaps there were famous scientists of the past who was also an avid cooks; we could examine their writing style.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tashirosgt View Post
    I think of unfairness as something that applies to dealing with people. So I interpret your remark to mean that evolution of descriptions of the scientific method is just one example of the evolution of descriptions of methods in general. Yes, I agree. I agree that there are historical examples of methods being described as a series of steps, but I don't agree that such descriptions had the same prominence as they have today.

    Did the style of cookbooks in previous centuries taint that style in the view of scientists and other writers in those centuries? Would a natural philosopher find it undignified to write in the cookbook style? Even today a "cookbook approach" has negative connotations. Perhaps there were famous scientists of the past who was also an avid cooks; we could examine their writing style.
    Sure, I agree that "the cookbook style" can be seen as a pejorative term. But I didn't mean to equate the scientific method with cooking. Just that it seems logical that a sensible series of steps would be the best way to explain a procedure in many disciplines. Cooking came to mind mainly because my partner doesn't appear to use any kind of reproducible method in the kitchen, which irks me a little

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