Science, today, is treated as though it is some all powerful entity to be worshipped and adored, but I have to burst this bubble. Science is not all powerful. However, scientific principles are testable. They can be proven wrong or correct. That’s what great about science. We can prove it wrong and, then, improve it or find something completely new. However, there are limitations. Science can only provide support for things than can be seen or measured. Even if these two things apply, they have to be done well. Thankfully, there is a method for doing this known as the scientific method. There are 8 steps to this process.
1. Define the question. What do you want to test, specifically?
2. Gather information and resources. This includes finding what others have done and what conclusion(s) they made.
3. Form a hypothesis. This should be specific, testable, and have a direction. A good example would be an if, then statement. (e.g. If someone smokes, then they will develop cancer)
4. Perform an experiment which can test this hypothesis and collect data.
5. Analyze the data.
6. Interpret the data. Identify if the hypothesis was correct or incorrect. If incorrect, a new hypothesis should be formed which can also be tested.
7. Share the results. This can be done first hand if an experiment is informal, or it can be presented at a conference or even published.
8. Finally, it must be re-tested and re-tested to confirm the results.
This is a bare minimal to determine cause and effect. Specifically, three things need to occur to determine an effect is caused by one thing. There is an overlap here between the first list and this one.
1. Two variables need to be related. This is also called correlation. (e.g. smoking cigarettes and cancer)
2. One of these variables has to precede the other. (e.g. smoking before cancer)
3. All other possible causal variables have to be eliminated (e.g. other cancer causing agents or genetic factors)
As you can see, it becomes difficult to determine as exact cause. But, I make this point because we are told that one study has found that this causes that. Again, I will discuss smoking and cancer. Often, it is stated that smoking CAUSES cancer. This statement is, in fact, false. Smoking may cause cancer. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that it does, but we can’t definitely say this. Studies have shown that smoking is highly related to cancer. There is a correlation between the two. Often those who smoke will develop cancer, but this isn’t always the case. Since it would unethical to have someone smoke for the sake of science, studies which would prove this cannot be conducted. However, the evidence points to this outcome overwhelmingly and consistently. Whenever a news report says that one thing causes another, see if these rules apply. If not, they are misstating a cause and effect relationship. The two behaviors are simply correlated.
Myers, D. G. (2008). Social Psychology (Ed. 9th), pps 18-24.