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Exploring the Scientific Method

Cases and Questions

From their grade school classrooms forward, students of science are encouraged to memorize and adhere to the “scientific method”—a model of inquiry consisting of five to seven neatly laid-out steps, often in the form of a flowchart. But walk into the office of a theoretical physicist or the laboratory of a biochemist and ask “Which step are you on?” and you will likely receive a blank stare. This is not how science works. But science does work, and here award-winning teacher and scholar Steven Gimbel provides students the tools to answer for themselves this question: What actually is the scientific method?

Exploring the Scientific Method pairs classic and contemporary readings in the philosophy of science with milestones in scientific discovery to illustrate the foundational issues underlying scientific methodology. Students are asked to select one of nine possible fields—astronomy, physics, chemistry, genetics, evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, economics, or geology—and through carefully crafted case studies trace its historical progression, all while evaluating whether scientific practice in each case reflects the methodological claims of the philosophers. This approach allows students to see the philosophy of science in action and to determine for themselves what scientists do and how they ought to do it.

Exploring the Scientific Method will be a welcome resource to introductory science courses and all courses in the history and philosophy of science.        

424 pages | 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

History of Science

Philosophy of Science

Physical Sciences: History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences


“This is a truly unique approach for a textbook. The philosophical positions that Gimbel chooses to focus on are important and the choices of primary source articles are excellent. Exploring the Scientific Method will be attractive to anyone teaching courses on the history and philosophy of science.”

Mara Harrell, Carnegie Mellon University

“The way Gimbel integrates core readings in the philosophy of science with case studies works extremely well. As far as I know, Exploring the Scientific Method is the first book that does this, and I think this is exactly the approach that is needed to orient new students in the field.”

Mathias Frisch, University of Maryland

“All things considered, Gimbel succeeds in creating an innovative textbook that combines philosophical and historical approaches to the study of scientific method. Exploring the Scientific Method is not a comprehensive introduction to philosophy of science, and it does not provide an adequate foundation for advanced study in HPS, but those are not Gimbel’s intentions. Focusing on scientific method specifically, rather than on the broader scope of philosophy of science, allows Gimbel to include an impressive variety of material while maintaining the clear themes of characterizing scientific reasoning and the structure of theories. This volume is ideal for a course geared toward students in scientific and other disciplines who wish to gain insight into scientific method, and the unique integrated approach is invaluable for students with no background in HPS.”

Brooke Abounader | Isis

Table of Contents


How to Use This Book

Syntactic View of Theories


Aristotle                      from Posterior Analytics and Physics

René Descartes            from Discourse on Method

Case Studies


Francis Bacon             from Novum Organum

Isaac Newton               from Principia

John Stuart Mill            from System of Logic

Case Studies


William Whewell           from Novum Organum Renovatum

Rudolf Carnap              “Theoretical Procedures in Science”

R. B. Braithwaite          from Scientific Explanation

Paradoxes of Evidence

David Hume                 from Enquiry

Nelson Goodman         from Fact, Fiction, and Forecast

Carl Hempel                 from “Studies in the Logic of Confirmation”

Responses to the Paradoxes of Evidence


Karl Popper                 from The Logic of Scientific Discovery

Case Studies

Holistic View of Theories

Pierre Duhem               from Aim and Structure of Physical Theory

Thomas Kuhn               from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Imre Lakatos                The Methodology of Research Programmes

Case Studies

Semantic View of Theories

Marshall Spector          “Models and Theories”

Max Black                   “Models and Archetypes”

Ronald Giere                from Explaining Science

Case Studies

Critical Views of Scientific Theories

Paul Feyerabend           from Against Method

Ruth Hubbard               “Science, Facts, and Feminism”

Bruno Latour                “The Science Wars: A Dialogue”

Case Studies

Closing Remarks

Deductivism Case Study Readings

Astronomy       Aristotle           from On the Heavens  

Physics Epicurus           from Letter to Herodotus       

Chemistry         Paracelsus        from Hermetic and Alchemical Writings

Genetics           Aristotle           from On the Generation of Animals

Evolutionary Biology     Aristotle           from On the Generation of Animals

Geology           John Woodward           from An Essay towards a Natural History of the Earth

Psychology       Hippocrates      from The Nature of Man, The Sacred Disease

Sociology         Thomas Hobbes           from Leviathan           

Economics        Aristotle           from Politics   

Inductivism Case Study Readings

Astronomy       Ptolemy            from Almagest

Physics James Clerk Maxwell   from “Molecules”

Chemistry         Robert Boyle    from The Skeptical Chymist

Genetics           Gregor Mendel from Experiments in Plant Hybridization

Evolutionary Biology     Carolus Linnaeus          from Systema Naturae

Geology           James Hutton    from “System of the Earth”

Psychology       Heinrich Weber            from “The Sense of Touch and the Common Feeling”

Sociology         Émile Durkheim            from Suicide

Economics        François Quesnay         from “Farmers”



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