Introduction: Geologists have proposed three ways in which major landforms may have formed:
  • Hypothesis 1: Differential erosion
  • Hypothesis 2: Differential deposition
  • Hypothesis 3: Deformation
What is a hypothesis?

Your task is to decide which one or more of these processes were involved in the formation of the major landforms of the New York City region. That is, you have to evaluate the relative merits of each hypothesis for each of the four large-scale landforms:

  • the asymmetric, straight ridge
  • the parallel ridges and valleys
  • the belt of irregular hills
  • the gently sloping plain
A Scientific Method: 'Scientific' evaluation can be accomplished through testing the hypotheses. Each test involves making one or more predictions about what should be the case if a hypothesis is or is not true. Judging whether the predictions are fulfilled or not depends on the collection and analysis of observational or experimental data.

Click on the blue button and see "The Method In Action - A Problem Solving Exercise Starring Lou & Lulu".

Here are the formal steps that were followed in "The Method In Action". They constitute a scientific approach (method) to problem solving.

  1. State the problem clearly.
  2. State a hypothesis clearly.
  3. Devise one or more predictions and state them clearly.
  4. Make observations to acquire data relevant to the predictions; organize or 'play' with the data.
  5. Evaluate the prediction in terms of the observations: draw conclusions as to how well the predictions are fulfilled.
  6. Evaluate the hypothesis: i.e., draw a conclusion as to how strongly the hypothesis is supported or negated.
  7. Repeat steps 2-6 for competing hypotheses. (Competing hypotheses may include revisions of the original hypothesis suggested by the results of the testing process.)
  8. Compare hypotheses: come to a conclusion as to which hypotheses are the strongest and the likelihood of their being true.

Click on the blue button to see an analysis of Lou and Lulu's investigation in terms of the steps listed above.

Click on the red button and do the 'Analysis Of Flawed Arguments' exercise.

Give an example to show the difference between a hypothesis and a prediction that will test the hypothesis:

Can the problem solving approach outline above be used successfully to tackle any problem? If your answer is "no", for which kinds of problems is it not appropriate?

Is it sometimes acceptable (and useful) to use the 'scientific method' to tackle problems outside the realm of 'science'? If the 'scientific method' is used to solve 'non-scientific' problems, does that make the method 'unscientific'? Why?

David J. Leveson