Doing Science . . .

     Science is a process . . . a way of thinking. In reality, it is little more than being logical. Science is sometimes circuitously defined as 'anything that can be studied by the scientific method'.  You have probably been introduced to the scientific method already many times in your science career, yet surprisingly few people can properly design and carry out an experiment. But that's what you'll do in this exercise!
     The process of this method is to:
      1. make observations;
      2. form a testable hypothesis based on these observations;
      3. design a rigorous experiment to test the hypothesis;
      4. collect and statistically analyze the data;
      5. determine whether your hypothesis is supported or not;
      6. publish your results to allow evaluation of your findings by others in your field.
     So . . . what hypothesis would you like to test? Let's not make it too difficult. After all, I don't care as much about the question as about developing skills in experimental design. Your hypothesis should be a statement which can be answered, "True or False".

How about . . . 

Men are taller than women.

     How would you test this hypothesis? First you must state your null hypothesis, Ho ('H sub zero'). What would it be for this example? Write it below.


     Whenever testing an hypothesis, you must also provide at least one viable alternative hypothesis which you will accept if the null hypothesis is not supported. What will your alternative to this be?


Now, plan the experiment which will test the hypothesis you've chosen. Here are some of the points that you must consider:

  1. How many subjects should I use?
  2. How will I choose the subjects to be used?
  3. How will I analyze the data once collected?
  4. What kind of results will it take to convince me that my hypothesis is accepted or rejected?
The Importance of Collecting Random Samples

     You are a fishery biologist who has been assigned the job of determining the average weight of Largemouth Bass in Lake SheaHaley. You don't have any idea how many fish there are in the lake. How can you calculate an average?

     How many must you collect to get an accurate average measurement? In statistical-ese, this is phrased, "What sample size do I need to get statistically significant results?".
     How will you collect the fish? If you have hundreds from which to choose, which one(s) will you measure?  Here are a couple of scenarios. Determine which of these would give you the best sample.
a) A bass fishing club holds a tournament and brings you their catch from the day.
b) Using a shoreline seine, you venture out as deep as you can walk and catch as many fish as you can on the way into shore. c) Using an electrofishing boat, you fish for 10 minutes, saving all bass you collect.
d) Using rotenone, you poison the lake, killing all the fish in it.
     Although they may not look like fish, a bucket of rocks will substitute for bass. There are 100 rocks of various sizes. You have neither the time nor manpower to weigh them all. How many will you do? How will you choose which ones you will weigh? (For instance, if you chose a sample size of 10, which ten will you chose?
     Let's see who comes up with the best method of data collection, i.e., who gets closest to the correct answer!

Instructions for Lab Reports

(Note: This is a summary of materials presented in McMillan (2001). Consult that fine text for detailed instructions.)

     Writing lab reports will provide you with some experience in analyzing and reporting the results of lab and field studies. The general format will be like that of a scientific paper for publication in a journal. For an example, see any journal, e.g. Ecology. Because we are not doing original research and have only a limited library to back us up, in reality these write-ups will be at best a hybrid between a lab report and a scientific publication.
     The paper should be organized into major sections: Title, Abstract, Introduction, Methods and Materials, Results, Discussion, and Literature Cited.

     As concisely as possible, summarize the entire paper. In only a few sentences, describe your objectives, results, and important discussion and conclusions. Although it is often published as the first section of a paper, you may want this to be the last section you write.

     This section should be short and to the point, containing: 

1) a statement of the subject (what you did), 
2) some orientation of the report within the field (relate your work to other, similar, published accounts), and
3) the purpose of the work (why did you do it?).

Methods and Materials
     Included in this section should be a description of the methods and materials used in sufficient detail that another worker can repeat your procedures. Statistical procedures used and a description of the study area should also be included here.

     Results should be clearly presented in the form of tables and figures. In the text of this section, important results are pointed out and trends in the data are noted. Do not include raw data here; if they are especially important they may be included in an appendix. Trends and relationships important to the Discussion are often presented here first. All tables, charts, figures, and graphs must be titled and organized in space-saving form. All of these must be specifically referred to in the text.

     This section should contain an interpretation of the results, including their relevance to related published material, their significance, and general theories or hypotheses supported or refuted by the data.

Literature Cited
     Science has its own writing style and its method of citing literature may differ from those used in other fields. When writing scientific literature footnotes are generally not used. If you want to cite a work in the text, it is normal to use one of the following methods:

  1. Darwin (1859) did not say that man arose from monkeys. Or,
  2. Nowhere in his works does Darwin claim that man came from monkeys (Darwin 1859).
     The full reference appears in the Literature Cited section at the back of the paper. The style for journal articles, books, and electronic sources differ. Use the proper form.

Journal article:
      Author's name. Publication date. Title of article. Journal name. Volume #: page numbers.
e.g. Girnish, T. J. 1982. On the adaptive significance of leaf height in forest herbs. Am. Nat. 120: 353-381.
     Author's name. Copyright date. Title. Publisher, City of publication. # of pages in the book.
e.g. Smith, R. L. 1995. Ecology and Field Biology, 5th Edition. Harper & Row, NY. 835 p.
     Use common sense. As always, provide sufficient information for your reader to look up the original material. If possible, include Author's name. Publication date. Title of article. Journal name. URL (internet address e.g., and the date you accessed it.

For example:

William S. Gaud.  1999.  Sexual Dimorphism.  September 2, 2002.

Note: Literature Cited includes only publications you have directly cited. It is not a listing of all the books you examined.


null hypothesis - the condition which would be expected if there is no effect present.
rotenone - an organic poison extremely toxic to fish; derived from plants of the chrysanthemum family.
testable hypothesis - a tentative idea which can be disproved by scientific experimentation.