How the Scientific Method Works


Josh: Josh Clark

Chuck: Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant

Vo: Voiceover Speaker

Josh: Chuck.

Chuck: Yo.

Josh: We have a huge announcement.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: Enormous.

Chuck: Eh.

Josh: I would call it enormous.

Chuck: We're going on tour.

Josh: We are.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: Again. This is our second tour.

Chuck: Yeah. Canada, is that a tour?

Josh: That was a world tour, remember?

Chuck: Yes. We are hitting the West Coast for hopefully what will be the first leg of more shows this year.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: And we're doing L.A., San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

Josh: Yep, it's all-

Chuck: Boom.

Josh: It's all happening at the end of March, beginning of April. March 30th in L.A., 31st in San Francisco, April 1st, which is not a joke, we'll be in Portland.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: And April 2nd we'll be in Seattle.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: So Chuck, we're announcing today tickets go on sale this Friday, January 16th.

Chuck: Get them while they're available, people, because we're not doing second shows in these towns. This is it. And this is brought to you by our friends at Squarespace. And so they are going to have a website up to get all the information you need.

Josh: It's called SYSKLive.com, right?

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: Yeah. So you'll be able to buy tickets, look at our picture, all sorts of stuff.

Chuck: Exactly. All your information will be there, and a big thanks to Squarespace for coming on board and helping us get this done. And we can't wait to see everybody.

Josh: Yeah. And big thanks to our pal at Billions, too, for helping us book this whole thing, right?

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: So everybody out there on the West Coast, everyone with access to planes, buses, trains, boats that travel to the West Coast, we will see you at the end of March and the beginning of April. Go to SYSKLive.com and find out everything you need to know.

Chuck: The Stuff You Should Know West Coast tour is brought to you by our friends at Squarespace. Squarespace is the easiest way to build a website.

[MUSIC]

Vo: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.

[MUSIC]

Josh: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. There's Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant, there's Jeri. Stuff You Should Know.

Chuck: Why you grinning?

Josh: It's been a while, man.

Chuck: I know.

Josh: It's funny, like the words come pouring out of my mouth and it's cool.

Chuck: You wake up in the middle of the night saying that and Umi slugs you in the face.

Josh: Right. She's like, "Go back to sleep." She has to dry my brow.

Chuck: Yes, we prerecorded some for December, as we like to do to take a little time off at the end of the year, and not explain things for a few weeks in our real lives.

Josh: It's nice.

Chuck: People ask me things like-

Josh: What happened to that stick of butter?

Chuck: Yeah. I don't know. Don't ask.

Josh: Don't even ask me.

Chuck: I could tell you.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: But I'm not going to.

Josh: Exactly.

Chuck: That's how it goes in my house. Find your own butter.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: December was "Find Your Own Butter Month."

Josh: Yeah. That's a good one.

Chuck: That should be a t-shirt for us: "Stuff You Should Know, Find Your Own Butter."

Josh: Or, "December is Find Your Own Butter Month."

Chuck: Yeah. That's right.

Josh: Maybe a stick of butter with some garland on it.

Chuck: Yeah. I like that. So, it's good to see you again, man. Good to be back in here.

Josh: Yeah. It is nice to be back, isn't it?

Chuck: As much as the break was great, I'm happy to be explaining things again.

Josh: Well, that's good because if we got in here and you're like, "I can't do this. I can't do it again."

Chuck: We'd be in trouble.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: So I'm glad we're all feeling good. Jeri, you feeling good? Jeri's got two thumbs up and a big goofy smile. Yeah.

Chuck: Wow. Two of her three thumbs.

Josh: She looks like Bob from that male enhancement pill ad.

Chuck: Oh, is he the guy, the old man that's super buff?

Josh: I wouldn't call him old. He's middle-aged. He looked like kind of a Bob Dobbs type dude. I think that's kind of who he was modeled after.

Chuck: Is he the guy that's super muscley now? I'm thinking of someone different, I think.

Josh: You're thinking of Jack LaLanne.

Chuck: No, no. Just there's some ad, there's some old man that looks really creepy because from the neck down-

Josh: Because he's super buff?

Chuck: He looks like a 25-year-old.

Josh: No, remember there was a male enhancement pill, and I'm making air quotes here.

Chuck: For erectile dysfunction.

Josh: Well, there go the air quotes. But yes. And it was in the early 2000s, I think, maybe late '90s, but I think early 2000s. And these ads were everywhere and there was Bob and all these great things happened to him because he started taking this pill.

Chuck: Really?

Josh: I can't remember the name of the pill. But the company got into a lot of trouble because it was basically like a subscription service. You gave them your credit card and you got this free trial, but then they started sending it to you and it was next to impossible to cut off service.

Chuck: Interesting.

Josh: They were like, "No, we want your maleness to be enhanced." You've seen these ads.

Chuck: Okay. I was going to start asking questions, but why? Why bother.

Josh: I will find it on YouTube.

Chuck: I'll be like, "Oh, Bob."

Josh: Yeah, you will. You'll go, "Oh." And we'll have to come back in and record an insert.

Chuck: Right. The guy that's on the back of all those pill bottles in my bathroom.

[LAUGHTER]

Josh: So, Chuck.

Chuck: Yes?

Josh: I don't even remember how we got-oh yeah, Jeri did that. That was Jeri's fault. But you remember we did the Enlightenment episode?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Okay. We talked a lot about how there's this kind of tug-of-war over the human psyche between rationalism and mysticism, I guess you could put it.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Well, I feel like-we're talking today about the scientific method.

Chuck: Yeah. Great idea, by the way.

Josh: Thank you very much.

Chuck: Kudos.

Josh: It's been a long time coming. Because I realize I don't understand it as fully as-I don't understand science. I understand the scientific method because it's pretty cut and dry and it's beautiful and elegant and simple. But then you just take this thing and it came out of the birth of rationalism, and when you place it into the world and make it function, there's a lot of implications. Is it being used properly? Is it being used responsibly? Are we putting what constitutes faith into that? It just raises all this other stuff and it made me realize I don't understand science as much as I want to, so researching this, it was awesome.

Chuck: Yeah. And this is a cool episode, I think, because not only are we going to talk about the scientific method but we're going to talk about just science, like what is science in general, and some of the rock stars along the way who really laid out the path remarkably, and many, many years ago coming up with these amazing discoveries that still hold. You can hold their feet to the fire for a lot of this stuff.

Josh: Yeah, because if you come upon a universal truth, it is what it is. You got to be the person who discovered it because you know you saw it, you realized it this certain way, but ultimately it was there already.

Chuck: Yeah. Like Newton, I mean we'll talk about all this stuff, but it's not like now we're like, "Oh, Newton. Most of what he said was wrong but that's understandable because it was a long time ago." His stuff holds up really, really well.

Josh: I was wondering if he on his deathbed was just like, "Oh man, I contributed so much to humanity, it's mind-boggling."

Chuck: But I couldn't enhance my malehood.

Josh: Well, Bob hadn't come along yet. So Chuck, let's quit stalling and talk about science. What is science?

Chuck: Well, I hate the old elementary school defined as, but it's a pretty good place to start here to get a base definition of science.

Josh: Yeah. Old William Harris did a great job with this.

Chuck: Yes, William Harris did a great job on this.

Josh: Yeah, he did.

Chuck: Science: the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation.

Josh: Boom. End of podcast.

Chuck: So the first part of that is science is practical and it is-Bill Harris makes a great point in here. It's not just stuff you do in a lab and it's not just for scientists. It is all about being hands-on and active and it's all about discovery and asking questions about-that's how everything is ultimately solved, is by someone looking at something and having a question about it.

Josh: Exactly. And then the scientific method comes in when you say, "And this is how you properly get to that answer."

Chuck: Exactly.

Josh: And he makes another good point, too, that the idea that there's a method, a scientific method makes it seem like it's secreted away among the fraternity of scientists. And like you said, anybody can use it. It's just kind of part of being a curious human, is science.

Chuck: It's not even anyone can use it. Everyone does use it.

Josh: Nice.

Chuck: You just might not even know that you're using it. I mean, one of the examples they use later is if your car overheats. When you figure out why and fix it, that's the scientific method playing out.

Josh: Right. Exactly. Based on reasoning.

Chuck: Yeah, and deduction and induction. Man, there's so much to talk about.

Josh: Okay. So let's talk about that definition that you had. So the first part is that science is a practical activity. So science is practical, right?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: The basis of the whole thing is discovery. You see something, you see birds in flight and you say, "Where are those birds going?" And if you just went and laid down on the ground and went to sleep after that, then you're not carrying out science. But if you went, "I want to find out where those birds are going," and you follow them and you start taking notes, that is the basis of science, is discovery.

Chuck: Yeah. And that's the observational part, as well. Sometimes you're using a microscope or a telescope, sometimes you're using your eyeballs. But no matter what your tool is, you're going to be watching something and recording what's called data or data, depending on-I don't know, what kind of person you are. What do you say? I think I say both.

Josh: I think I say data.

Chuck: Data?

Josh: Yeah. I don't think I say data. I say data.

Chuck: Data? All right. We'll go with data.

Josh: You say both?

Chuck: I feel like it just comes out of my mouth one way or the other and I don't really think about it.

Josh: I think that's like being ambidextrous.

Chuck: Yeah?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: I'm a data/data-ist?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: So once you are observing this data-well, there are a couple of kinds. There's quantitative data, which are numbers. Your body temperature is 98.6, although I think that's changed slightly now, hasn't it?

Josh: Yeah. It used to be-

Chuck: Isn't it slightly higher?

Josh: -if you were a human being, your body temperature is 98.6 and they realized no, there's a little more variation than that.

Chuck: Yeah. But any kind of numerical representation is quantitative, whereas qualitative is behavioral, like, "I'm going to watch that bird eat and poop for the next week."

Josh: Right. Or what will this slug do if I put a bunch of salt on it?

Chuck: Don't do that.

Josh: No, you really should not do that.

Chuck: No. That's awful.

Josh: But the reaction of the slug is gathering qualitative data. And depending on who you talk to, there isn't qualitative data in science, that it should all just be quantitative because-

Chuck: What?

Josh: Yeah, because quantitative data is reproducible. Qualitative data is not necessarily reproducible. You can observe the same phenomenon but you're not necessarily controlling it.

Chuck: Okay. I guess I get that, but I agree with Bill here, in that they are both-they go hand in hand, and neither one is more important than the other. You need to have both.

Josh: Well, a lot of people do. And we'll talk more about it later, because without the idea that qualitative data is acceptable and scientific, you don't have the social sciences. They don't exist.

Chuck: Yeah, that's a good point.

Josh: But yes, we have quantitative data and qualitative data. I agree with you. They're both useful.

Chuck: Okay. It is an intellectual pursuit. So you can make observations on data all day long, but until you bring reason and, in this case, inductive reasoning, which is deriving a generalization based on your observations, then it's just data sitting there on a piece of paper. It's supposed to lead you somewhere.

Josh: Right, exactly. And so we should talk about inductive and deductive reasoning. It's really weird, one of the things I came across is that there's not a universal agreement on how science is carried out. I saw some places where there was like, "There's no place for inductive reasoning in science." Then other places are saying, "Well, you have to have science using inductive reasoning." Everybody seems to agree that deductive reasoning is the basis of science, but that you also have to have inductive. So deductive is basically taking a big, broad generalization and saying that it applies to something.

Chuck: Specific, more specific.

Josh: Yes. Inductive is the opposite, where you say, "I've noticed these different data points and that means that this broad generalization is true."

Chuck: Right.

Josh: So you go from specific, small observations to a broad generalization. And the reason that a lot of people say "Well, inductive reasoning doesn't have any place in science" is because you're saying those birds over there are all brown therefore all birds of that type are brown; even though I haven't seen every single bird of that type in the world, I'm saying that all those birds are brown. And a lot of people say, "There's no place for that in science."

Chuck: Well, if you want to go out and prove that then, that's your business. You can't just say that and be like, "And I'm done."

Josh: Right, exactly.

Chuck: Well, I guess you could but you wouldn't be much of a scientist.

Josh: Right. But you can use it to formulate hypotheses. So you can say, "I've generated all these data points. I'm going to put them together and see if this broad generalization is true."

Chuck: Right. Okay.

Josh: So there is a place for inductive reasoning in science but everybody says deductive reasoning is the basis of science.

Chuck: Well, Bill Harris does-he offers a great example for inductive reasoning, with Edwin Hubble of the Hubble telescope. He was looking through the Hooker telescope, which at the time at California's Mount Wilson-

Josh: Is that the one from Rebel Without a Cause?

Chuck: No. That's Griffith Park Observatory, which has been redesigned and is really cool now.

Josh: Is it?

Chuck: Yeah. I mean it was kind of cool before, but it was definitely sort of the space museum that time forgot.

Josh: Oh, really?

Chuck: So they've updated it.

Josh: I'll bet that was cool, though, in its own way.

Chuck: Yeah, it was neat. I used to live near there, so it was kind of-

Josh: But that's like the famous one, at least in the movies.

Chuck: Yeah. It's where they have the big knife fight.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: And there's this James Dean statue there, too.

Josh: Oh, I didn't know that.

Chuck: A bust. So yes, Edwin Hubble, he's at Mount Wilson and he's looking through the Hooker telescope, which was the biggest one. And at the time, everyone said the Milky Way galaxy is it. That's what we've got going on.

Josh: Yeah, did you know this?

Chuck: Yeah, I knew that.

Josh: Because we're talking 1919.

Chuck: Yeah, not that long ago.

Josh: I did not realize this.

Chuck: And he started looking through this telescope and said, "You know what, these nebulae that everyone says are part of our galaxy look to me like they're beyond our galaxy. And not only that, they look like they're moving away from us." So he made this-through inductive reasoning made this observation that, "You know what, I think there are many, many galaxies out there, and not only that, I think they are expanding." And through technological advancement with telescopes over the years, it proved to be true.

Josh: Yeah. Pretty cool. So this is a really good example of him saying, "I've made some observations and now I'm going to say this broad generalization." So these galaxies appear to be moving away from another, so the whole universe is expanding. That's inductive reasoning.

Chuck: Yeah. It's a pretty brave thing, especially back then, because you're really putting your reputation at stake.

Josh: It really is. So what Hubble did was what we've come to see as science. He made some observations, he came up with a hypothesis, and then it was tested later on. You don't necessarily-as a scientist you're part of a larger collective of scientists, right? And every scientist needs one another. It's why there's journals and conferences and things like that, to share information.

Chuck: Yeah. And to party.

Josh: And to party. And Hubble came up with his own observations, and rather than just experimenting and experimenting and experimenting himself, which I'm sure he continued to do, he created this basis of work that he probably realized was going to survive him. And then later on, scientists came down the road and they tested his hypothesis and they found it was correct. And so his hypothesis became a theory. It eventually became part of the basis of the Big Bang theory, that the universe started as a huge explosion and it's expanding, still, because it exploded at one point, right?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And they did that by carrying out other tests.

Chuck: Or experiments.

Josh: Exactly. So this is how science works. Some guy back in 1919 makes some observations in California. In 1925 he proposes this big, broad generalization, and over the next ensuing half a century, more and more scientists all around the world start testing his hypothesis and find it to be true, so it becomes a theory.

Chuck: Well, let's finish up here with science. The last part of the definition is that it's systematic and it's methodical and it requires testing and experiments and it requires those experiments and tests to be repeated and verified. And it's a system, it's a way of working things out. It's a way of working. And that is the scientific method, basically. You have your idea, you pose a question, you theorize or you put a hypothesis out there, and then you go about trying to either prove it or disprove it.

Josh: Yeah, exactly. And then the way that you go about proving or disproving it, that's the scientific method. Everything else is just scientific inquiry. The way you go about-the standardized way of going about scientific inquiry is the scientific method. And we, friend, will talk about the scientific method right after this.

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Josh: Hey, Chuck, you know when you get a great idea and you're like, "I have to share this with the world."

Chuck: That happens once a week.

Josh: Yeah, well, which is why you know you need to snag a domain name and webhosting fast, which is why you go to Domain.com.

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Josh: Yep. And Domain.com is affordable, reliable, and easy to use, and they have a really great active social media presence that you can follow, @Domaindotcom, all spelled out.

Chuck: That's right. And people, we have a deal for you. You can get 15% off their already affordable prices. You can buy domain names, buy web-hosting, buy email just by using our coupon code STUFF at Domain.com's checkout.

Josh: So when you think domain names, think Domain.com.

[MUSIC]

Chuck: All right. You brought up a point I think we should go ahead and just get right to, my friend.

Josh: Let's do it.

Chuck: Hypotheses and theories. One thing-

Josh: That's tough to say together.

Chuck: I know.

Josh: You did it, though.

Chuck: One thing that really chafes my hide is when you hear pooh-poohers of whatever scientific theory say, "Well, it's just a theory."

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Where was this thing that you found that pooh-poohed that? Do you remember what website that was? No?

Josh: No. Although I do want to give a shout-out, now that you mention it, to Explorables. It's like an online university basically of free courses. And there is one on scientific reasoning that is just amazing. It's like a huge rabbit hole you go down. You start clicking on the embedded links and you end up understanding all sorts of stuff. So go check that one out.

Chuck: If you like understanding stuff.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: So that's one of the things that bug me, if someone says it's just a theory. And this does a great job of kind of throwing that out the window because it's basically mixing up the two definitions of theory.

Josh: Yeah. There's a colloquial definition that people use every day that doesn't really have much to do with the scientific use of it.

Chuck: Yeah. Like I got a theory that Jeri and her one-hour bathroom breaks every day is really playing Words with Friends in the lobby.

Josh: I think your theory is correct.

Chuck: So that's a theory, in the colloquial meaning. As far as science goes, a theory is not just something you postulate and say, "This may or may not be true." A theory is beyond the hypothesis, and it is something that is strongly supported in many different ways and there's all kinds of evidence to support something that eventually becomes a theory.

Josh: Right. So your theory about Jeri's bathroom breaks in the scientific world would be-

Chuck: Fact.

Josh: -a hypothesis. What?

Chuck: Fact.

Josh: Right. Well, it'd be a scientific law. But it ultimately would begin as a hypothesis, a hunch, based on intuition, based on the data you've collected, observations, that kind of stuff, where you've seen that Jeri goes to the bathroom for an hour at a stretch. Frequently when she comes back she's finishing up a game of Words with Friends. You've heard that she's been spotted in the lobby during these times. So your hypothesis is that, while she is gone for these hour-long bathroom breaks, she's actually down in the lobby playing Words with Friends. Right?

Chuck: Yeah. Based on knowledge, observation, and logic.

Josh: Right. So let's say that you decided to set up an experiment and you experimented and you went and you found Jeri playing Words with Friends five different times. And you told me about it, and I was like, "I'm going to run that same experiment exactly the way you did." I would test that same hypothesis. If I found the same results to be true, then what you would have come up with, your hypothesis, would move to basically a theory-that is this widely accepted thing, this explanation that Jeri is not actually in the bathroom, she's downstairs playing with Friends. It'd be the "Jeri Bathroom Break Theory."

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: And then, if it turns out that you find that Jeri is spending an hour a day pretending to be in the bathroom, but actually being downstairs playing Words with Friends, if the universe couldn't exist without her doing that every day, you would have a scientific law.

Chuck: That's right. Yeah.

Josh: I think that was a good example you came up with.

Chuck: Well, that's a great example as it turns out. I guess the point here is when you hear someone say in an argument, "Well, that's just a theory," just punch them in the head and then tell them what we just said about the bathroom breaks. And they'll say, "Who's Jeri?"

Josh: Or just queue up that whole bit and stand outside of their window wearing a trench coat and holding a boom box over your head with this smug look on your face.

Chuck: All right. So should we go back in the old way-back machine a little bit and just talk a little bit about how the scientific method came to be?

Josh: Yes.

[MUSIC]

Josh: Man, this thing-what are you running this on these days?

Chuck: What do you mean?

Josh: Just straight kerosene? The fumes in here are killing me.

Chuck: Sorry about that, trying to go green.

Josh: Kerosene is not green.

Chuck: Diesel maybe?

Josh: I'm choking.

Chuck: Biodiesel. How about that?

Josh: Okay.

Chuck: The way-back machine will run on French fry grease.

Josh: That would be fine.

Chuck: All right. I'll get to work on that.

Josh: I could handle those fumes.

Chuck: So you teased us with the Renaissance, and the reason the Renaissance was so awesome and necessary was because of something else we've talked about, which was the Dark Ages, when-

Josh: Which remember, that's the rationalist's disparaging term for this era.

Chuck: That's right. But I think sort of rightfully so, because right before the Dark Ages until about a century after, there was not much advancement at all in the realm of scientific advancement.

Josh: No, it's true. That's hard to argue with that. And the reason why is again, science wasn't really born yet and there was a huge struggle between rationalism and mysticism, and ultimately we're living in the age of rationalism now.

Chuck: Yeah. And we should point out, too, that this was mainly in Europe. Over in the Islamic world, as I think we had a listener mail point out, there were a lot of advancements being made, just sort of flying under the European radar at the time because some say the Catholic Church kind of kept science under its thumb for a while.

Josh: Yeah. Well, it was a pretty big threat.

Chuck: Yeah. And said, "You can't do this stuff. You can't experiment like this and don't ask these questions, because here are your answers."

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: But eventually the Renaissance came about in the 12th century and people woke up and saw some of the work in the Islamic world and said, "You know what? Maybe let's start reading up on Aristotle and Ptolemy and Euclid once again."

Josh: Yeah. They're like, "We forgot about these guys."

Chuck: Yeah. I mean they literally kind of vanished for a while.

Josh: It did from the West. Fortunately it was still around in its home places, but yes, in the West they were lost. The Roman stuff was almost entirely lost because it was being suppressed by the locals.

Chuck: And I think the Greek knowledge was completely vanished.

Josh: Yes, somehow-

Chuck: For a time.

Josh: Somehow they got-there was some-we got another listener mail after the Enlightenment one and they said it was an Islamic scholar who was the one who translated Aristotle into Latin or something like that. And that without this guy, the West wouldn't have had much to start with because that's where that birth of rationalism came from, was this rediscovery of Greek and Roman classical thought.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And this was the basis of scientific inquiry, of rationalism, of saying like, "Okay, there's set rules to things and we need to discover these rules and how the principles of how the universe works. There has to be principles and we need to find this in a rational, methodical way." And right out of the gate, Europe said, "Oh, okay. Well, whatever you say is right then, Aristotle. We're used to just believing everything without questioning it." And luckily Albert Magnus, I think is who it was-

Chuck: Albertus.

Josh: Was it Albertus Magnus or Roger Bacon who said-no, it was Roger Bacon, who just has this great name. Rog Bacon.

Chuck: The Bacon Brothers?

Josh: Yeah. He says-

Chuck: Francis and Roger?

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Well, they weren't brothers, though.

Josh: But were they related at all?

Chuck: You know, I'll look that up, and I don't think people know either way. I don't think there's any proof, but a lot of people think because of their names and the way things went back then that they may very well have been related.

Josh: Yeah. And I mean they were separated by 300 or so years.

Chuck: Although Roger was a monk, so he would not have had children.

Josh: Oh.

Chuck: So if they were related-

Josh: That's an excellent point.

Chuck: -it wasn't necessarily through his line.

Josh: Got you. Yeah. He could have been a nephew or something.

Chuck: Yeah. Or his brother Kevin might have had the line that matched.

Josh: So Roger was the one who said, "Everybody stop. Just because Aristotle wrote something doesn't mean it's fact, especially when we find contradictions to it. Aristotle is not automatically right." And this was a huge advancement.

Chuck: Yeah. And Albertus Magnus was the one, I believe, who said, "This thing called revealed truth, which is basically God says this instead of a truth found by experimenting, is-maybe we should experiment instead and not take this revealed truth as the truth."

Josh: Right. And we mentioned in the Enlightenment episode, as well, about scholasticism, about using scientific inquiry to explain theology, which was you're still working from a theological standpoint, but you're starting to use scientific inquiry, and the idea that you shouldn't just accept things as truth. That was again a huge breakthrough.

Chuck: Yeah. Francis Bacon, the other Bacon brother.

Josh: He's one of the heroes of this story.

Chuck: Yeah. He was an attorney and philosopher.

Josh: And possibly Shakespeare.

Chuck: Oh really?

Josh: Uh-huh.

Chuck: I never heard that.

Josh: Oh yeah.

Chuck: Interesting. So what do you mean, wrote those under a pseudonym?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: And the Shakespeare sister was the other theory, too, right? That it was a woman?

Josh: I've heard that, yeah.

Chuck: And she couldn't-women couldn't be the playwright, so her dumb brother William took credit.

Josh: That's a good-oh, was it her brother?

Chuck: I think that was one of the theories.

Josh: That was a good Smiths song, too.

Chuck: "Shakespeare's Sister," was that the name of it?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Wasn't it a band too? I think it was.

Josh: Was it?

Chuck: Maybe. So anyway, he was a philosopher and a lawyer and he said, "You know what"-the Baconian method basically became the scientific method. He was the first dude who really said, "This is the steps that you should take to investigate science."

Josh: Right. There has to be a framework. And the whole point of this, we take this so for granted now because it's so intuitively and on its face right as far as scientific inquiry goes, but this is an enormous breakthrough to say, "Follow these steps, this framework, and if everybody who carries out science follows the same framework, then science will be universal and interchangeable. And anyone in the world, and not just now but anytime, will be able to carry out the same experiment and will be able to verify or disprove it."

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And that is amazing that that happened. That's why Francis Bacon is one of the heroes of this story. And he didn't come up with this entirely on his own but he was the one who said, "This is what we're going to do. I'm going to give it a name, I'm going to spell it out, and from now on you can call me the dad of the scientific method."

Chuck: Yeah. And that's why Newton was such a rock star, because he so rigorously stuck to the scientific method that all these centuries later his systems of laws, they have stood the test of time. And I think it's a good point to bring up, too, that the collaboration of scientists is really the hallmark of advancement and moving forward. It's not working in a vacuum; it's sharing your ideas and working with one another. And the whole little sidebar here on cell theory I thought was pretty cool. Which was when science quit-well, not quit but started looking at small things instead of looking at the universe around them and at the stars and said basically, through the advancements of lens grinding, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek specifically, a Dutch tradesman, was pretty good at making simple microscopes. And all of the sudden contemporaries like Robert Hook said, "You know what, let's start looking at tiny things because therein might lie the answer to many, many things."

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: And they were right.

Josh: Robert Hook found cork, or he discovered cells by looking at cork through an early microscope. So in this story science is hastened by technological advancement, lens grinding to make microscopes, and then this new technology is used to further science, right?

Chuck: Yeah. It's like mutual inspiration between Leeuwenhoek and Hook.

Josh: Yeah. It was neat because Hook heard about Leeuwenhoek's microscopes, got his hands on one or a microscope, looked in them at cork and said, "Oh, there's such a thing as cells." Leeuwenhoek said, "Oh, that's pretty neat. Let me try." And he said, "Oh, there's such a thing as 'little animals,'" which we call protozoa and bacteria. And one of the royal societies, after Leeuwenhoek presented his findings, turned back to Hook and said, "Hey, Hook. We know you're pretty handy with a microscope. Can you confirm Leeuwenhoek's findings?"

Chuck: "Are there little animals?"

Josh: Hook said, "There are indeed. I can see them with my microscope."

Chuck: That's right. And that inspired a German botanist named Matthias Schleiden to look at a lot of plants. And he was the first guy to say, "You know what? Plants are composed of cells." And he was having dinner one night with his zoologist buddy.

Josh: Yeah. And this is about 100 years later.

Chuck: Yeah, Theodor Schwann. And said, "You know what, dude, order the wine and order the steak. Trust me, because this place is fantastic. And also, plants are made of cells. Don't tell anyone." And he went, "You know what, dude? I have been investigating animals with microscopes and they're made of cells, too."

Josh: And so they figured out, at this dinner, that everything is made of cells. All living things are made of cells.

Chuck: Boom.

Josh: Okay. So this is huge. This is a big advancement that we're hitting upon right now.

Chuck: Huge.

Josh: But it laid the further foundation, right?

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: So initial scientific inquiry led to further scientific inquiry, and further scientific conclusions and generalizations, all living things are made of cells. And then it was extrapolated elsewhere, right?

Chuck: Yeah, like 20 years later, Rudolf Virchow said, "You know what, not only is everything made of living cells, but they all come from preexisting cells," which was a huge deal at the time because people believed in spontaneous generation at the time.

Josh: Yeah. If you left some wheat seed in a sweaty shirt it would spawn mice, I think was one of them.

Chuck: Gross.

Josh: There was a lot of weird ones. Press basil between some bricks and you'll get a scorpion was one. They were really out there.

Chuck: Yeah. Well, the one that is not true but the one that you could actually see was rotten meat would eventually spawn maggots.

Josh: Right. How did they possibly get there?

Chuck: Yeah, spontaneous generation, but-

Josh: That's the obvious explanation. And if you think about it, they're working from Occam's razor, and Occam's razor says the simplest explanation is usually the right one, all other things given. Well, the thing is spontaneous generation has never been shown to be possible.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: If we've got the cell thing over here, let's investigate that. So this-what was the guy's name, Virchow?

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: He's saying, "Okay. Well, wait a minute. I've got this cell theory I'm working on that's been around for a couple of decades."

Chuck: Cell hypothesis probably.

Josh: The cell hypothesis-nice catch, man.

Chuck: Don't feel bad, though, because this article that you sent said that scientists today still confuse those terms, just colloquially.

Josh: And the How Stuff Works article makes a good point in saying that science and everything that has to do with it in the scientific method is very fluid and open to interpretation and experimentation, obviously.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: So he says, "Okay. This cell hypothesis, this is a pretty good explanation for what we now call spontaneous generation." He didn't do anything about it. He just put it out there. And then along comes Louis Pasteur, who does do something about it. He figures out a great experiment to try to disprove spontaneous generation.

Chuck: Yeah. It's pretty simple too. He basically took a broth, put equal amounts in two different beakers. One had a straight neck and one had an S-shaped neck. He boiled it just to make sure everything in it was killed, and then just let it sit there in the same conditions, open to the world, or open to the room; it wasn't corked, in other words.

Josh: No cork.

Chuck: And he noticed that the one with the straight neck eventually became cloudy and discolored, meaning there was some junk growing in there, and the one in the S-shaped neck did not do anything, it remained the same. And that led him to think what?

Josh: Well, he thought that germs, there was such a thing as germs, which Leeuwenhoek and Hook had already shown, and that in the S-shaped flask they had gotten trapped in the neck. In the open neck they had been able to just enter unobstructed and had generated there. The reason that the S-shaped flask was still sterile was because there is no such thing as spontaneous generation. If there were, then no S-shaped neck would impede anything like that.

Chuck: And boom, there you have it.

Josh: So he disproved that spontaneous generation is a thing, right?

Chuck: That's right, through the scientific method.

Josh: Exactly. Here's the leap that a lot of people make, scientists included, that really is a great disservice to science. He didn't prove cell theory.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: What he did was take that cell hypothesis and present some really persuasive evidence that it's probably right.

Chuck: Yeah, but like this article you sent points out, disproving something is just as important as proving something.

Josh: So here's the thing. That's the most you can hope for with science, is disproving.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: With science, unless you're talking about math, with science there's no such thing as proof. A theory, even a universal law still has the potential for being undermined by one single experiment, one single observation, and therefore there is no real ultimate proof in science. There's just theories and support for theories, and then ultimately laws and further and further support for laws, right?

Chuck: Right.

Josh: But they're not proven. What science does, ultimately, is disprove things or lend support for existing theories or existing interpretations of why things happen the way they do. And that's what Pasteur did. So if you look at that experiment, he disproved spontaneous generation, but he lent support to the cell theory and probably, with his experiment, it went from the cell hypothesis to the cell theory.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: Because it was just so persuasive. And that's what a theory is. It means that a lot of people out there who are reasonable say this explanation is probably the right one.

Chuck: Yeah. It's predictive: if you do it over and over you're probably going to get the same result.

Josh: Right. But that's not to say that Pasteur showed that if you do this a million and one times, that the S-shaped flask won't turn cloudy. He didn't prove that. You can't prove that, which is, again, science can disprove and lend support, can't prove.

Chuck: Very good point. So right after this message break we're going to get into the actual steps of the scientific method.

[MUSIC]

Chuck: Josh.

Josh: Yeah?

Chuck: It's a new year, my friend.

Josh: I know, and I have a great resolution.

Chuck: What's that?

Josh: Squeeze every penny out of every dollar.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And every moment out of every day that you possibly can.

Chuck: Yep, especially if you have a small business.

Josh: Yes.

Chuck: And we have a great idea for doing so. Quit wasting time going to the post office, driving there, finding parking, doing all that junk, when you could be working at home with Stamps.com. It's the better way to get postage.

Josh: Yeah, it is because, Chuck, you just use what you already have-your computer, your printer. You get official U.S. postage for any letter or package and then your friendly mail carrier comes and picks it up.

Chuck: That's right. You can do everything you would do at the post office right there from your desk, and at a fraction of the cost from one of those postage meters. Those are expensive.

Josh: Yeah, they are. Right now we can make it even less expensive for our listeners. If you guys go and use our promo code STUFF to get a special offer that is a no-risk trial plus $110 bonus offer, and it includes a digital scale and up to $55 in free postage.

Chuck: Wowsers. Don't wait, people. Go to Stamps.com before you do anything else. Click on that little microphone icon at the top of the homepage and type in STUFF. That's Stamps.com, enter STUFF.

[MUSIC]

Chuck: All right, dude. I guess at long last we are there. Like you mentioned before, the scientific method is fluid, and it's not like when you get your science degree they hand you a little laminated card like the Miranda rights that cops carry that list out all the different steps you have to take. But generally-

Josh: Maybe. I would-we should carry those around.

Chuck: All right.

Josh: We should make little wallet cards of the scientific method just to carry, with the Stuff You Should Know logo on it.

Chuck: Oh, yeah.

Josh: We'll make a million bucks.

Chuck: We could brand them and sell them.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Generally speaking, though, it follows these steps. The first thing you do, like we mentioned earlier, is you observe something, you ask a question. Next, like Darwin was known-I think when we did our podcast on him, he would spend a week on three square feet of ground on his property-

Josh: It was even longer than that, remember?

Chuck: Yeah, it was, wasn't it?

Josh: He said that he wasn't going to mow his lawn for three years because he wanted to see what happened.

Chuck: Yeah. So he's the ultimate in qualitative data of just observing, writing things down, and asking questions. And the reason you ask your question is so you can narrow something down, like I think the example they use in here is on Galapagos, the beaks of-what bird was it?

Josh: The finches.

Chuck: Yeah, the finch bird, he noticed a bunch of different beaks, so he finally posed the question, "I think these beaks are different for a very specific reason, and I aim to find out why."

Josh: Yes. He said, "What caused the diversification of finches on Galapagos?"

Chuck: You should have done that with an accent.

Josh: Well, he would have had a British accent, huh?

Chuck: Yeah. Unless he was pretending to be someone else.

Josh: I always think of him as sounding like Hemingway or something.

Chuck: Oh yeah?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Drunk and violent?

Josh: Kind of. But he wasn't. He was the opposite of that.

Chuck: Yeah. Well, I saw the movie, so I picture his voice as the dude that played him, who I can't remember right now.

Josh: Ed Norton.

Chuck: No. I finally saw Birdman, though. Did you see that?

Josh: Mm-hmm.

Chuck: Yeah?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Great movie.

Josh: I disagree.

Chuck: Oh, you didn't like it?

Josh: No.

Chuck: What? Wow. That surprises me. We'll get into that off the air [LAUGHTER]. So sorry, you just threw me with that dissention.

Josh: Make an observation.

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: He's on Galapagos and he's like, "What the heck is with all these different finches? It's one small island. Why would there be different species of finch?"

Chuck: So ask the question.

Josh: "And why are they all seeming to survive and coexist so well?" Then he leads to the question: "What's making all of these species of finches so diverse?"

Chuck: Right. Or Bill Harris uses a pretty good example that's something everyone can understand: what car body shape is the best for air resistance. One that's shaped like a box or one that's shaped aerodynamic like a bird?

Josh: Right.

Chuck: And he carries that out in the next step; you formulate your hypothesis based on your foreknowledge and maybe observations. Like, "So you know what, I think that a car shaped like a bird is probably more aerodynamic than one shaped like a box."

Josh: Yeah. If you're the type of person who's sitting around asking questions about aerodynamics, you probably already have some sort of sense that a box is less aerodynamic than a bird.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: Boxes rarely fly, unless they're carried by one of those delightful Amazon delivery drones.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] They don't have those yet, right? They're not going to do that, are they?

Josh: There's like a pizza delivery drone service.

Chuck: Oh, man.

Josh: I think, where you-

Chuck: Such a bad idea.

Josh: No, is it pizza or grilled cheese? In New York and you go stand on an X after you order and it like comes and drops it.

Chuck: That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

Josh: [LAUGHS] Yeah.

Chuck: And I can't wait to do it. [LAUGHS]

Josh: I'll be they're making a lot of money.

Chuck: That's pretty funny. Yet we can't get food to the homeless somehow.

Josh: Exactly.

Chuck: We can drop a grilled cheese on someone's head.

Josh: Right. They're like, "You homeless guy, get off that X."

Chuck: [LAUGHS] Yeah, exactly. All right. So your hypothesis, I don't think we ever mentioned, is typically represented as an "if-then" statement.

Josh: Yeah. If you're doing good science, yeah.

Chuck: Yeah. Like if the car's profile-well, the example he uses, if the body's profile related to the amount of air it produces, which is the more general statement-

Josh: Yeah, that's like based on a theory.

Chuck: Yeah, and it's going to get more specific. Then the car designed like the body of a bird will be more aerodynamic than one like a box.

Josh: So that's inductive reasoning, starting with the broad statement-

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: -and going to something narrow.

Chuck: And it's "if-then" at the same time.

Josh: Yeah. And now you have a test. You have a question that can be answered. You can figure out a way to answer it.

Chuck: Yeah. And he points out too, this is pretty important, that your hypothesis if it's formulated correctly it means it is testable and it's falsifiable.

Josh: Which are often one and the same.

Chuck: True.

Josh: Yeah. And again we go to the people who say that the soft sciences aren't real science, they're pseudoscience because a lot of the data they come up with, a lot of the hypotheses they come up with aren't falsifiable. They're not testable.

Chuck: Right. Yeah.

Josh: It's a thing. It's an issue.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] It is a thing. So next up in the steps, you're going to experiment. And when you experiment, you can't just go in there willy-nilly and do whatever you want. You have to set up specific conditions and they must be controlled, that's the key.

Josh: Yeah. And you want to-everything that's supposed to be identical needs to be identical. So basically you have two variables, at least. You have an independent variable and you have a dependent variable. And if you're talking about car shape, that is the independent variable in this study.

Chuck: Yeah, that's the one that's manipulated.

Josh: Exactly. It's the one you're controlling. The independent variable is the one you, the researcher, is controlling. So in this case you're controlling the shape of the car. You have yourself a bird-shaped car and you have yourself a box-shaped car. So the shape of the car changed because you made it change. Now when you blast a bunch of air over it during your experiment, what you're measuring is the dependent variable. So you're measuring what happens, based on the change that you made.

Chuck: That's right. And you want to study one single variable at a time, basically.

Josh: Yeah. Don't get fancy. Just do good science step by step, methodical.

Chuck: You also have to have your control group in any experiment and an experimental group, and the controlled group is what's going to allow you to compare the test results to that baseline measurement. And you need that baseline measurement.

Josh: So like Pasteur-

Chuck: So you know it's not just chance, basically.

Josh: Exactly. If Pasteur had just done the S-shaped neck and nothing happened, he wouldn't have necessarily been able to say that he was right, even though he was right. He needed that control, which was the open flask.

Chuck: Right. Or with the cars you need two cars, like you said, one bird-shaped and one box-shaped.

Josh: Right or maybe in this case since the bird shape and the box shape both show up in the hypothesis, you need a third egg-shaped one or something like that.

Chuck: Oh, I bet that would be pretty streamlined.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Yeah. But the key, though, is all of the other variables have to be the same. You have to have them-they have to be the same weight, they have to be painted the same, the tires, everything, the windows. One can't have an antenna and the other not; they've got to be identical other than the one variable.

Josh: Right, the independent variable. That's the one you want different. Everything else you want the same or else it's possible that, oh, well, this one had bigger tires so that actually made it more aerodynamic.

Chuck: Yeah. And you're just doing yourself a favor by doing all that stuff. You want to rule out everything else but that one variable. After that you want to analyze your data so you can draw your conclusion. And sometimes it's kind of straightforward and easy, sometimes it takes a lot of work and a lot of various tools to draw that out.

Josh: Yes. Let's say you're just blasting a car in a wind tunnel. You're measuring the wind resistance using certain awesome instruments and that kind of stuff and you're taking that data and then afterwards you're going to analyze it. You're going to compare the data that you gathered from the bird-shaped car, the box-shaped car, and then the control, the egg-shaped car. You're going to compare them and you're going to say, "Well, the wind resistance was less for the bird-shaped car than the box-shaped car, which means that my hypothesis was correct."

Chuck: Right. And here all the data points, whereas Louis Pasteur could just say, "Look at the beakers."

Josh: Exactly. Don't be an idiot. I'm a scientist.

Chuck: That one's got gross stuff. You can see it. [LAUGHS]

Josh: [LAUGHS] Right. But the other thing about science, too, Chuck, ideally, is let's say the egg-shaped one, the control group turned out to have better wind resistance than anything. Well, just by virtue of carrying out this experiment correctly, you would have stumbled upon an even better aerodynamic design.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: And you would have come up with that little egg-shaped Mercedes SUV that was so huge ten years ago.

Chuck: The Mercedes Egg, coming to a store near you.

Josh: So that's a big, big part of the scientific method, is carrying out an experiment, controlling the variables, analyzing the data, and then there's a step that he missed that is very rarely part of a scientific method list.

Chuck: Oh yeah?

Josh: That is to share your data.

Chuck: Oh, sure.

Josh: And this is a huge problem with science right now.

Chuck: Yeah. That article you sent was really eye-opening. Scientific research has changed the world, now it needs to change itself.

Josh: Yeah. It's an Economist article. It's up on the internets.

Chuck: Yeah. It was kind of scary that, I mean here's some of the data he points out, is one rule of thumb among biotech venture capitalists is about half, 50% of published research can't even be replicated. And the biotech firm Amgen found that they could reproduce only six of their 53 landmark studies in cancer research. So you can't repeat these things. It's like everyone's fighting for dollars and fame, well, maybe not fame but-

Josh: Some are.

Chuck: -career advancement.

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: Such that they are kind of not doing that final step any longer.

Josh: No. And it's not necessarily just them. It's the other scientists aren't going back and saying, "Well, let me see if your results are reproducible." People are just taking it on faith. We need another Roger Bacon to come along and be like, "Dude, we can't just blindly accept that one person carried out this one study and then just go do clinical trials on it without anybody reproducing it to see if the results can be verified independently."

Chuck: Yeah, because-and this is a good time to mention bias. There is such a thing as bias, and it still happens. A scientist is usually out to prove something or disprove something that they want a specific result. Even if you're super open-minded, you're probably hoping to disprove or prove something one way or the other, and your confirmation bias might-even if you don't think you're doing it, you might nudge out some results that don't support your hypothesis. And so you won't make it into that awesome journal, which this author points out that journals need to start putting in what he calls uninteresting results in experiments.

Josh: Right, or-

Chuck: The stuff that's not sexy.

Josh: Right. Or studies failed to show that their hypothesis was correct.

Chuck: Yeah, stuff that's disproved.

Josh: Those things still need to-well, not even disproved-well, yeah, I guess it is disproved. But yes, like the guy set out to say a red balloon uses less helium than a silver balloon and it turns out that no, they use the same amount of helium. Well, if that study gets published and put out there into the scientific literature on helium and balloons, then it's going to prevent some other scientist down the road from wasting time, money, and helium-which, as you'll remember, is an increasingly needed commodity-by carrying out the same experiment. Whether the results are positive or negative or what, the study is meant to be shared. And that's the point of the scientific method, is to reduce bias, and if you follow it all the way through ideally, and do all of the steps, including share your research, whether it's happy or sad, then science benefits, the world benefits. And by not doing that, the world does not benefit.

Chuck: Yeah. He points out that these days only 14% of published papers are quote/unquote "negative results" and it used to be 30% or more. And he says a lot of it has to do with this sort of getting in these journals and you're the rock star scientist and this study is super sexy. If they quit going that route and made it what it should be, then research dollars would be better spent and people could-he said the peer-reviewed thing isn't even all it's cracked up to be anymore.

Josh: I know. He mentions a study from a medical journal that gave a bunch of peer reviewers some stuff with deliberate errors inserted into the research, into the studies. And even when they were told that they were being tested to find this, they still missed a lot of it. So yeah, science needs to kind of reevaluate the way it's carrying out science. It's not science, the problem isn't science itself, the problem isn't the scientific method. It's the way that it's being used or not followed through, and a lot of it has to do with academia and the people funding science.

Chuck: Yeah. And he said these days there's seven million researchers, and back in the day even in the 1950s there were a few thousand maybe. So there's just a lot of career competition. He calls it careerism. So you fake a result or two or you just nudge out some results that don't support your hypothesis because you want the bigger paycheck or the fame or notoriety, and all of the sudden science is not science. It's pseudoscience.

Josh: Exactly. And speaking of pseudoscience, I think we've reached the point where we should talk about the limitations of the scientific method. Because it does have its limits, right?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: The way the scientific method is set up, especially if you go through-if you include falsification, which most scientists now say is a thing. Falsifiability of your hypothesis means that you have a real scientific hypothesis there. If it can be disproven by some observation or some measurement or whatever, then it's falsifiable. And if it's not falsifiable, then it's not really science. So the thing is for something to be falsifiable-and it was actually a philosopher that came up with the concept of falsification, a guy named Karl Popper in the 1930s. And he was the one that said, "You have to be able to falsify something for it to be disproven or supported. And if not, then it's pseudoscience." Well, part and parcel of that is that what you're saying has to be able to be detected empirically. There's some way that has to, the presence of it has to be measured or inferred. And so a lot of people say, "Well, then with the scientific method, it reaches the limits of its current usefulness when it tries to explain the supernatural." When somebody says-

Chuck: Ghosts are real.

Josh: Exactly. You can't prove that. Well, you also can't disprove it, either. And so if you are a scientist who says because the scientific method can't prove or disprove the existence of ghosts or God, there is no such thing as ghosts or God, you're making a leap of faith just as much as the same person who says science can't prove or disprove the existence of ghosts or God, therefore God and ghosts are real. They're both leaps of faith. And that really the most scientific approach to the existence of the supernatural, whether it is ghosts or God, is that we simply don't know and that we cannot know scientifically. But that doesn't mean that it does exist or doesn't exist. And that saying that science shows that it does or doesn't exist is by definition the opposite of what science shows. Science shows neither. It's not capable of showing or showing that something doesn't exist.

Chuck: Yeah. That's a good point. The other place where science can get corrupted is when it blurs the lines or when people blur the lines between moral judgments and science value judgments. You can study global warming, you can study cause and effect, you can report data. But when you make that second leap to say-and this is a scientist. I mean, someone can come along and say global warming is bad, you shouldn't drive your SUV. That's fine. But a scientist can't do a study and say that because that's a value judgment and that's where science can get corrupted, pretty much. You can study global warming and results until the cows come home, but you can't assert that if you use this light bulb you're a bad person.

Josh: Right. Or ocean acidification is bad. It's not good for humans, but if you're a jellyfish it's awesome. So again, you made a great point. It's not science, it's people using science to make value judgments. So ultimately the scientific method, although it does have its limitations in that it needs empirical data to prove or disprove something, it's not flawed. That's not a flaw, that's a limitation. And it's when it's misused, then its results become flawed or skewed. And that's the people doing it, man, not science.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: It's pretty interesting stuff.

Chuck: Yeah. Man, this was a good one.

Josh: I thought so too, man.

Chuck: Way to start out with a bang.

Josh: Boom.

Chuck: It's all downhill from here.

Josh: If you want to know more about the scientific method, check out that article on The Economist, check out Explorables, and then of course check out the scientific method in the search bar at HowStuffWorks.com. And since I said that, it's time for listener mail.

[CHIMES]

Chuck: That's right but quickly before listener mail, we get asked by listeners all the time, "What can we do? Since you have a free podcast, we can't pay for it. What can we do to help you guys?" And one thing you can do that we would appreciate is go to iTunes and leave a rating and a review for us. That makes a-

Josh: Yeah, that would be so nice.

Chuck: -big, big difference in keeping us up there in the rankings, which means more people find Stuff You Should Know. After they listen to Serial, they'll just say, "Well, geez, there's other podcasts in the world?"

Josh: "What is this podcast?"

Chuck: So ratings and reviews really help us out and it doesn't cost you anything but a few minutes. Be honest, we're not saying go leave us some great review. But go leave us a great review. [LAUGHS]

Josh: You said it.

Chuck: And tell one person about Stuff You Should Know. We would appreciate that, too. Turn somebody on to the show and that's it. That's our version of a pledge drive.

Josh: Wow. We do that, what, once every three years now?

Chuck: Yeah. Not very obnoxious, is it?

Josh: And it lasts 40 seconds.

Chuck: All right. So on to listener mail. This is from my sister-in-law actually.

Josh: Oh yeah? That's some nepotism.

Chuck: Yeah. Jenny Bryant.

Josh: Makes sense.

Chuck: She, I mentioned in the homeschool episode, homeschooled her kids for a little while. And she sort of corrected me. "Loved the homeschooling episode, guys. One very big trend these days in the homeschooling community is what Abby," my niece, "does, which is hybrid homeschooling." So two to three days a week she is at school, and then the rest of the time she's at home.

Josh: She's a plant.

Chuck: She's not a plant. The rest of the time she's at home. So she says it's a great option with curriculum provided, and new topics taught at school and then worked out at home. Many of these schools are accredited, making getting into college, including Ivy League schools, hassle-free.

Josh: Nice.

Chuck: "And Abby's school has sports teams, homecoming-Abby's actually an excellent volleyball player-beta club, newspaper staff, all of the good stuff. The flexibility is great for families and we are huge fans of how the hybrid approach prepares students for college, by allowing them time outside of class to manage their work and life schedules." So that's from Jenny.

Josh: Nice. Thanks, Jenny.

Chuck: It was actually via text.

Josh: Oh really?

Chuck: First listener mail via text.

Josh: How did you print that out? Did you retype it and print it?

Chuck: No, dude. Are you serious?

Josh: You can print from texts?

Chuck: No, you just copy paste it to an email.

Josh: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I forgot about that method. How in the world did you print a text? Did you do that with your thoughts? I have a niece who is excellent at volleyball, too.

Chuck: Oh yeah? How old is she?

Josh: Yeah. We should get them together. Geez, I don't know, 10, 11, 12, something like that.

Chuck: Okay. Abby just turned 13, so they're-

Josh: Oh, maybe they face off against one another.

Chuck: Yeah. Is she in Atlanta?

Josh: Yeah. She's up in Canton.

Chuck: You never know.

Josh: Where's Abby?

Chuck: She's in Roswell, but they-I think with volleyball they kind of have-play all over the state.

Josh: Wouldn't that be bizarre if they play each other?

Chuck: Yeah. We'll just see each other at a match one day.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: On opposite sides of the courts with our arms folded.

Josh: Yeah. What else?

Chuck: I got nothing else.

Josh: Well, like Chuck said, go leave us a review. And if you want to get in touch with us, you can tweet to us @SYSKPodcast, you can join us on Facebook.com/StuffYouShouldKnow, you can email us-do we still do that?

Chuck: Yeah. You can't text me.

Josh: At StuffPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com. And as always, join us at our home on the web, StuffYouShouldKnow.com.

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Vo: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit HowStuffWorks.com.

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