A pandemic is taking lives and livelihoods. Climate change threatens to drown cities and disrupt food supplies. Economic growth widens inequalities. These are some of the urgent problems society is wrestling with, where science, guided by our values, is critical to our progress.
Rather than guessing at solutions—especially with so much at stake—we, as a society, need to implement scientific thinking at all scales—from our daily lives, to corporate innovation, to government policymaking.
Scientists may seem to occupy a rarefied world apart, with their PhDs and high-tech equipment and stylish lab coats. But scientific thinking is within everyone’s reach. (And here’s a secret about the lab coats—most scientists don’t wear them.) Textbooks may change as we update our ideas about geology and medicine and physics, but the method used to update them hasn’t changed all that much.
New discoveries nearly all rely on some version of the scientific method. Applying this method and the technological transformation we’re bringing to it will be key to the next breakthroughs.
In simplified form, the scientific method follows a typical series of steps.
More broadly, the practice of science is a way of thinking about knowledge. It means asking how we know things. It means coming up with new ideas and making careful observations that can refute or support them, so that we know even more. It means poking at the world to see what happens. It means describing your methods of inquiry in such a way that others can repeat them independently, and communicating outcomes in a way that other scientists can interpret and understand them.
Thinking scientifically also means being aware of what others have already tried, and discovered. Any given scientific paper might reference hundreds of others, which shows how science constantly builds on what came before. This reliance on and trust in scientific knowledge comes from science’s commitment to transparency in a way that allows any scientist to challenge any idea at any time. Decisions should be informed by data and evidence.