Observing and Inferring
Observing Scientists try to make careful
and accurate observations. When possible, they use instruments such as microscopes, thermometers, and balances to make observations. Measurements with a balance or thermometer
provide numerical data that can be checked and repeated.
When you make observations in science, you'll find it helpful to examine the entire object or situation first. Then, look carefully for details. Write down everything you observe.
Imagine that you have just finished a volleyball game. At home, you open the refrigerator
and see a jug of orange juice on the back of the top shelf. The jug, shown in Figure 13, feels cold as you grasp it. Then you drink the juice, smell the oranges, and enjoy
the tart taste in your mouth.
As you imagined yourself in the story, you used your senses to make observations. You used your sense of sight to find the jug in the refrigerator, your sense of touch when you
felt the coldness of the jug, your sense of hearing to listen as the liquid filled the glass, and your senses of smell and taste to enjoy the odor and tartness of the juice. The
basis of all scientific investigation is observation.
Inferring Scientists often make inferences based on their observations. An inference is an attempt to explain or interpret observations or to say what caused what
When making an inference, be certain to use accurate data and observations. Analyze all of the data that you've collected. Then, based on everything you know, explain or interpret
what you've observed.
When you drank a glass of orange juice after the volleyball game, you observed that the orange juice was cold as well as refreshing. You might infer that the juice was cold because
it had been made much earlier in the day and had been kept in the refrigerator or you might infer that it had just been made, using both cold water and ice. The only way to be
sure which inference is correct is to investigate further.
Comparing and Contrasting
Observations can be analyzed by noting the similarities and differences between two or more objects or events that you observe. When you look at objects or events to see how they
are similar, you are comparing them. Contrasting is looking for differences in similar objects or events.
Suppose you were asked to compare and contrast the nutritional value of two candy bars, Candy A and Candy B. You would start by looking at what is known about these candy bars.
Arrange this information in a table, like the one in Figure 14.
Similarities you might point out are that both candy bars have similar serving sizes, amounts of total fat, and protein. Differences include Candy A having a higher calorie value
and containing more total carbohydrates than Candy B.
Have you ever watched something happen and then made suggestions about why it happened? If so, you have observed an effect and inferred a cause. The event is an effect, and the
reason for the event is the cause.
Perhaps the fish swam to the surface because they reacted to the teacher's waving hand or for some other reason. When scientists are unsure of the cause of a certain event, they
design controlled experiments to determine what causes the event. Although you have made a logical conclusion about the behavior of the fish, you would have to perform an experiment
to be certain that it was the tapping that caused the effect you observed.