I’ve been thinking lately about the scientific method. Formally, this refers to hypothesis testing via experiment. The experiments can sometimes be natural ones: before and after some natural event one might observe the changes in species diversity. Or they can be engineered in the lab–at the bench. In this case, the scientist prepares the event. But it’s all in the name of putting a hypothesis to a test and setting the terms, contract-wise, for rejecting the truth of the hypothesis.
Informally, the scientific method refers to a whole lot more. Exploratory science is just that: conducting observations (often with technological marvels like gravity wave detectors) and revealing what’s out there–black hole mergers in the case of the gravity waves. In this case, there is no hypothesis to ritually reject. Whatever is out there is new, previously unseen, and adds to our knowledge.
What drives the above activities is often pure curiosity. The current Mars rover got its name from the driver for this type of scientific activity. But as often, it’s human need that drives science. We strive to understand how the virus gains entry into human cells in order to save lives. We tinker with silicon to build better amplifiers: transistors. But in both cases, the methodology is the same. It’s the aim that is different. But both aims are true (hat tip Elvis Costello).