7 Important steps that can be used to study environmental problems—like a scientist
This article contains an outline of seven important steps most inquisitive people and scientists have been using to understand how the natural environment works, and the composition and behavior of living and non-living things.
It must be noted that, in order to comprehend the physical world, it is not necessary to follow the steps below, in the exact order they appear on this post.
The step-by-step outline listed below is based on the experience of the author, and is a highly valuable procedure which he believes can be used to study the environment and other things within it:
(1) Acquire correct information about an environmental problem: What is the actual or basic problem? What are the specifics?
What is known about a particular issue? What is the basic information available, even if it might be a bit trivial?
Example: Plastic debris has been polluting a river (of interest), reducing the speed of boats and rates of fishing activities, and killing aquatic life.
(2) Commence investigation by asking a question
It’s always important to ask what the cause of an environmental problem is, or what the causes of a particular issue/situation are; why it developed, or why it persists.
Example: What can be done to reduce or stop pollution, and prevent loss of aquatic life in the river?
(3) Source for more detailed data/information. Search for the type of data that could provide the best answer to questions related to the problem
In order to answer questions (to a high degree of certainty) during investigations about problems, issues have to be observed or watched, and experiments have to be conducted; also, data has to be collected, and/or measurements have to be made.
Example: Who disposes plastic into rivers? How many times do people or companies dispose plastic into rivers? What is the quantity/weight/volume of plastic disposed into rivers?
(4) Suggest a hypothesis to explain the reason behind sourced or collected data
A hypothesis should be suggested after evaluating observations and collected data. Typically, hypotheses explain what has been observed naturally, as expressed by results from experiments.
Collected data could reveal how many times plastic is dumped into rivers; furthermore, it can provide a reason or an answer why it is difficult for aquatic life to survive.
Example: “When plastic is dumped into rivers, it occupies an appreciable amount of space in the body of water, thus making it easy for aquatic life to ingest plastic, and die as a result of ingestion.
(5) If the hypothesis is valid, strong and logical, then make projections to other environments that could have similar or different data related to the environment of interest
A hypothesis can be projected to cover other rivers that have similar or different conditions: similar or different rates of dumping waste; similar or different temperatures; similar or different quantities of aquatic life or species; etc.
If the hypothesis is certain or logical, then could it provide reasons for the issues occurring in other rivers that are equally, or more polluted?
Example: It is possible that disposal of plastics into other rivers, is causing pollution, reducing the speed of boats and fishing activities, and loss of aquatic life.
(6) Conduct more observations, do more experiments, take more measurements, or make more assessments in order to strengthen hypothesis and evaluate projections
In order to evaluate projections, observations, tests or measurements should be made on other rivers which will definitely have their own characteristics: temperature, volume of flow, volume of water, suspended solids, etc.
Example: In order to assess how valid, broad and general a hypothesis is, results of observed data from the river of interest can be compared with results of observed data obtained from research carried out on other rivers.
(7) Accept or reject previous or earlier-stated hypothesis
If newly observed data does not support an earlier-stated hypothesis, there could be obvious reasons and explanations from experiments, observations, measurements, or tests.
The process of accepting and/or rejecting hypothesis based on observation and study, is what scientists use, consistently, until there is an agreement on the best explanation for problems, and the reason(s) lying behind certain issues.
Well-tested and widely accepted hypotheses become scientific theories.
Example: with the amount of reliable data available, it is widely agreed that dumping of plastics into rivers results in/causes pollution, obstruction of fishing, and loss of aquatic life.
Curiosity and critical thinking are important in studying the environment. Critical thinking involves the following:
1. Scepticism: we have to be sceptical about everything we hear or read about—don’t just accept everything without making assessments, no matter how little; make as many assessments as possible.
2. Critical evaluation and validation of available evidence are very important in this age of Internet in which a lot of highly unreliable data floats around; some data are just opinions of unlearned people.
3. Identification and assessment of public and personal assumptions, beliefs and feelings regarding certain problems or issues.
Curiosity, scepticism, logic, evidence, and critical thinking are very important tools to use in studying the environment. On the other hand, faith, intuition, imagination and creativity are also very important.
According to Albert Einstein, “There is no completely logical way to a new scientific idea.”
History supports Einstein’s statement, and has shown that different types of logic were used by different creative people to discover most scientific & technological advancements, along with much-improved ways that have helped mankind to understand how the natural world works.