Doing Science

Hi Phil, Cecil:

Do either of you recommend any book or article I can review on doing science, in general, or ecology, in particular?  

like I want to back up and start from the start kind of.

How does one come up with theories?  How does one ask questions the right way?  maybe a history of science book? I guess I just need to go look up titles with keywords “principles of research” or something…  I did take such a class, but don’t remember it…

anyway, just checking, recommend any title in particular?

pcrosen@email.arizona.edu
9/6/11

to Dave, Cecil

I don’t have such a book in mind.

But the answers are more or less agreed on:

1. Theories: know a lot, understand the facts, turn it all over
in your mind, and imagine ideas to explain it. Then set those down
as hypotheses, and explore how such ideas could be tested by
identifying data tests and conceptual issues that could or would
reject the ideas.

2. You could formaize this, but I think it is mainly just knowing,
thinking, and then organizing ideas. If you are thinking in terms
of conceptual constructs containing causal and predictive factors,
you will come up with theories / hypotheses, winnow out those that
contradict the ‘known’ (the logical-causal structure of science and
knowledge), and then search by intuition for ways to rigorously test
the ideas.

3. Testing: develop predictions following from your ‘theoretical’
framework; cast them in terms that (a) relate to closely related
theoretical frameworks to be sure they make sense and are consistent;
take these ‘good’ hypotheses and test them against existing data or
data you gather specifically for the purpose.

4. Testable hypotheses should be as specific as possible. But that
doesn’t necessarily mean reams of precise data are always needed.
Sometimes, logic allows you to use well known facts or even very
general trends. If you have a theory, it implies consequences, which
could be very small (like Rosenzweig et al.’s use of seed foraging
behavior to investigate perception of risk and thus evolved resistence
to predation, and thus reflecting the importance of predation …
all from the density of seeds left behind in foraging trays under
simulated field conditions.

More generally, what I’m saying is, don’t sweat the grand concept of
“how to”. Knowing how to comes from knowing things, thinking about them,
and ‘doing’. … “I see and I understand” (a Lowe herp class t-shirt
logo.

In your field, in computers, it is probably much the same. You have an
idea or inspiration about how to do something. You try it, like it or
reject it. You have ideas about why it may or may not work based on
your logical / reasonable understanding about the way the systems work.
Ecology is not so different, except that the system is so complex that
you need to think with a more flexible logic, use intuition as well as
logic, but ultimately follow the same process. Here, success comes from
doing, rather than thinking about doing.

HerpCount.org – a new site for citizen science in Herpetology

Working with Phil Rosen, Kevin Bonine, Julia Fonseca, and Brian Powell, I have in my free time developed a cool site for citizen herpetologists. It enables citizen scientists to contribute observational data on herps of southern Arizona. In the next few months, we hope to add iPhone and Android applications to it, and to make many improvements to the site. We also want to expand its scope both geographically and taxonomically.

Check it out – HerpCount.org.

We have even gotten some press on it already, for example, here: article on HerpCount.