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Philosophy 203: Scientific Reasoning
The General Pattern of Scientific Research: An Example

Often the process of scientific understanding fits the following pattern reasonably well.  This pattern is useful for not only understanding the structure of scientific investigation but also for suggesting alternative facts and hypotheses.

The method is applied to the following example taken from K. Schmidt, "Fickle fields; EMFs and epidemiology, Science News (November 9, 1991), 357.

1. The Problem: 

*Does living near power lines or using electric appliances increase the risk of cancer?

*Initial facts from unnamed studies indicate the possibility of such an association.

2. Preliminary Hypotheses:

*Exposure to electromagnetic fields (emf’s) is related to the risk of cancer.

*Increasing the strength of the emf’s increases the risk of cancer.

3. Collecting additional facts:

*Two of three studies using the Denver model of wiring configuration link the emf’s from power lines to childhood leukemia.

**In future, studies need to account for different wiring configurations in different cities; studies need account for the relation of affluence, education, and lifestyle to neighborhood wiring.

4.  Formulating the Hypothesis:

*Emf fluctuation and direction, in addition to strength, is associated with childhood leukemia.

5.  Deriving Further Consequences:

*Also explains Savitz (NC) Denver study correlated wiring configuration with incidence of cancer.

6. Testing the Consequences:

*London’s LA study using Denver model found no consistent association between field strength and childhood leukemia.

*London’s LA study using Denver model found an association with wiring configuration and strength of emf.

7.  Application:

*Check for correlations of cancer with other emf sources:  e.g., T.V. and hairdryers.

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