1.1.1 Hypothetico-deductive method

Due in large part to Popper’s influence, scientists in the latter part of the 20$^{th}$ century settled on a methodology, called the hypothetico-deductive method, that distinguished science from non-science. The primary hallmark of this method was the use of falsifiable hypotheses. According to Popper, the role of the scientist was to develop specific, testable hypotheses based on prior knowledge and theory. The scientist must then design experiments and otherwise seek observations to falsify those hypotheses. When considered as a series of steps, the application of this model to biological research could be described as follows.

  1. Based on theory and current understanding, define a problem or question of interest

  2. Gather preliminary information

    1. Preliminary data and/or experiments
    2. Literature review
  3. Cast question of interest as a falsifiable hypothesis

  4. Gather observations

    1. Experimentation
    2. Observational study
  5. Develop biological conclusions regarding hypothesis

  6. Publish

Obviously, anyone who has been involved in biological research for any length of time realizes that this is a bit of an idealized view of the process of science1. Nevertheless, this is an adequate picture of the framework under which many biologists attempt to operate.


  1. For an interesting discussion of the potential distinction between how scientists ideally view the process of science and the way science is actually conducted, see [15].