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Scientific Method: Key Terms

Scientific Question: A problem or question that can be solved by conducting an objective experiment. Matters of opinion are not scientific questions. Qualitative: Observation of a quality, trait, or value judgment, described without using numbers. For example, a person's hair color could be described as "red", their height as "tall" or "short', and their intelligence as "smart" or "brilliant." Quantitative: Observation of a measurement stated with a numeric value. For example, a person's height could be described as 5'-8" and their intelligence as an IQ of 130. Whenever possible, scientists prefer to take quantitative measurements, because they describe the observation more accurately. Control Group: In an experiment, a group of test subjects on which the independent variable is not changed, used for comparison with an otherwise identical experimental group on which the independent variable is intentionally changed. Experimental Group: In an experiment, a group of test subjects on which the independent variable is changed intentionally to see how that change affects the group. Variable: A factor such as mass or temperature that either is intentionally changed by the scientist in performing the experiment (called the independent or manipulated variable), or that changes in response and is measured by the scientist in the experiment (the dependent or responding variable). For example, in an experiment to determine whether adding mass to a "Hot Wheels" car will make it roll faster down a ramp, the scientist changed variable (the added mass) is the independent variable, and the speed of the car is the dependent variable. On a graph, the Dependent or Responding variable is plotted on the Y-axis, and the Manipulated or Independent variable is plotted on the X-axis (remember "DRY MIX"). Inference: A reasonable guess to explain observed events; a plausible explanation for an observation. For example, if you hear a loud clap of thunder just as the electric power fails, you might infer that lightning struck a power transformer to cause the power failure. Prediction: Based on the information available, guessing what will happen in the future. Estimate: A guess about a quantity or other numeric value, based on available information, but made without actually counting or direct measurement. Hypothesis: An educated guess about the answer to a scientific question, which then will be tested in an experiment.

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