Commercial Fisheries News - April 2001

Part 1: The Scientific Method

The current level of interest in lobster science is unprecedented.Researchers are working with harvesters more than ever before.Starting with this month ’s column and over the next few issues we ’ll take a look at how science is accomplished.I believe this fundamental understanding will help to ensure that collaborations and cooperation produce the reliable data and comprehensive results vital to good science.

Science is a way of thinking,learning, and knowing about natural phenomena. Scientists try to maintain objectivity and strive to collect data in an unbiased manner.The basic steps scientists follow are summed up in the “Scientific Method ”:

  1. Observation
  2. Formulate hypothesis
  3. Test hypothesis
  4. Analyze data and interpret results
  5. Communication

The scientific method begins with making an observation.For example,I observed that juvenile lobsters live in the lower intertidal zone.I searched the literature and talked to other scientists and found that although this phenomenon had been previously observed, it hadn’t been investigated in detail.

Formulating a hypothesis means asking a scientific question about the observed phenomenon.I had many questions concerning the prevalence and significance of juvenile lobster use of the intertidal zone.One hypothesis was:Is there a seasonal pattern of abundance of juvenile lobsters using the intertidal zone?

Testing the hypothesis is accomplished by establishing objective methods to obtain unbiased data.To answer one simple question,a scientist often undertakes a rigorous and laborious sampling regime.To measure abundance of juvenile lobsters throughout the annual cycle,I counted the number of lobsters in a specified area each month of each year starting in 1993.The data are unbiased because the sampling is done systematically.A seasonal pattern can be observed because samples are taken monthly.Generalizations about the pattern can be made because many years were sampled.

Data analysis includes looking at the sampling data and interpreting results.My analysis included calculating densities based on the mean number of lobsters counted per meter squared each month. Those numbers were then plotted on a graph and statistics calculated to determine the likelihood that the same results would be found by chance.The results were then interpreted and put into context.The original hypothesis could then be revisited and a new set of hypotheses generated. This process led to creating a model based on new information.A model can become part of new hypotheses.

It is critical to communicate results to inform others of what was learned. Scientists do this primarily by publishing in scientific journals,writing reports,making public presentations,notifying the press, etc.This part of the process can also lead to raising new questions,refining hypotheses,and generating ideas for further study.

Science is a dynamic process with feedback benefiting all stages.Scientists are constantly refining,redefining,and improving the quality of knowledge based on better and better information.

In Part II,we ’ll look at survey techniques for collecting fisheries dependent vs.fisheries independent data.

Ask the Lobster Doc