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General Environmental Science I
ENV 121 – Spring 2021
Lab: The Scientific Method
In this lab, you will learn the importance of the scientific method in identifying and solving
problems. You will synthesize information and make decisions to better understand and
control a potential disease outbreak.
The Scientific Method and Experimental Design:
The scientific method begins with the observation of something interesting. A scientist then
attempts to explain this phenomenon by testing hypotheses. A hypothesis is a predictive
statement, based on your observations and on current knowledge in the field. Research
and experimentation are designed to test hypotheses. For example, if you observe that
plants in your garden tend to grow larger and faster than plants in the wild, you may design
an experiment to test the hypothesis that fertilizer causes plants to grow. In order to test
this hypothesis, you must keep conditions constant among all plants in your experiment.
For example, all plants in your experiment are grown in the same type of soil, at the same
temperature, with the same exposure to sunlight, and given the same amount water. The
only thing that differs between your experimental and control groups is the amount of
fertilizer, your independent variable. What you measure at the end of the experiment, for
example the height of plants, is your dependent variable. You may wish to plot your results
on a graph. Keep in mind that the independent variable always goes on the x-axis and the
dependent variable goes on the y-axis. Depending on what type of experiment you are
running, you can have more than one independent and/or dependent variable.
How strong would your results be if you only had one plant in each treatment group
(experimental groups and control group)? What if, by chance, you planted a very hardy
seed in the experimental group with the most fertilizer and this is why it grew so tall. The
results would be due to chance, not to the independent variable (amount of fertilizer).
Having more plants in each group increases your sample size and this increases the
statistical power of your data. If you have 20 plants in each group, odds are slim that you
randomly chose the 20 hardiest seeds for the group with the most fertilizer. Your results are
likely due to the independent variable, rather than chance. Different experiments will give
you different type of data. We generally break data into two broad categories: qualitative
data, which tends to be more descriptive or ranking, and quantitative data, that generally
involves numerical measurements. For example, classifying people as short versus tall
would be qualitative, while measuring their actual height would be quantitative.
For the first part of this lab, you will read about the role of the scientific method in the
understanding of disease treatment and vaccine development. You will use this information
to answer questions about the scientific method. Go to the following website to read about
the role of the scientific method in the development of vaccines:
The first example described when discussing the scientific method is the work of Alexander
Fleming and the discovery of penicillin to treat bacterial infections.
1. What was Fleming’s observation that led to his experiments?
2. What is a hypothesis that could explain the observation?
3. What would be a control group and what would be the experimental group in Fleming’s
The work of another scientist, Edward Jenner, on smallpox was crucial in the development
of vaccines. Make sure you read about Jenner’s work and then answer the following
4. What was the observation that got Jenner interested in the problem?
5. What is a hypothesis to explain this observation?
6. What was the experiment Jenner ran to test his hypothesis? Would you consider this an
ethical experiment? Why or Why not?
7. What was the conclusion based on Jenner’s experiments?
8. How do Jenner’s experiments relate to vaccines?
9. What was Pearl Kendrick’s contribution to vaccine development and testing?
Please answer the following general questions about in what you have read:
10. In general, what are the steps of the scientific method in order?
A.Hypothesis, Testing, Observation, Conclusion
B.Research, Hypothesis, Testing, Conclusion
C.Testing, Hypothesis, Observation, Conclusion
D.Observation, Hypothesis, Testing, Conclusion
11. What was Edward Jenner’s key observation?
A.Testing the smallpox vaccine
B.That people who had had cowpox did not seem to contract smallpox
C.That milkmaids had a great deal of contact with cows.
D.Reporting the results of his experiment
12. Randomization is __________
.A.when investigators repeat an experiment by chance
B.assigning subjects to the control or experimental group based on a certain characteristic
C.assigning subjects to the control or experimental group based on chance alone
D.when investigators do not know whether a subject is in the control or experiment group
Use this link to get to the simulation portion of the lab:
The steps in the overview will help you refresh on the scientific method and will be useful in
the next steps of the lab. Once you have finished reading the overview click the next button
(the last button allows you to return to previous screens and the next button advances you).
Next read the reports and answer the following question:
13. Which report does not seem to require your urgent follow-up and further study and why?
Next you will follow up on the three reports that require more investigation. Read the
information about the follow-up steps including the more detailed information and decide
which steps to follow.
14. What was the best choice for following up on the three reports?
Now read the emerging patterns information to finalize your observations.
Now read the information and important details about potential hypotheses to investigate.
15. What is/are the best hypothesis/hypotheses?
Read the details and decide which hypothesis to investigate first (remember time is of the
essence in this scenario as we have the outbreak of a potentially novel disease).
16. Which hypothesis should be investigated first and why?
17. What are the two type of tests you will be running to investigate your hypothesis?
Read about your different options for lab tests.
18. Which lab test will most quickly and reliably help you identify the pathogen?
Read about the experiments and controls to decide which type of epidemiological studies to
use.The results from your lab test are in.
19.What is causing the illness in the soldiers and at the senior center?
Look at the data from your epidemiological studies (make sure you click on case control
20. What do the odds ratios demonstrate the disease is associated with?
21. What are your last steps as the director of public health to control the spread of the
Now, read the brief paragraph and answer the questions about the scientific method:
Use the information in the following paragraph to answer the next questions:
A group of scientists are interested in determining the efficacy of mask wearing and social
distancing in preventing the spread of COVID 19. They find 1000 volunteers that fall into
one of 4 groups:
(1) no mask wearing and no social distancing,
(2) no mask wearing but practice social distancing,
(3) regular mask wearing but no social distancing, and
(4) regular mask wearing and practice social distancing (n=250). They then followed the
health of these individuals to see how many developed COVID 19. They found 150
individuals in group 1, 75 individuals in group 2, 50 individuals in group 3, and 5 individuals
in group 4 tested positive for COVID 19 (p=0.001).
22. Given the information in the preceding paragraph, what are the independent variables
(hint there is more than one)?
23. Using information from the preceding paragraph, what is the dependent variable?
24. Based on the results of the experiment described in the paragraph, what advice would
you give about the best ways to avoid getting COVID 19?
END OF LAB
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