VCE Physics/Unit 2/AoS 3 : Practical investigation

Description from the Study Design edit

Systematic experimentation is an important aspect of physics inquiry. In this area of study students design and conduct a practical investigation related to knowledge and skills developed in Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2.

The investigation requires the student to develop a question, plan a course of action that attempts to answer the question, undertake an investigation to collect the appropriate primary qualitative and/or quantitative data, organise and interpret the data, and reach a conclusion in response to the question. The student designs and undertakes an investigation involving two independent variables one of which should be a continuous variable. A practical logbook must be maintained by the student for recording, authentication and assessment purposes.

In This Area of Study edit

Template:VCE Physics/Unit 2/AOS 3 TOC

Comments about this Area of Study edit

This area of study, experimental work, is incredibly important and yet it is often neglected, done badly, or not even done   in spite of any potential threat of a VCAA audit. We would encourage students and teachers to not only take this area of study very seriously, but embed experimental practice throughout any course.

Experimentation (along with observation, particularly in areas like astrophysics, where it's difficult to do things such as "make a star" in the lab) is the foundation of science, not just physics. If experiment determines your ideas are wrong (or, at least, need to be modified) then they are wrong. If experiment supports your ideas, then your ideas have merit. Nature (the universe) is the ultimate arbiter of how nature works. It works the way it works whether we like it, or not. Science is not about recourse to the theory or opinion of any particular authority. Laws, theories, models and the contents of textbooks only hold weight in as much as they accord with observation and experiment.

Does this aspect of science make scientists, and science, less trustworthy than other sources of information / opinion? No. It highlights how much more sceptical we should be about ideas people advance that are not based on evidence. It is overwhelmingly more likely that science (scientists) are correct when they make evidence based predictions or provide evidence based opinions than someone voicing an opinion based on nothing more than the way they believe the world to work, or would like the world to work. Some current opinions about vaccines and climate science, come to mind.

So how does an episode such as thalidomide occur? Is it not a failure of the scientific method? A mixture of poor processes and greed. Taking a scientific approach does not preclude mistakes and does not intrinsically guard against baser human tendencies such as greed. However, it does mean we can move towards an understanding of how some aspect of nature works. Not taking a scientific approach means one cannot reach an understanding of how nature works or progress... one is then randomly guessing how nature works and never verifying ones ideas. People would be doomed to randomly lurch from one idea to another, continuously recycling old ideas because there would be no way to test, and hence determine, the strength of one idea over another. This is what does occur in those who wish to ignore evidence or pick particular aspects of evidence that suit their ideas, rather than testing their ideas against all the available evidence... modern "flat earthers" come to mind.

A scientific approach, in the long term, does provide a guard against motivations such as personal gain. The continual requirement to test ideas against evidence means spurious claims will be outed. In particular when science is taken out of the realm of commercial gain. For example, it is not the scientific approach that has gone awry when a scientific study funded by big tobacco refutes a link between smoking and cancer - the way we fund science needs to be as free as possible from such conflicts of interest. Even in spite of such occurrences, in the long term it is very difficult to get away with such spurious claims because of the continual need for ideas to be judged against evidence. However, ensuring that further investigation always occurs requires society to maintain a strong scientific community through public funding and industry funding (provided in a manner which negates pressure on investigators to reach predetermined outcomes) in the form of universities and similar public organisations.