Washington Post notes work of UW-Madison’s Rudolph in explaining ‘the scientific method’

The work of UW–Madison’s John Rudolph was recently noted in a report from The Washington Post headlined, “The scientific method can’t save us from the coronavirus: What we need is problem-solving — creativity, flexibility, and teamwork.”

John Rudolph

Rudolph, who chairs the School of Education’s No. 1-ranked Department of Curriculum and Instruction, is an expert on the history of science education in American schools. He is the author of the award-winning 2019 book, “How We Teach Science: What’s Changed, and Why It Matters.”

The Washington Post report begins: “The scientific method can’t save us — because it doesn’t exist.”

The piece later adds: “If science saves us, though, it will be because it lacks a single method. The novel coronavirus causing the current crisis presents a multidimensional challenge — to personal, public, economic and mental health. There is no single tool with which to confront such a threat; what we need is a vast tool kit.”

The report, by Henry M. Cowles, goes on to explain how “the scientific method” actually came to be, highlighting the work of philosopher and psychologist John Dewey in his 1910 book, “How We Think.”

Writes Cowles: “Over time, however, we have forgotten Dewey’s message. In fact, as the historian John Rudolph has shown, it was a single paragraph in ‘How We Think’ that made that forgetting possible. Authors in the burgeoning science textbook industry seized on a short summary of logical thinking in the middle of Dewey’s book and transformed it into ‘the scientific method,’ a shorthand for what made science different from other ways of thinking. How we think was transformed into how they think.”

Cowles concludes his article in the Washington Post by noting: “The phrase ‘the scientific method’ implies something special, static and solitary. But the history of the scientific method as it emerged last century reveals something familiar, adaptive and social. Science is human, in other words, just like the scientists who do it every day. Reminding ourselves of that will help us better understand our scientists — and ourselves. Because thinking this way will help all of us, whether we wear lab coats. Scientists and historians, practitioners and patients: Our ability to address the current crisis may have everything to do with how we think.”

To learn more about this nuanced topic, check out the entire article vial this Washington Post web page.