Though there are diverse models for the scientific method available, in general there is a continuous process that includes observations about the natural world. People are naturally inquisitive, so they often come up with questions about things they see or hear, and they often develop ideas or hypotheses about why things are the way they are. The best hypotheses lead to predictions that can be tested in various ways. The most conclusive testing of hypotheses comes from reasoning based on carefully controlled experimental data. Depending on how well additional tests match the predictions, the original hypothesis may require refinement, alteration, expansion or even rejection. If a particular hypothesis becomes very well supported, a general theory may be developed.
Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, they are frequently the same from one to another. The process of the scientific method involves making conjectures (hypotheses), deriving predictions from them as logical consequences, and then carrying out experiments or empirical observations based on those predictions. A hypothesis is a conjecture, based on knowledge obtained while seeking answers to the question. The hypothesis might be very specific, or it might be broad. Scientists then test hypotheses by conducting experiments or studies. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable, implying that it is possible to identify a possible outcome of an experiment or observation that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, the hypothesis cannot be meaningfully tested.
The purpose of an experiment is to determine whether observations agree with or conflict with the predictions derived from a hypothesis. Experiments can take place anywhere from a garage to CERN's Large Hadron Collider. There are difficulties in a formulaic statement of method, however. Though the scientific method is often presented as a fixed sequence of steps, it represents rather a set of general principles. Not all steps take place in every scientific inquiry (nor to the same degree), and they are not always in the same order. Some philosophers and scientists have argued that there is no scientific method; they include physicist Lee Smolin and philosopher Paul Feyerabend (in his Against Method). Robert Nola and Howard Sankey remark that "For some, the whole idea of a theory of scientific method is yester-year's debate, the continuation of which can be summed up as yet more of the proverbial deceased equine castigation. We beg to differ."
Important debates in the history of science concern rationalism, especially as advocated by René Descartes; inductivism and/or empiricism, as argued for by Francis Bacon, and rising to particular prominence with Isaac Newton and his followers; and hypothetico-deductivism, which came to the fore in the early 19th century.
The term "scientific method" did not come into wide use until the 19th century, when other modern scientific terminologies began to emerge such as "scientist" and "pseudoscience" and significant transformation of science was taking place. Throughout the 1830s and 1850s, by which time Baconianism was popular, naturalists like William Whewell, John Herschel, John Stewart Mill engaged in debates over "induction" and "facts" and were focused on how to generate knowledge. In the late 19th a debate over realism vs. antirealism was conducted as powerful scientific theories extended beyond the realm of the observable.
The term "scientific method" came to be used prominently in the twentieth century, with no scientific authorities over its meaning despite it popping up in textbooks and dictionaries. Though there was a steady growth on the concept into the twentieth century, by the end of that century numerous influential philosophers of science like Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend had questioned the universality of the "scientific method" and in doing so largely replaced the notion of science as a homogeneous and universal method with that of it being a heterogeneous and local practice. In particular, Paul Feyerabend argued against there being any universal rules of science.
The scientific method is the process by which science is carried out. As in other areas of inquiry, science (through the scientific method) can build on previous knowledge and develop a more sophisticated understanding of its topics of study over time. This model can be seen to underlay the scientific revolution.