Center for Computing Research
Sandia National Laboratories

"The Scientific Method and Computational Science: A happy marriage? or in need of therapy?"

, 499 DSL,


Computers have had a transformative impact on the conduct of scientific research. Computational science is one of the keys to harnessing the full power of computing for the purpose of improving scientific progress. A good question to ask is whether computing constitutes a revolution in science, or whether it has changed the scientific method in a fundamental way. It has been proposed that computational investigation provides a new fundamental avenue for the conduct of science, a third way augmenting theory and observation. Science is ultimately a search for the fundamental truths and principles governing how the universe operates. Originally computing was seen as a vehicle for solving models too difficult to solve via analytical means. More recently, computing has become interconnected to managing and analyzing vast amounts of data. In both cases computing both operates to augment the humans and provides new avenues of creative thought often referred to as computational thinking. Evidence would seem to indicate that computing is indeed a revolutionary development in both the conception and production of scientific work, but fits into the standard scientific method seamlessly. One of the greatest challenges for computational work and analysis is meeting the standards of reproducibility science has relied upon. Computational work relies on data, codes and computers that are often ignored or glossed over in standard scientific publications. Thus far, this challenge to science has not been solved. In the final analysis science remains the tension between explanatory models and evidence gleaned through experimentation and observation of the physical universe. Successful science depends on models demonstrating a power of predicting what is observed. Increasingly the models are solved via computational simulations. In the context of many computational efforts, the practices of verification and validation embody the application of the scientific method directly.

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