How to Analyze a Physics Experiment

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Here are some guidelines for carrying out, and analyzing the results of, a physics experiment. This is most certainly not the only way, and quite possibly not the best way, but it will be our way.

First of all, we will absolutely avoid saying monumentally idiotic things like "This experiment proves (or disproves) Newton's Second Law." Such statements merely advertise a total lack of understanding of scientific methods. No single experiment, and certainly no single high-school experiment (no offense intended, of course...), can prove or disprove anything. Only an accumulation of evidence can do that. What we can reasonably say, however, is that our results are consistent, not consistent, or inconclusive with regard to theory.

Here are the common types of experiments that we will encounter, along with some specific advice for analyzing them:

and, of course "What do I do if my results are inconclusive?".

last update May 23, 2004 by JL Stanbrough