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Blinded by Science: How to do an Experiment!

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May 8, 2015 by fhsteinbart


Decisions, decisions, decisions...a scientists work is never completed!

Decisions, decisions, decisions…a scientists work is never completed!

When I worked in a laboratory doing scientific experiments, I frequently was asked what that entailed. While I could bore you with the details, I’m going to take the easy way out and discuss an experiment that anyone can do at home. Basically you need to have two things going on at the same time; the control group, and the experimental group. You also need a working hypothesis or statement that you believe to be true, which is your thesis statement. Then you need to posit a null hypothesis, which is a counterpoint to your working hypothesis. For example, if I think that there is a difference between open and closed fermentations, then my null hypothesis world be that there is no difference between the two above referenced fermentations. So if there is a difference, then I have one data point in my experiment which shows the difference, and the null hypothesis is wrong. However, if there is no true difference, then the null hypothesis is correct, and I have to revise my working hypothesis to account for this outcome. In my example, I created a ten gallon batch of beer which I split into two equal volumes of wort into two identical fermenters, except one fermenter was closed up with an airlock (the control group), while the other fermenter was left with a solid lid just covering the top (the experimental group), thus allowing the ingress and egress of gasses, both atmospheric, and fermented. So now I monitor the two fermenting beers, into which I pitched two of the same yeasts into both fermenters at the same temperature. So the only difference will be open versus closed fermentation, and any changes will be duly recorded on a daily basis. After the beer is finished and dropped and cleared, it will be time for packaging. Both beers will be kegged up into identical kegs, and force carbonated to the same volume of CO2 at the same temperature. By controlling all the known variables, the only difference being the method of fermentation (in this case open vs. closed fermentation), we get a single data point. If more people do this experiment, then we will have more data points, and whichever hypothesis is correct should be properly elucidated. I hope that more brewer’s will do these kinds of experiments, as this is how we learn and discover things. I’ll report back in a future blog about my results, and feel free to post your results in the comments section of this blog. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what we can learn from this small project I’ve started. Good luck, happy brewing, and ILBCNUL8R!

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