The Difference between Scientifc Observation and Scientific Discovery

It was Theodore Roszak who once said that “[n]ature composes some of her loveliest poems for the microscope and the telescope.” Through observation man explores and through discovery man changes his world. Through observation man contemplates and through discovery man confirms. Scientific observation and discovery are link, but not interchangeable. The distinctions between the two help us understand the necessities of invention and the glory of our remarkable universe.


Whether deliberately or accidentally, human beings interpret their world. Human observation can recount the beauty of the stars, the smell of a rose, and the laughter of a child. Regular observation involves the human senses, but scientific observation involves all five senses and something more. Through scientific observation, Sir Isaac Newton explained gravity, DaVinci explored flight, and Hubble redefined how we view the stars. Scientific observation involves recording and perceiving. Scientific observation dictates data collection, and it requires non-bias accurate measurements.


A layman would understand discovery as being the act of finding or becoming aware of something. This definition would apply to everything from lost keys to continents; however, scientific discovery is the validation of universal laws and revelation of phenomena. Scientific discovery is the confirmation of theories and explanations of how the world works. Scientific observatons lead to advancement in technologies, scientific revolutions, and validation of known information. Think computers, cell phones and microwave radiation. All are the results of scientific discoveries.


Scientific discovery and observation are clearly closely linked, because they are each key components in the investigation of phenomenon, more generally known as the scientific method. Through the scientific method, scientists and thinkers search for the causes and effects of things in nature.

In grade school, we learned the five steps of the scientific method. They are:

1) Observation/Research

2) Hypothesis

3) Prediction

4) Experimentation

5) Conclusion

With these steps enumerated, you discover that scientific observation is the first step in the scientific method. Upon further review, you realize the scientific discovery, whether its validation or new information is the last step of the scientific method.

As we know, discoveries are rarely final because the world is so complex. Observations are generally open because ideas and theories evolve over time. And, its through quest and re-evaluation, and not rest in relaxation, that science moves forward.

A person’s s observation of the moon could lead them to believe that the moon travels around the in a circle Earth. Another person’s observations could lead them to believe that dinosaurs were large reptiles with scales. However, following the scientific method, a person would learn that the moon’s orbit is elliptical and that a dinosaurs’ skeletal structure is closely linked to those of modern birds.


Roszak was right about the nature and through scientific observation and discovery we know this to be true. Scientific observation and discovery are like yin and yang. Clarity of one leads to clarity of the other. Through scientific observation, men and women develop ideas and theories. Following tests and evaluations, humans confirm their ideas and theories. And, as a result of both, science advances.