A hallmark of the scientific method is its iterative application to a problem to increase and refine the understanding of the underlying processes controlling it. A successful iterative application of the scientific method to catchment science (including the fields of hillslope hydrology and biogeochemistry) has been hindered by two factors. First, the scale at which controlled experiments can be performed is much smaller than the scale of the phenomenon of interest. Second, computer simulation models generally have not been used as hypothesis-testing tools as rigorously as they might have been. Model evaluation often has gone only so far as evaluation of goodness of fit, rather than a full structural analysis, which is more useful when treating the model as a hypothesis. An iterative application of a simple mixing model to the Panola Mountain Research Watershed is reviewed to illustrate the increase in understanding gained by this approach and to discern general principles that may be applicable to other studies. The lessons learned include the need for an explicitly stated conceptual model of the catchment, the definition of objective measures of its applicability, and a clear linkage between the scale of observations and the scale of predictions. Published in 2001 by John Wiley & Sons. Ltd.