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What Is a Hypothesis?

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A hypothesis is an unproven theory which seems to explain certain phenomena. The scientific method is built on the idea that science has a regular and predictable nature and that persistent testing can lead to discoveries that can then be applied consistently to other circumstances. The hypothesis is a crucial part of the scientific method. Scientific experiments are built upon the hypothesis.

Hypothesis and Support

Scientists seek to create an accurate representation of the world through consistent experimentation. They use standardized methods to avoid bias. Scientists form a hypothesis after observing a particular phenomenon. The scientist then uses the hypothesis to predict other phenomena. A hypothesis with a lot of evidence supporting it can eventually become a theory or law. Even as a theory or law, scientists can always disprove the hypothesis later on. There is always the potential that scientists poorly interpreted the data. New evidence might come out to disprove the hypothesis.

Testability

No matter how believable the hypothesis is, it must conform to collected empirical data to have validity. The theory must also be testable, or it is not considered a scientific theory. For example, scientists cannot create scientific theories about molecules that have no observable characteristics.

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Disproving Theories

A hypothesis with supporting evidence can eventually be disproved when scientists discover problems with the original experiments that produced the data. There might have been problems with the measuring instruments, and some experimental methods have inherent flaws, such as the influence that experimenters have on animals during naturalistic observations. Scientists must consider all the potential problems that can emerge in the experimental model and must take measures to prevent these errors. In addition, experimenters might have preferences for one outcome over another, so the experimenters must make sure they do not form conclusions based on their expectations instead of based on the data.

Alternative Theories

When scientists come up with a hypothesis, they must come up with alternative possibilities to avoid drawing erroneous conclusions. They must consider that there is more than one explanation of a phenomenon. Scientists must constantly look for flaws in their hypothesis. In addition, other scientists are constantly looking for flaws in each others' hypotheses.

Proving the Hypothesis

When data show the hypothesis might be correct, the hypothesis is still not proven. There is no point at which a hypothesis becomes proven through testing. Each test simply makes the hypothesis seem more likely to be true. Even highly respected and often applied scientific theories like the laws of thermodynamics aren’t considered proven. They’re considered only to be possibly true and close to the truth.

About the Author

Chuck Robert specializes in nutrition, marketing, nonprofit organizations and travel. He has been writing since 2007, serving as a ghostwriter and contributing to online publications. Robert holds a Master of Arts with a dual specialization in literature and composition from Purdue University.

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