Theories, Laws, Hypothesis, Evidence

Back to Theories

Here are some more terminological conventions that I employ in these writings.

Theories: as defined before. Strictly within the context of doing science. Not related to theories of art or warfare, etc.

Hypothesis: Structurally, the same as theory. People usually like to sort theories out according to how well established they are, sometimes into categories such as hypothesis, theory and law. I typically lump theories and hypotheses in the same category, treating the terms as synonyms. Laws I treat separately, as below.

Multiple Working Hypotheses: An investigative procedure first advocated by T. C. Chamberlin in a 1890 classic “Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses” re-published in Science (7 May 1965).

The investigator keeps more than one theory in mind while conducting the investigation to prevent becoming overly attached to any particular theory while in the process of gathering data. It guards against the all too human impulse to only see the data that fits the favored theory. It is particularly relevant to the field work, as opposed to the lab work, where working conditions are sometimes both strenuous and hostile. Such circumstances tend to corrode objectivity. John Platt’s follow-up “Strong Inference (Science 16 October 1964) further advocated this methodology in lab work.

Laws: I restrict the use of this term to mathematical formulas.

Thus, F = GMm/r²  is a law, even if I have trouble formulating it on this web page. As a mathematical expression, it is absolutely correct. But does it say anything about the actual world? That’s where the theory comes in. In this case, Newton’s theory of gravity. The theory connects the mathematical symbols, which are empty of meaning in and of themselves to specific observable, in this case measurable properties in the real world.

Facts: are  objective observations. They are the evidence that makes or breaks any theory.

In this scheme of things, theories can never become facts. Some theories in modern science are so well established, with no credibly known exceptions that people regard them with the same certainty that they regard facts with.While not denying that, I still think the semantic distinction between facts and theories is a meaningful one.

Evidence: Facts that either validate or falsify a theory. That’s it!

The following things are NOT evidence:

  • what the boss believes
  • what you believed before you started investigating
  • the opinions of good people
  • the opinions of bad people
  • logical argument
  • sex appeal
  • etc- You get the idea. Just the facts! That is, objective observations

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