NUMBAT OER - Open Educational Resources

1. Introduction

This helpsheet is concerned with the use of hypotheses in science and other areas of knowledge, and particularly how their use is supported by statistical tests such as those set out in the NuMBerS toolkits. In everyday use, the words 'hypothesis' and 'hypothetical' often carry the connotation of something imaginary and vague. However, the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper defined a scientific hypothesis as one that is 'falsifiable' - that is it can be subject to a rigorous test that is capable of demonstrating that the hypothesis is incorrect. So, defining a hypothesis in science is a process that sets out a description or explanation in a way that can be tested. Although Popper's criterion would look to a test that could unequivocally reject a hypothesis, in practice we often end up with a likelihood that a hypothesis is false rather than a black-and-white answer.