The Hypothesis a Troubling Idea?

Dean thinks he sees a Problem With Single Hypotheses. The worry ignores two concepts fundamental to the hypothesis model of scientific inquiry.

when you only accept one hypothesis as valid to explain certain phenomena, that hypothesis tends to lose value, for it ceases to make predictions. Rather, you start finding ways to fit every observed phenomenon into the hypothesis–since you’re only accepting one, you wind up having little choice but to do so.

Dean cites a Scientist opinion by Don L Jewett: What’s Wrong With Single Hypotheses.

The temptation to misinterpret results that contradict the desired hypothesis is probably irresistible. This mistake occurs repeatedly in the history of science.

Any human process must take into account the falability of human endeavor. Yes there are perception distortions, hidden agendas, incomplete knowledge, and other culpabilities that distort outcomes. The goal of a good process is to ameliorate these factors so that, especially in the longer term, they have only a minor influence. The US system of government is this way. So is the manner of scientific inquiry based on an hypothesis.

The issue Jewett touches is that of publicly funded research where scientific investigation is made subject to the whims of politics. This is a corrupting influence that imposes human whims on the process of investigation and research. Dissonance here can be seen in the abuse of the current administration in some research circles as the researchers don’t like changing politcal environments influencing their pet projects.

The first thing a hypothesis does is to define a target. It is a specific statement of a testable condition. If there is not excessively strong social pressure, this becomes a challenge, especially if the hypothesis has a history of support. It is a part of human nature, especially of the young, to want to challenge and defeat authority. By proving an hypothesis, especially an established hypothesis, wrong or flawed, the scientists ‘wins’ over the establishment and proves himself. This is an egocentric accountability upon which science depends. The human desire for comfort and conformity are balanced by other human needs for distinction, recognition, and identity.

A second facet of the hypothesis model is that its definition creates a building block. The value of any hypothesis will be determined in the end by how strong it is in contributing to theories, other hypotheses, and technologies and inventions. It the hypothesis is tainted as Dean and Jewett worry, it will have limited value as a building block in science and engineering. It will become a political thesis and not a scientific one. As Dean notes, “it tends to lose value” but it’s not a troubling problem with science, it is a troubling problem in politics. Science has a means to assure that intellectual integrity will be the ultimate outcome, politics doesn’t.

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