# Thread: A Theory isn't just a guess!

1. Hey all,

I'm relatively new here in that I haven't posted a heck of a lot. I've been lurking for months, but haven't had the time to put much effort into responding. Taking an active part in a forum is hard work if you want some serious discussion! Fortunately school was cancelled due to snow (yay snow day!) and so I thought I'd post something productive.

I've noticed that a lot of newcomers to science don't quite understand the difference between a theory, hypothesis and a guess. This isn't your fault! They don't often teach the scientific method until university, and unless you're in many science courses like I am you probably won't here it from a professor. Even many books assume you already know.

My astronomy professor has stressed this so much it gives me a headache! But heck, repitition is the best way to remember.

There is a huge difference between hypothesis, theory and guesswork. The scientific method was created to give everybody a clear idea of how we evolve a hypothesis into a theory. There are four major steps to the scientific method:

1. Observe, observe, observe. Watch the subject you're interested in. Do a bit of guess work and try to come up with some type of logical explanation.

2. Form a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a statement, or set of statements, that tries to explain the phenomonen you are observing. For example: All cats land on their feet.

3. Experiment and observe. This is CRUCIAL! This is where you find evidence, and lots of it! Simply throwing a single cat off a balcony (like an old physics proff of mine) and watching it land doesnt' mean you were right by saying "All cats land on their feet." You have to do it often, and you have to be able to reproduce the experiment so that everybody else can do it. The evidence has to be accessible for anybody who wants to see it.

4. Form a theory or revise your hypothesis. If you managed to get lots of people to throw cats off balconies and come to the same conclusion: All cats land on their feet, then your hypothesis becomes a theory. A theory is backed up by a lot of evidence. It isn't simply guesswork, it is the product of many many brilliant people. Don't simply ignore it. If your evidence suggests your hypothesis was wrong, then revise your hypothesis and start again!

I've provided some more links to go over the subject in more detail for anybody that still doesn't understand.

http://teacher.pas.rochester.edu/phy...AppendixE.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method
http://www.sciencebuddies.org/mentor...c_method.shtml

Oh, and of course, I'm deeply sorry if this has already been posted, and I mean no offense to anybody!

Edit: I found this a few seconds ago while searching the thread "Followers of the faith called evidence." A good quote summing up evidence:

Originally Posted by paralith

Let's think about what evidence really is, after all. Evidence is observational data gathered about the the natural world. This data can support or disprove hypothetical claims.

Here is a piece of data. If I hold a pencil in the air, and then let go of it, it falls. Now, some would say this is evidence in support of gravity. Others could say this is evidence in support of the fact that the earth is a giant magnet and all material objects have tiny magnets in them that are attracted to the earth's surface. As in ToR's wiki quote, these different people took the fact of the released pencil falling as evidence in support of different hypotheses. (ToR's underlined text in the wiki quote about "different evidence" is really just a semantic slip up.) The evidence, however, remains the same. The pencil fell. This, I hope we can all agree, is a relatively incontrovertible fact. This is why, in science, more than one piece of evidence/data needs to be gathered in order for a theory to be better supported.

As has also been mentioned, the evidence itself does not change, but often our perception of it does. What looks like a homogeneous black dot under a less powerful microscope might resolve into a tiny, complex, detailed pattern with a more powerful microscope. That doesn't mean the pattern wasn't there the first time we looked at it. It means that our observational tools just weren't good enough to see it correctly. But the evidence, the data, is the same as it ever was.

2.

3. A good reminder - thanks.

Another example of a theory developed from painstaking observation might be the one that says "all swans are white".

4. Originally Posted by Bunbury
A good reminder - thanks.

Another example of a theory developed from painstaking observation might be the one that says "all swans are white".
Thank goodness for Hume pointing out the Problem of Induction, eh? And allowing science to be comfortable with not being absolute.

5. Originally Posted by sunshinewarrio
Thank goodness for Hume pointing out the Problem of Induction, eh? And allowing science to be comfortable with not being absolute.
Unfortunately humans en masse are not comfortable with uncertainty. This leads to dogma, polarisation of beliefs and war.

Worthwhile post, Amber Eyes. A point that can not be made often enough.

6. But there not fact, more like an Idea with a lot evidence to back it up?

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