Question: Single or Multiple Hypotheis?

Janice M. Glime jmglime at MTU.EDU
Sun Mar 29 15:18:31 EST 1998

  I think practicality wins here as well as in the laboratory of the
scientist.  I cannot recall many scientific papers in which a scientist
presented his/her own data on more than one hypothesis to answer a single
question.  Rather, the scientist considers all possible explanations,
chooses the best (or most testable), and then tests that hypothesis.  In
some cases, the scientist is unable to test what appears to be the best
hypothesis and chooses instead to test an alternate hypothesis in a way
that could provide evidence to refute it.  These are both done by
"if-then" scenarios.  If the hypothesis is true, then we expect XYZ to
happen, but if it is false, we expect ABC to happen.  In fact, I am more
likely to do several different kinds of experiemnts to test one kind of
hypothesis (e.g., species A is better adapted to drought than is species
B) than to spend my time testing an alternative hypothesis.  
  Beginning students need to start with a clear set of objectives.  In
that case, they need to consider their observations and those of others in
developing a question and a set of alternative hypotheses.  Evaluating
these, based on their observations and other principles that they
understand, is an important part of the scientific method.  But to ask
them to test more than one of the hypotheses is expecting more of their
limited time management experience than I consider to be reasonable. 
Yes, scientists do test alternate hypotheses, but this process usually
takes years.  
 Janice M. Glime, Professor  
 Department of Biological Sciences
 Michigan Technological University
 Houghton, MI 49931-1295
 jmglime at
 FAX 906-487-3167 

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