Theory vs. Hypothesis

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I have a theory … or do I?

Perhaps what I have is an idea, a hypothesis or a conjecture. In science, a theory is a set of related hypotheses that serve to explain or provide rules for certain phenomena. If these hypotheses can be linked together to predict behavior or events, then they form a theory, such as the theory of evolution.

A hypothesis is a proposition which needs to be evaluated. In other words, it’s something that makes sense based on the knowledge you have but you still need to prove that it works. A conjecture is an idea which has no basis in fact (often called a theory in the vernacular).

Here are some quotations from newspapers:

… these theories are promulgated there,” said Mr. Nunberg, who disputed that “Spygate” qualified as a conspiracy theory. Mr. Trump’s talk of conspiracies has also gained currency within a Republic … (www.nytimes.com)

… idea, referred to in the jargon of economics as the efficient market hypothesis (technically, the strong efficient market hypothesis), implicitly underl … (www.nytimes.com)

… million dollar problems. If they are right – still a big if – and somebody really has cracked the so-called Riemann hypothesis, financial disaster might follow. Suddenly all cryptic codes could be breakable. No internet transaction woul … (www.theguardian.com)

… germs and dirt finding their way into a child’s mouth. But many have also heard in recent years of the “hygiene hypothesis,” which holds that some exposure to germs and microorganisms in early childhood is actually good for us … (www.nytimes.com)

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3 thoughts on “Theory vs. Hypothesis”

  1. The word “theory” is badly abused in talk about popular science, which has led to the popular but woefully ignorant sound bite, “Evolution is only a theory.” The link under my name is for an article that explains some of the terminology used by science to describe ideas, as well as the meaning of “evolution fact” and “evolution theory.”

    Hey, that last sentence made me wonder — how about a grammar tip on quotation marks and punctuation? I used to always put punctuation within the quotes, but I have noticed some writers being very precise with quotes, resulting in the punctuation being placed outside the quotes when it does not appear in the original. Is this proper?

  2. dude, I thought YOU had a theory and I rushed to read the email I got (RSS, of course). boy, was I expecting something big and gosh darn was I disappointed…

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