Homework for my TA – week 11.
December 9, 2011, 2:21 am
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Is it possible to prove a research hypothesis?
December 8, 2011, 12:42 am
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A hypothesis is a testable prediction of what you think the results of a research study are likely to be. It is a statement about the relationship between two or more variables. In statistics, the only way of supporting your hypothesis is to refute the null hypothesis.

A null hypothesis is a working hypothesis that is to be disproved by a statistical test in favour of the alternative hypothesis.  Rather than trying to ‘prove’ your idea (the alternate hypothesis) right you must show that the null hypothesis is likely to be wrong – you have to ‘refute’ or ‘nullify’ the null hypothesis. You have to assume that your alternate hypothesis is wrong until you find evidence to the contrary.

Karl Popper said, ‘All swans are white cannot be proved true by any number of observations of white swan – we might have failed to spot a black swan somewhere – but it can be shown false by a single authentic sighting of a black swan. Scientific theories of this universal form, therefore, can never be conclusively verified, though it may be possible to falsify them.’

Popper’s idea about doing science is that you formulate a hypothesis, try to prove it wrong, and, from your results, formulate a new hypothesis. Why not try to prove it right?  Because you can’t; you never know if there isn’t one more experiment that will prove it wrong.

Einstein said ‘A thousand scientists can’t prove me right, but one can prove me wrong’.  We can’t prove a hypothesis but we can disprove it.

It is easier to disprove a hypothesis – it would take just one observation to refute the hypothesis, than it is to prove a hypothesis – it is impossible to test every possible outcome.

Science advances only through disproof.

Absolutely proving a hypothesis is impossible. As to prove something implies it can never be wrong.  However, well-designed scientific experiments can allow researchers to strongly infer from empirical evidence that their hypothesis is correct.

There is no ‘proof’ or absolute ‘truth’ in science.