Make Your Editor Cry: Hypothesis vs. Theory

Make Your Editor Cry: Hypothesis vs. Theory

A hypothesis is an assumption, an idea that is proposed for the sake of argument so that it can be tested to see if it might be true. A hypothesis is usually tentative; it’s an assumption or suggestion made strictly for the objective of being tested.

A theory is a principle that has been formed as an attempt to explain things that have already been substantiated by data. It is used in the names of a number of principles accepted in the scientific community, such as the Theory of General Relativity or the Kinetic Theory of Gases. Because of the rigors of experimentation and control, it is understood to be more likely to be true than a hypothesis is.

In the scientific method, the hypothesis is constructed before any applicable research has been done, apart from a basic background review. You ask a question, read up on what has been studied before, and then form a hypothesis.

In non-scientific use, however, hypothesis and theory are often used interchangeably to mean simply an idea, speculation, or hunch, with theory being the more common choice. An example is Darwin’s so-called “theory of evolution” which has been shown by the scientific method to be a weak hypothesis at best.

Writers often conflate hypothetical with theoretical and vice versa. If something is not supported by experimentation, testing, data, or evidence then it cannot be said to be theoretical though it could be hypothetical.

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