Scientific Laws, Hypotheses, and Theories

 

 

Scientific Theory versus "Just a theory" Layman's term:

In layman’s terms, if something is said to be “just a theory,” it usually means that it is a mere guess, or is unproved. It might even lack credibility. But in scientific terms, a theory implies that something has been proven and is generally accepted as being true.

Scientific Meanings:

SCIENTIFIC LAW: This is a statement of fact meant to describe, in concise terms, an action or set of actions. It is generally accepted to be true and universal, and can sometimes be expressed in terms of a single mathematical equation. Scientific laws are similar to mathematical postulates. They don’t really need any complex external proofs; they are accepted at face value based upon the fact that they have always been observed to be true. Specifically, scientific laws must be simple, true, universal, and absolute. They represent the cornerstone of scientific discovery, because if a law ever did not apply, then all science based upon that law would collapse.  Some scientific laws, or laws of nature, include the law of gravity, Newton's laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, Boyle's law of gases, the law of conservation of mass and energy, and Hook’s law of elasticity.

HYPOTHESIS: This is an educated guess based upon observation. It is a rational explanation of a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but which has not been proved. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation.

THEORY: A theory is more like a scientific law than a hypothesis. A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers. One scientist cannot create a theory; he can only create a hypothesis. Theories may be expanded or modified with further scientific evidence.

Development of a Simple Theory by the Scientific Method:

  • Start with an observation that evokes a question: Broth spoils when I leave it out for a couple of days. Why?
  • Using logic and previous knowledge, state a possible answer, called a Hypothesis: Tiny organisms floating in the air must fall into the broth and start reproducing.
  • Perform an experiment or Test: After boiling some broth, I divide it into two containers, one covered and one not covered. I place them on the table for two days and see if one spoils. Only the uncovered broth spoiled.
  • Then publish your findings in a peer-reviewed journal. Publication: "Only broth that is exposed to the air after two days tended to spoil. The covered specimen did not."
  • Other scientists read about your experiment and try to duplicate it. Verification: Every scientist who tries your experiment comes up with the same results. So they try other methods to make sure your experiment was measuring what it was supposed to. Again, they get the same results every time.
  • In time, and if experiments continue to support your hypothesis, it becomes a Theory: Microorganisms from the air cause broth to spoil.

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