What is a Scientific Hypothesis? | Definition of Hypothesis

A scientific hypothesis is the initial building block in the scientific method. Many describe it as an “educated guess,” based on prior knowledge and observation, as to the cause of a particular phenomenon. It is a suggested solution for an unexplained occurrence that does not fit into current accepted scientific theory. A hypothesis is the inkling of an idea that can become a theory, which is the next step in the scientific method.

The basic idea of a hypothesis is that there is no pre-determined outcome. For a hypothesis to be termed a scientific hypothesis, it has to be something that can be supported or refuted through carefully crafted experimentation or observation.

A key function in this step in the scientific method is deriving predictions from the hypotheses about the results of future experiments, then performing those experiments to see whether they support the predictions.

The primary trait of a hypothesis is that something can be tested and that those tests can be replicated. A hypothesis, which is often in the form of an if/then statement, is often examined by multiple scientists to ensure the integrity and veracity of the experiment. This process can take years, and in many cases hypotheses do not become theories as it is difficult to gather sufficient supporting evidence.

Upon analysis of the results, a hypothesis can be rejected or modified, but it can never be proven to be correct 100 percent of the time. For example, relativity has been tested many times so it is generally accepted as true, but there could be an instance, which has not been encountered, where it is not true.

Most formal hypotheses consist of concepts that can be connected and their relationships tested. A group of hypotheses comes together to form a conceptual framework. As sufficient data and evidence are gathered to support a hypothesis, it becomes a working hypothesis, which is a milestone on the way to becoming a theory.


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Kim Ann Zimmermann

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a contributor to Live Science. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Glassboro State College.
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