: In everyday language, the word usually refers to an educated guess or an idea that we are quite uncertain about. Scientific hypotheses, however, are much more informed than any guess and are usually based on prior experience, scientific background knowledge, preliminary observations, and logic. In addition, hypotheses are often supported by many different lines of evidence in which case, scientists are more confident in them than they would be in any mere "guess." To further complicate matters, science textbooks frequently misuse the term in a slightly different way. They may ask students to make a about the outcome of an experiment (e.g., table salt will dissolve in water more quickly than rock salt will). This is simply a prediction or a guess (even if a well-informed one) about the outcome of an experiment. Scientific hypotheses, on the other hand, have explanatory power they are explanations for phenomena. The idea that table salt dissolves faster than rock salt is not very hypothesis-like because it is not very explanatory. A more scientific (i.e., more explanatory) hypothesis might be "The amount of surface area a substance has affects how quickly it can dissolve. More surface area means a faster rate of dissolution." This hypothesis has some explanatory power it gives us an idea of a particular phenomenon occurs and it is testable because it generates expectations about what we should observe in different situations. If the hypothesis is accurate, then we'd expect that, for example, sugar processed to a powder should dissolve more quickly than granular sugar. Students could examine rates of dissolution of many different substances in powdered, granular, and pellet form to further test the idea. The statement "Table salt will dissolve in water more quickly than rock salt" is not a hypothesis, but an expectation generated by a hypothesis. Textbooks and science labs can lead to confusions about the difference between a hypothesis and an expectation regarding the outcome of a scientific test. To learn more about scientific hypotheses, visit in our section on how science works.
CORRECTION: This misconception may be reinforced by introductory science courses that treat hypotheses as "things we're not sure about yet" and that only explore established and accepted theories. In fact, hypotheses, theories, and laws are rather like apples, oranges, and kumquats: one cannot grow into another, no matter how much fertilizer and water are offered. Hypotheses, theories, and laws are all scientific explanations that differ in breadth not in level of support. Hypotheses are explanations that are limited in scope, applying to fairly narrow range of phenomena. The term is sometimes used to refer to an idea about how observable phenomena are related but the term is also used in other ways within science. Theories are deep explanations that apply to a broad range of phenomena and that may integrate many hypotheses and laws. To learn more about this, visit our page on .
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CORRECTION: When newspapers make statements like, "most scientists agree that human activity is the culprit behind global warming," it's easy to imagine that scientists hold an annual caucus and vote for their favorite hypotheses. But of course, that's not quite how it works. Scientific ideas are judged not by their popularity, but on the basis of the evidence supporting or contradicting them. A hypothesis or theory comes to be accepted by many scientists (usually over the course of several years or decades!) once it has garnered many lines of supporting evidence and has stood up to the scrutiny of the scientific community. A hypothesis accepted by "most scientists," may not be "liked" or have positive repercussions, but it is one that science has judged likely to be accurate based on the evidence. To learn more about , visit our series of pages on the topic in our section on how science works.