Sunday, July 20, 2008

Can it be science without a hypothesis

Do we still need hypothesis? What is a hypothesis anyway? For that matter, what is science? Is collecting data and using IT tools to look for patterns still science? You use the results to FORM a hypothesis rather then INVENT a hypothesis first and then go test it with data. This is a critical question in our day and age. For a good example of the kind of question being asked i see Chris Anderson on The End of Theory in Wired Magazine:

This is my take: data is just data. Just because it is encoded in some system doesn’t make it any more or less likely to inspire a hypothesis than, say, looking at a sunset through polluted skies. Inspiration comes from data of all kinds- visual data from the sunset, or complex numeric data from a bunch of codes on a screen. The bigger question might be: where does science begin? If we loot at the sunset, or the enormous, dry, data set, and then create a hypothesis about why the sun is red, or why protein X and protein Y co-occur, where does the science begin? With the looking, or the hypothesizing? Hard to say and maybe not that important except when you are looking for grant money perhaps. Just sifting through data to look for co-occurrences is not good enough. Don’t get me wrong-it’s good. Just not good enough. You need to follow up with a hypothesis to make it ‘science’. So to me, it seems like science still must still, therefore, start with a hypothesis.
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