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College Study Skills Must Include the Ability to Prove (or Disprove) an Hypothesis

Logical reasoning is the benchmark of study skills, but to extend knowledge requires making guesses and having new ideas that must then be tested.

These new ideas are called hypotheses. A hypothesis is a possibility – something that you think may happen, or be the case. The point of academic enquiry is to search for evidence to support hypotheses, the facts that need to be true for hypotheses to be correct. Academic argument consists of reasoning and then finding and linking the evidence to support hypotheses.

The quality and amount of evidence to support a hypothesis increases the likelihood that it is acceptable. Sometimes, researchers have a null hypothesis, which is sufficient to explain most of the data they have, but where the results could be due to quite different reasons.

They may investigate by using two or more hypotheses (including the null hypothesis and an alternate hypothesis) to see which explains the data they have best.

Other academics analyze their evidence and then the claims made and the conclusions they have come to. Sometimes they draw different conclusions from the same evidence, or can even suggest another hypothesis to explain the data.

For instance, even as recently as about 15 years ago, climate change was not accepted as a reality by all scientists, or indeed, politicians. Those who supported the climate change hypothesis set about searching for evidence to support it – what needed to be true if climate change and global warming were indeed happening. That was the first stage.

Climatologists noted the hole in the ozone layer, the rising temperature of the sea, the melting ice caps, the more frequent storms and floods in some places and droughts in others. Biologists noted the relocation of some sea mammals searching for food, the reductions in the numbers of some species and the increases in others. Evidence from different disciplines all combined together to support the climate-change hypothesis, making it more likely to be a reality.

Of course, if global warming was indeed happening, then the next question was ‘Why?’

Some scientists claimed man-made carbon emissions were creating an overall greenhouse effect and triggering the other changes. The change was happening too rapidly to be attributable to natural causes and so they argued that carbon emissions had to be cut to slow down or reduce the effect of the climate changes, which they perceived as negative.

Other groups of scientists, although accepting global warming was happening, argued that there were just as many positive outcomes. For instance, Canada would gain economically, becoming the biggest supplier of wheat as the grain-growing areas shifted north.

Still other groups of scientists, while not disputing the evidence for climate change, did dispute its interpretation and the conclusion – that man was responsible. Often supported by politicians, they argued that climate change is a natural process and the current changes were not happening as quickly as some scientists feared and so were not directly linked to man’s industrial processes.

However, as evidence continues to mount, global warming, still a hypothesis 15 years ago, is now accepted by most people as a reality. Some argument still exists about how to tackle the problem.