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What is a Theory?

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posted on Jun, 2 2008 @ 10:06 AM
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What is a Theory?


www.livescience.com


Defining the word theory is tricky. Scientists use it one way, the average Joe another.

In casual parlance, a theory is basically an idea or thought. It probably has no carefully collected data to back it up, let alone any rigorous hypothesis testing or experiments. In the world of science, however, a theory is a broad explanation of a phenomenon or phenomena that is testable, falsifiable and has multiple lines of evidence.

“Genuinely successful theories interconnect information from previously disparate areas of experience,” said Adolf Grünbaum, the Andrew Mellon Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. For example, fossil records, DNA evidence and biogeography are connected under the theory of evolution.

A theory differs from a hypothesis in its scope. For example, I can have a hypothesis that if I throw a penny off the Empire State Building it will fall to the ground. But the theory of gravity goes vastly beyond throwing objects off a building. The theory of gravity also explains the motion of planetary bodies and orbiting satellites. So, a hypothesis is like a mini-theory. It attempts to explain an event, and is testable and falsifiable like a theory is, but on a more narrow scale.

Hypotheses and theories are part of the scientific method — the process of asking and answering questions by experimentation. The method exists to ensure that science is as accurate as possible in explaining the world and that arguments rely on observable evidence. The main components of the scientific method are that experiments should be repeatable, so other scientists can verify or nullify the results; data should be collected by observation and experimentation; and experiments should be documented and shared.

Theories are formed after numerous hypotheses are vetted using the scientific method. Hypotheses are tested, data is collected, and the results are documented, shared and retested. Then a theory that explains the data and predicts the outcomes of future experiments is formed. Typically, researchers in different fields of study tend to rely on different methods—ones deemed the best suited for their subjects or objects of study.

One component of a theory that can frustrate scientists and non-scientists alike is that a theory is never proven and can always be revised. Experiments testing a theory either corroborate it or falsify it. Even Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity were revised after 200 years, when Albert Einstein found flaws and devised his theory of relativity.

In general, a law is said to be without exception, such as the second law of thermodynamics, which says isolated systems that are not in equilibrium move from more ordered to less ordered states (or less energy available to do work). Very few theories become laws. Michael Weisberg, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, said in the future even fewer theories are likely to become laws, since theories and laws are so frequently revised.

“We can accumulate incredible amounts of evidence and say this is unlikely to be untrue, but we can never give a proof,” Weisberg said.

On the other hand though, scientists do not look fondly upon those who pooh-pooh scientific theories such as evolution as being just a theory. “It is skullduggery,” said Grünbaum. Yes, evolution is a theory, but a theory supported by an enormous body of evidence.

“Ultimately, to say something is a theory in science is an honorific,” Weisberg said, meaning it commands esteem or respect based on the many tests it has withstood.

(visit the link for the full news article)




posted on Jun, 2 2008 @ 10:06 AM
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Considering the overall ignorance in the United States of what actually does and does not constitute science, and considering how the word theory is so bantered around here on ATS, and subsquently misused and abused...

... I thought it worthwhile to post this entire article on the subject.

www.livescience.com
(visit the link for the full news article)



posted on Jun, 2 2008 @ 10:36 AM
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reply to post by grover
 

Well done. You often read on ATS that well established and experimentally verified science is "just a theory", like relativity. OTOH, when something is built on shaky ground (crackpot theory) or has not been proved by experiments (like string theory) it should be named differently, not quite a theory. Maybe a word is missing between conjecture, speculation and theory.



posted on Jun, 2 2008 @ 10:50 AM
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I have no "idea" what a theory is


It's like conspiracy theories, they are always, apparently, used by nutters to claim some sort of underhandedness or wrongdoing, and have no basis in fact, whereas scientific theories are presented as facts almost beyond question.

To me, a theory is nothing more than an idea, an inkling that something may have happened a certain way but cannot be proved as fact at the present time.



posted on Jun, 2 2008 @ 03:25 PM
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Sadly the ones who would benefit the most by knowing some real scientific terms either will not read this, or discount it.



posted on Jun, 2 2008 @ 03:33 PM
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Star and Flag!

I hope many members here take their time and read this article. I have always been amazed about how many people not only here on ATS but in many places use the word theory in their argument without fully understand what the word means.



posted on Jun, 2 2008 @ 03:37 PM
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Originally posted by grover

What is a Theory?


www.livescience.com


Defining the word theory is tricky. Scientists use it one way, the average Joe another.

In casual parlance, a theory is basically an idea or thought. It probably has no carefully collected data to back it up, let alone any rigorous hypothesis testing or experiments. In the world of science, however, a theory is a broad explanation of a phenomenon or phenomena that is testable, falsifiable and has multiple lines of evidence.

“Genuinely successful theories interconnect information from previously disparate areas of experience,” said Adolf Grünbaum, the Andrew Mellon Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. For example, fossil records, DNA evidence and biogeography are connected under the theory of evolution.

A theory differs from a hypothesis in its scope. For example, I can have a hypothesis that if I throw a penny off the Empire State Building it will fall to the ground. But the theory of gravity goes vastly beyond throwing objects off a building. The theory of gravity also explains the motion of planetary bodies and orbiting satellites. So, a hypothesis is like a mini-theory. It attempts to explain an event, and is testable and falsifiable like a theory is, but on a more narrow scale.

Hypotheses and theories are part of the scientific method — the process of asking and answering questions by experimentation. The method exists to ensure that science is as accurate as possible in explaining the world and that arguments rely on observable evidence. The main components of the scientific method are that experiments should be repeatable, so other scientists can verify or nullify the results; data should be collected by observation and experimentation; and experiments should be documented and shared.

Theories are formed after numerous hypotheses are vetted using the scientific method. Hypotheses are tested, data is collected, and the results are documented, shared and retested. Then a theory that explains the data and predicts the outcomes of future experiments is formed. Typically, researchers in different fields of study tend to rely on different methods—ones deemed the best suited for their subjects or objects of study.

One component of a theory that can frustrate scientists and non-scientists alike is that a theory is never proven and can always be revised. Experiments testing a theory either corroborate it or falsify it. Even Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity were revised after 200 years, when Albert Einstein found flaws and devised his theory of relativity.

In general, a law is said to be without exception, such as the second law of thermodynamics, which says isolated systems that are not in equilibrium move from more ordered to less ordered states (or less energy available to do work). Very few theories become laws. Michael Weisberg, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, said in the future even fewer theories are likely to become laws, since theories and laws are so frequently revised.

“We can accumulate incredible amounts of evidence and say this is unlikely to be untrue, but we can never give a proof,” Weisberg said.

On the other hand though, scientists do not look fondly upon those who pooh-pooh scientific theories such as evolution as being just a theory. “It is skullduggery,” said Grünbaum. Yes, evolution is a theory, but a theory supported by an enormous body of evidence.

“Ultimately, to say something is a theory in science is an honorific,” Weisberg said, meaning it commands esteem or respect based on the many tests it has withstood.

(visit the link for the full news article)



Great stuff. A very fine explanation of theory and it's definition.

Now, if only the 'others' would read and assimilate this, the end of those petty discussions re: 'evolution vs. 'creationism'' would become a possibility....but it's highly unlikely isn't it?

Starred and flagged.

J.

[edit on 2-6-2008 by jimbo999]



posted on Jun, 2 2008 @ 03:39 PM
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Originally posted by Britguy
I have no "idea" what a theory is


It's like conspiracy theories, they are always, apparently, used by nutters to claim some sort of underhandedness or wrongdoing, and have no basis in fact, whereas scientific theories are presented as facts almost beyond question.

To me, a theory is nothing more than an idea, an inkling that something may have happened a certain way but cannot be proved as fact at the present time.


Errmmm...did you read the OP?? Or not??

J.



posted on Jun, 2 2008 @ 05:40 PM
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There was once a "theory" that a wolf could be tamed and trained to be a servant and companion to man. Personal experience changed that wolf theory into the truth, dog. The pseudointellectual nonsense that it can can never go beyond a theory really needs "justification". A truth no one will tell you is that you have to have "position" and "power" before you are allowed to have a "theory" poor people just get "ideas", usually bad ones at that.



posted on Jun, 3 2008 @ 10:41 AM
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Here's a good definition of what Theory is:

wilstar.com...



posted on Jun, 3 2008 @ 10:41 AM
link   
Here's a good definition of what Theory is:

wilstar.com...



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