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Clin Chem. 2010 Jul;56(7):1080-5. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2010.144477. Epub 2010 May 28.

A critique of the hypothesis, and a defense of the question, as a framework for experimentation.

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  • 1Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, MA, USA.


Scientists are often steered by common convention, funding agencies, and journal guidelines into a hypothesis-driven experimental framework, despite Isaac Newton's dictum that hypotheses have no place in experimental science. Some may think that Newton's cautionary note, which was in keeping with an experimental approach espoused by Francis Bacon, is inapplicable to current experimental method since, in accord with the philosopher Karl Popper, modern-day hypotheses are framed to serve as instruments of falsification, as opposed to verification. But Popper's "critical rationalist" framework too is problematic. It has been accused of being: inconsistent on philosophical grounds; unworkable for modern "large science," such as systems biology; inconsistent with the actual goals of experimental science, which is verification and not falsification; and harmful to the process of discovery as a practical matter. A criticism of the hypothesis as a framework for experimentation is offered. Presented is an alternative framework-the query/model approach-which many scientists may discover is the framework they are actually using, despite being required to give lip service to the hypothesis.

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