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Defense of the Scientific Hypothesis

From Reproducibility Crisis to Big Data

Bradley E. Alger

Publication Date - October 2019

ISBN: 9780190881481

448 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

Retail Price to Students: $45.00


Defense of Scientific Hypothesis: From Reproducibility Crisis to Big Data sets out to explain and defend the scientific hypothesis. Alger's mission is to counteract the misinformation and misunderstanding about the hypothesis that even seasoned scientists have concerning its nature and place in modern science. Most biological scientists receive little or no formal training in scientific thinking. Further, the hypothesis is under attack by critics who claim that it is irrelevant to science. In order to appreciate and evaluate scientific controversies like global climate change, vaccine safety, etc., the public first needs to understand the hypothesis. Defense of Scientific Hypothesis begins by describing and analyzing the scientific hypothesis in depth and examining its relationships to various kinds of science. Alger then guides readers through a review of the hypothesis in the context of the Reproducibility Crisis and presents survey data on how scientists perceive and employ hypotheses. He assesses cognitive factors that influence our ability to use the hypothesis and makes practical and policy recommendations for teaching and learning about it. Finally, Alger considers two possible futures of the hypothesis in science as the Big Data revolution looms: in one scenario, the hypothesis is displaced by the Big Data Mindset that forgoes understanding in favor of correlation and prediction. In the other, robotic science incorporates the hypotheses into mechanized laboratories guided by artificial intelligence. But in his illuminating epilogue, Alger envisions a third way, the Centaur Scientist, a symbiotic relationship between human scientists and computers.


  • Includes original data from surveys of scientists regarding their experiences with, and opinions of, the hypothesis, as well as of their actual use of the scientific hypothesis in their published work
  • Includes in-depth critiques of published works (books and articles) that have cast aspersions on the place of the hypothesis in modern science
  • Includes a thorough analysis of the hypothesis, including detailed examination of the ideas of Karl Popper and John Platt to which few scientists are ever exposed

About the Author(s)

Bradley E. Alger (AB, UC Berkeley; PhD, Harvard), conducted some of the initial in vitro studies on synaptic plasticity in the brain for his thesis. In 1981, after serving as Roger Nicoll's first postdoctoral fellow at UC San Francisco, Alger was appointed Assistant Professor of Physiology at U Maryland School of Medicine. He did research and taught until becoming Professor Emeritus in 2014. Alger's laboratory published over 100 research articles and made fundamental discoveries regarding "the brain's own marijuana." While lecturing on scientific reasoning, he saw the need for a book like this one.


"The book more than deserves a look for anyone interested in the intersection of philosophy and science." -- Daniel R. Deen, Concordia University, Irvine, California, The Quarterly Review of Biology

"In a time of great methodological and philosophical upheaval, the publication of this book is auspicious and has the potential to be of great benefit to both junior and senior researchers. It ties together different perspectives and provides practical advice. Academia will benefit if more of us reflected on the subject through books such as these." -- Metascience

"In an age where scientific thinking is under attack, where big data analytics is marketed as the end of theory, and where social media spread fake news faster than facts, Alger's impressive book reminds us what a gift the scientific method is for each and every one of us. Its systematic steps can overcome mere opinion and targeted misinformation. But Alger also highlights that scientific training needs to be improved. For instance, although 70% of biological researchers report having received little or no training in scientific thinking, 90% nevertheless (or consequently) felt confident about their skills. Alger's writing is clear and engaging, and I truly enjoyed reading this insightful book." -- Gerd Gigerenzer, Director, Harding Center for Risk Literacy, Max Planck Institute for Human Development

"I read with great interest and enthusiasm Defense of the Scientific Hypothesis. It was music to my ears. During my training with Sir John Eccles, I was immersed in Popper's philosophy of falsification and it has guided my thought and experimental design ever since. Alger gives a comprehensive overview of the central role that the hypothesis plays in driving science forward. His book should be recommended reading for any student of science and its accessible style and simple analogies will also appeal to non-scientists." -- Roger Nicoll, National Academy of Sciences, University of California, San Francisco

"The scientific hypothesis is a unique tool for problem-solving that can be deployed to great advantage in nearly any setting. Brad Alger ranges across many disciplines to explore how the hypothesis helps to frame questions for scientists and non-scientists. He discusses the hidden dangers of the view that science involves gathering data to support preconceived notions rather than critically testing ideas, and how this attitude leads to poor decisions on societal issues such as climate change and science education. Defense of the Scientific Hypothesis is thoroughly rich and enlightening." -- Ray Dingledine, Member, National Academy of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine

Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: Philosophical Background Matters
    Chapter 2: The Scientific Hypothesis Today
    Chapter 3: Critical Rationalism - Common Questions Asked and Answered
    Chapter 4: Kinds of Science
    Chapter 5: Statistics and Statistical Hypotheses
    Chapter 6: Bayesian Basics and the Scientific Hypothesis
    Chapter 7: The Reproducibility Crisis
    Chapter 8: Advantages of the Hypothesis
    Chapter 9: What Scientists Think About Scientific Thinking
    Chapter 10: Opponents of the Hypothesis: Stuart Firestein, David J. Glass, and David Deutsch
    Chapter 11: Automatic Thinking: Hypotheses, Biases, and Inductive Reasoning
    Chapter 12: Thinking Rationally About Heuristics and Biases
    Chapter 13: The Hypothesis in Science Education
    Chapter 14: How to Improve Your Own Scientific Thinking
    Chapter 15: The Future of the Hypothesis: The Big Data Mindset Versus the Robot Scientist

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