What to Believe? Scientific Explanations
Look at the photo below. Do you believe what you see?
Source: Roger Patterson’s Sasquatch, History Link
On October 20, 1976, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin set out on horseback to explore the northern California wilderness and search for Bigfoot. Using a 16mm handheld movie camera, they shot the following footage.
Source: Roger Patterson Bigfoot footage, Dzvid Walker 1964
Many scientists throughout the world continue to remain divided on the authenticity of the film.
When we are asked to evaluate scientific explanations, we have to evaluate or judge the reliability of what we hear and see. We have to use critical thinking to evaluate explanations. Critical thinking means combining what you already know with new facts or observations and deciding if you agree or not.
Evaluating scientific explanations involves two steps.
Hypothesis vs. Theory
In everyday language, people often use the terms hypothesis and theory interchangeably. For example, when a person makes an observation about everyday occurrences, he or she might say, “I think that she speeds to work every day; that’s my theory.” In most cases, this is not a problem because the meanings of the words are close enough that you will be understood.
When studying science, however, the distinction between the terms hypothesis and theory is important, and it is easy to confuse them. They both refer to a scientific explanation about how the world works. In this lesson, you will look at the definitions a little more closely to try to better differentiate between the two terms.
The chart below shows the differences between hypothesis and theory.
Let’s look at an example of each and see if you can tell the difference between a hypothesis and a theory.
Read each of the following scenarios and decide if it is a hypothesis or a theory.
A Closer Look at Theories
In this section, you are going to take a closer look at theories.
The information that scientists “know” to be “true” is actually based on the accepted scientific theories that have the greatest support. In this section, you will learn about a few of the theories that are currently a part of the scientific community. You may have heard some controversy surrounding some of the scientific theories found in the links below. Investigate each of the links below, and then select two different theories that you would like to investigate further.
After you select your two theories from the list below, answer the questions following the links based on the articles you’ve read. Record your answers in your notes.
Read more about the Big Bang Theory at the following link: The Big Bang
Read more about Atomic Theory at the following link: Dalton's Atomic Theory
Read more about the Cell Theory at the following link: Cell Theory
Read more about the Plate Tectonic Theory at the following link: Plate Tectonics
- How does this theory relate to the information you have learned during this lesson about the characteristics of scientific theories?
- How do scientific hypotheses help support this theory?
- What current investigations do you know about that are related to this theory?
- You may have heard that some of the theories you investigated were controversial. How do the characteristics of scientific theories relate to the controversy?
Compare and Contrast Theories and Hypotheses
Now that you have had an opportunity to gather more information about scientific hypotheses and scientific theories, see if you can complete the Venn diagram below using some of the defining characteristics of both scientific hypothesis and scientific theory.
Drag each word in either the Hypothesis, Theory, or Both bubble.