Wrong Starting Assumptions Can Result in Flawed Conclusions

Scientists and science educators are human just like everybody else. They are all subject to biases that may cause them to start out by assuming certain things to be true, which may eventually prove to be otherwise.

It is extremely important when doing scientific research that all possibilities be included when forming our hypotheses, no matter how unlikely we may consider them to be.

A number of years ago, while working for the General Motors Corporation, I was asked to head up a Six-Step-Problem-Solving team. Those of us who were asked to be in the leadership position of those teams had to go through a training period, in which we were taught the Six-Step-Problem-Solving method. I did not realize until a few years later that we had been trained in how to use the Scientific Method. We were doing what scientists do when trying to find the answers to scientific problems.

While trying to solve one particular problem, we had a brain-storming session where we discussed what we knew about the problem, and what the possible causes of this problem might be. We came up with about 10 possible causes. These were our hypotheses. We then each put them in the most likely order of their being the cause, and then compared our lists. I then listed these on a poster board in order, with what the group considered to be the most likely cause at the top, and on down to what we considered to be the least likely.

A hypothesis that we had considered to be one of the least likely turned out to be the real cause after all. What if we had rejected that possibility, or maybe not even thought of it? We may have gone with an alternative hypothesis that may have only been a partial solution to our problem. Our personal biases may cause us to not want to consider some possibilities.

Do we sometimes place certain limitations on our research that may cause us to eventually arrive at flawed conclusions? In using the scientific method, we can only move forward in our testing on hypotheses we have considered.