Contradictions about definition/meaning of the word "hypothesis" -- please clarify

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Sorry, I am not sure where to post this But I used Webster's dictionary and the free dictionary online to look it up and both dictionary's had 2 main different definitions for what a hypothesis means. The free dictionary states:

1. A tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation. 2. Something taken to be true for the purpose of argument or investigation; an assumption.

Webster's dictionary states: 1a : an assumption or concession made for the sake of argument
b : an interpretation of a practical situation or condition taken as the ground for action

These are contradictions so witch one is it? I would tend to think part of the scientific method uses a theory to describe what is observed or found in nature or the universe SO the observation or whatever, comes first, then the theory to explain it. NOT vice versa but I am no expert so i came here to ask witch one does it really or truly mean?
 

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  • #3
phinds
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Sorry, I am not sure where to post this But I used Webster's dictionary and the free dictionary online to look it up and both dictionary's had 2 main different definitions for what a hypothesis means. The free dictionary states:

1. A tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation. 2. Something taken to be true for the purpose of argument or investigation; an assumption.

Webster's dictionary states: 1a : an assumption or concession made for the sake of argument
b : an interpretation of a practical situation or condition taken as the ground for action

These are contradictions so witch one is it? I would tend to think part of the scientific method uses a theory to describe what is observed or found in nature or the universe SO the observation or whatever, comes first, then the theory to explain it. NOT vice versa but I am no expert so i came here to ask witch one does it really or truly mean?
You are getting hung up on the fact that many words used in science, hypothesis among them, are also used in just plain old English where they may have different and/or looser definitions. I think every definition you gave is a perfectly good English language definition with no contradictions involved.

If you want a purely scientific-term definition, see @hutchphd 's post above

Also, dictionaries generally give the English language definition. For specialty sub-definitions, they will typically put in a caveat with that particular definition indicating the limited usage.
 
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  • #4
jim mcnamara
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Take the word "theory" for example.

In every day language: I have a theory
This means I just pulled this idea out of my nether region, so I'll throw it into our conversation

This fact is part of the Theory of General Relativity.
A scientific theory is a scientific statement that has been shown to be correct. Plus, it correctly predicts facts we could not even guess. Relativity predicted black holes. Nobody could see them back then when Relativity was firsr defined. It was more than 100 years later that we generated an image of one.

The point is: the onus is on scientists to know this happens with many words, and to find a way NOT to confuse non-scientists. We are supposed to know better.

Helen Quinn has a letter to scientist types on this problem:
https://ned.ipac.caltech.edu/level5/March07/Quinn/Quinn.html
 

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