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Ad hoc hypothesis

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File:Leprechaun ill artlibre jnl.png
If someone wants to believe in leprechauns, they can avoid ever being proven wrong by using ad hoc hypotheses (e.g. by adding "they are invisible", then "their motives are complex", and so on).[1]

In science and philosophy, an ad hoc hypothesis is a hypothesis added to a theory in order to save it from being falsified. Ad hoc hypothesizing is compensating for anomalies not anticipated by the theory in its unmodified form.

In the scientific community

Scientists are often skeptical of theories that rely on frequent, unsupported adjustments to sustain them. This is because, if a theorist so chooses, there is no limit to the number of ad hoc hypotheses that they could add. Thus the theory becomes more and more complex, but is never falsified. This is often at a cost to the theory's predictive power, however.[1] Ad hoc hypotheses are often characteristic of pseudoscientific subjects.[2]

Note that an ad hoc hypothesis is not necessarily incorrect; in some cases, a minor change to a theory was all that was necessary. For example, Albert Einstein's addition of the cosmological constant to general relativity in order to allow a static universe was ad hoc. Although he later referred to it as his "greatest blunder", it may correspond to theories of dark energy.[3]

Naturally, some gaps in knowledge, and even falsifying observations must be temporarily tolerated while research continues. To temper ad hoc hypothesizing in science, common practice includes falsificationism (somewhat in the philosophy of Occam's razor). Falsificationism means scientists become more likely to reject a theory as it becomes increasingly burdened by ignored falsifying observations and ad hoc hypotheses.

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Stanovich, Keith E. (2007). How to Think Straight About Psychology. Boston: Pearson Education. Pages 19-33
  2. Carroll, Robert T. "Ad hoc hypothesis." The Skeptic's Dictionary. 22 Jun. 2008 <http://skepdic.com/adhoc.html>.
  3. Texas A&M University. "Einstein's Biggest Blunder? Dark Energy May Be Consistent With Cosmological Constant." ScienceDaily 28 November 2007. 22 June 2008 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071127142128.htm>.


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