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What Is A Null Hypothesis?


For this to work you’re going to have to imagine that you are a scientist. Are you in character? Good. Now in order to get that Nobel Prize you’re gonna have to come up with something pretty damn brilliant. So let’s say you have some rather exciting ideas about why you seem to lose socks at an astonishing rate. Maybe, you hypothesise, aliens are beaming down to steal one sock out of every pair you own.

  • Hypothesis: the loss of my socks is due to alien burglary.

In order to test whether your hypothesis is true or not, you have to carry out some research to see if you can back it up. So you set up a hi-tech alien detection system and record whether times of alien activity are correlated with when your socks go missing.

However, when you get your results, it’s possible that any relationship that appears in your data was produced by random chance. In order to back up your hypothesis you need to compare the results against the opposite situation: that the loss of socks is not due to alien burglary. This is your null hypothesis – the assertion that the things you were testing (i.e. rates of alien activity and sock loss) are not related and your results are the product of random chance events.

  • Null Hypothesis: the loss of my socks is nothing to do with alien burglary.
  • Alternate Hypothesis: the loss of my socks is due to alien burglary.

The next step is to compare these two alternatives using the magic of… (cue dramatic music)… statistics.

In statistics, the only way of supporting your hypothesis is to refute the null hypothesis. Rather than trying to prove your idea (the alternate hypothesis) right you must show that the null hypothesis is likely to be wrong – you have to ‘refute’ or ‘nullify’ the null hypothesis. Unfortunately you have to assume that your alternate hypothesis is wrong until you find evidence to the contrary. So it’s innocent until proven guilty for the aliens.

Now that we’ve explained this tricky statistical concept, we come to the important point. Who the hell are we and why do we go by the name ‘Null Hypothesis’?

We are the Journal of Unlikely Science! Out to refute every dull textbook and boring science report by proving our own alternate hypothesis: Science is funny (and a little bit random)! With real reports from the strangest corners of the science world, the oddest science news each week and scientific spoofs galore – these are our weapons. To anyone who claims that science is no fun: Prepare to be NULLIFIED.


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