opposite to "confirm a hypothesis"

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flyingwitch

Senior Member
Czech
‎Hello.

context: There is a scientific conference. A scientist is forming a hypothesis. I know that he is wrong. I want "to do something" so that everyone in the room would understand that the scientist is wrong. How can I describe my action?

What is the opposite to "confirm / prove a hypothesis"? Suggestions:

1) to disconfirm a hypothesis
2) to disprove a hypothesis
3) to provide a counterexample

Thank you.
 
  • MrMuselk

    Senior Member
    English - South East England
    I think I would use 2), but 1) is also possible. They are all correct, but a counter example would disprove that scientist’s example, not his hypothesis, I feel.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Disprove is common. I've never seen disconfirm used, but it exists and refers specifically to beliefs or hypotheses.

    Edit.
    However, none of these seem appropriate to your context. If he's only just coming up with the hypothesis, how can you already have the experimental evidence that proves it wrong?
     

    MrMuselk

    Senior Member
    English - South East England
    I’ve heard deconfirmed used and we all know that’s wrong, but I’ve heard it used more than disconfirmo_O. That’s how uncommon disconfirm is.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    For me, only option (2) of the original proposed three works. The opposite of proving a hypothesis is to disprove it, or to prove it wrong. EM's "refute" would also work. "Disconfirm" strikes me as unidiomatic, and although providing a counterexample is one way of proving a hypothesis wrong, I wouldn't really call it the opposite of proving it right.
    If he's only just coming up with the hypothesis, how can you already have the experimental evidence that proves it wrong?
    Perhaps because you had already come up with a similar hypothesis yourself, and done your own experiments that show it to be wrong, but he is not aware of your work.

    You might have observed that the 3rd, 5th, and 7th Fibonacci numbers are 2, 5, and 13. This might have led you to hypothesize that if N is prime (and greater than 2), then the Nth Fibonacci number is also prime. To confirm this, you looked at the next few and found that the 11th, 13th and 17th numbers are 89, 233 and 1597, which are indeed also prime. Just before trumpeting your discovery to all your colleagues, you looked at the 19th number, which is 4181, and found to your dismay that it can be factorized as 37*113. So you kept quiet.

    Then, one day, someone else comes up with the same idea. Now you can smugly point out that he's wasting his time.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    That's a rather contrived example, isn't it? I doubt anybody would be so simplistic as to put that forward as a hypothesis at "a scientific conference". After all, it's refutable in less than 5 minutes by somebody armed with nothing more complex than a pencil, a sheet of paper and the ability to do long division.

    I already agreed that disprove is common, but the situation described in the OP is not one that seems to provide the environment to disprove something that is worthy of being described as a hypothesis being formed by a scientist. Then, of course, if the hypothesis is only at the stage of being formed, it isn't yet a formal hypothesis, so how can it be refuted?

    As for disconfirm, that has been in use since at least the early 19th century
    1827 J. Bentham Rationale Judicial Evid. I. i. x. 168 For the purpose of confirming or disconfirming the truth of a dubious recollection of this sort, I have communicated it to some other person, whose opportunities of observation or means of judgment have appeared to render him more or less qualified to help me out.
    and is in the OED's frequency band 4, along with many familiar verbs including cull, plop, skyrocket, subpoena, pee, decelerate, befuddle, and umpire.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    yes, I provided a contrived example
    I'm sure Andy meant my example was contrived.
    I'd say it was oversimplified rather than contrived.
    As for disconfirm, that has been in use since at least the early 19th century
    It just strikes me as unusual here. I'm comforted by how badly it does, and surprised by how well it does, in this ngram:
    Google Ngram Viewer
    Then, of course, if the hypothesis is only at the stage of being formed, it isn't yet a formal hypothesis, so how can it be refuted?
    That's entirely true, of course, but I suspect the OP didn't quite mean it like that. Scientists don't form hypotheses in the middle of a conference. They tend to form and develop them offline, and then present them at a conference.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Depending upon how you want the response to sound (vernacular or scientific), "debunked" would work. "Debunk" not only disproves, but will generally ridicule the original hypothesis.

    Before I even had an opportunity to explain my hypothesis and my reasoning behind it, it was being actively debunked by my colleagues.


    Definition of DEBUNK
    debunk
    verb
    debunked; debunking; debunks
    transitive verb
    : to expose the sham (see sham entry 1 sense 2) or falseness of
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    ‎Hello.

    context: There is a scientific conference. A scientist is forming a hypothesis. I know that he is wrong. I want "to do something" so that everyone in the room would understand that the scientist is wrong. How can I describe my action?

    What is the opposite to "confirm / prove a hypothesis"? Suggestions:

    1) to disconfirm a hypothesis
    2) to disprove a hypothesis
    3) to provide a counterexample

    Thank you.
    I'd not say any of these.

    The first is contrived, the second inappropriate (a hypothesis is not a proof), and the third not quite what we mean.

    I'd probably say 'contradict a hypothesis'. 'Refute' is not bad, but a touch strong for my taste in that it implies that the hypothesis has become established.

    I see that the ngrams for both American and British English marginally prefer 'refute' over 'contradict'.
     
    Last edited:

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    In both cases, I'd go for "repudiate".
    I am not sure that quite fits.

    From the Merriam-Webster entry. Which meaning do you think works best?
    repudiate - Memidex dictionary/thesaurus
    Definition of repudiate


    transitive verb
    1a : to refuse to accept especially : to reject as unauthorized or as having no binding force: repudiate a contract; repudiate a will
    b : to reject as untrue or unjust: repudiate a charge

    2 : to refuse to acknowledge or pay: repudiate a debt

    3 : to refuse to have anything to do with : disown repudiate a cause
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    If you take Lexico as an authority:


    1 and 2. :)
    Yes, I see. But I think their #1 is just a shortened form of M-W #1.

    In any case the link I gave lists definitions from 11 dictionaries. If you read over all of them you will get a better sense of how "repudiate" is used. Or you can "dictionary shop" and look for a dictionary that defines it the way you want it to. It's your choice.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    I think "repudiate" is too strong. It has a negative implication. Demonstrating that a theory is false has no negative implication.

    Basically, scientists make hypotheses (theories) that fit the known facts. Then scientists create tests to try to disprove the theory. Often they succeed, and the theory is modified or replaced, to fit the new facts.

    That is everyday, normal science. No-one expects a theory to be perfectly correct, and disproving it does not imply the scientist was wrong to propose that theory. Every theory is based on the known facts, and is disproved by newly-learned facts that don't match it.

    2) to disprove a hypothesis
    3) to provide a counterexample
    Both 2 and 3 are correct, since a counterexample disproves an "always" hypothesis.

    I like "disprove", but I also like post #16's "refute" and "reject".
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    [...]
    Basically, scientists make hypotheses (theories) that fit the known facts. [...]
    And occasionally they cherry-pick (knowingly or unknowingly) facts to fit a hypothesis. I don't thing you can disprove a theory or hypothesis at a conference, but you can express your doubts and plant doubts in the minds of others. I have given one possible scenario below.
    I want "to do something" so that everyone in the room would understand that the scientist is wrong. How can I describe my action?
    Lewinwitch [at a conference]: I listened carefully to your hypothesis. Can you tell us what your sample size was and how you selected those samples? Has the hypothesis been tested? Has it shown repeatability? It seems quite novel. Has anyone else made similar findings?
     

    Oswinw011

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I don't think you can disprove a theory or hypothesis at a conference, but you can express your doubts and plant doubts in the minds of others.
    Yes, agree with that. When we talk about disapproving a hypothesis, we usually say there are many steps taken by us to prove it wrong, including writing down relevant equations, listing axiom or at least pointing out the conspicuous mistake with a strong argument. But that process takes time though, not can be solved in minutes. If you had once come across similar situation, and know the hypothesis is wrong, then what you are doing next can not be called "disapprove" actually, you just point it out.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    When we talk about disapproving a hypothesis
    Careful! It's not disapprove, it's disprove. When we disapprove (of) something, it means we don't like it. When we disprove something, we show that it is incorrect.
    the second inappropriate (a hypothesis is not a proof),
    It's a good point to note that a hypothesis is not a proof, but I don't think that means you can't disprove it. While it is true that you can disprove a proof, by showing that it has a mistake in it (*), that's beside the point. Dictionaries typically give assertions and claims as examples of things you can disprove. I'd say that a hypothesis or conjecture is certainly something that qualifies as an assertion or claim.

    Off-topic side remark:
    (*) A good example of disproving a proof is found in the history of the Four Colour Theorem. A serendipitous discovery in the 19th century led to the conjecture that any map could be coloured in with no more than four colours such that no two adjacent regions shared the same colour. But for many years nobody could prove it. Then someone did prove it, using an elegant easy-to-understand proof that basically showed that no counterexample could exist. A decade later someone else found a small but fatal flaw in the proof. Of course just because the proof was wrong, it didn't mean the conjecture was wrong. It took nearly another century before another proof was found, but it was so complicated that nobody could understand it. :)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    'Refute' is not bad, but a touch strong for my taste in that it implies that the hypothesis has become established.
    :thumbsup:
    If it was widely held, I'd say refute. If it's just been proposed or remains tentative, I'd use reject.
    I equated "widely held" with "established" in my mind when I posted. Note that "established" is not he same as proven, but rather not yet, well, refuted :)
     
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