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“Speculation must wait upon the facts.” — June Downey, psychologist
June Downey was an American psychologist who worked in the areas of personality and handwriting. But that’s not important right now. What is important is that I ran across this quotation and really have a bone to pick with it. Of course, the quotation was totally out of context, so it may not mean the same thing in context, and I may make a fool of myself. Nevertheless, come have a seat and hold my beer. In fact, you can drink the beer. I never touch the stuff.
Speculation must wait upon the facts? The world is already filled with facts. One would never have the urge to speculate, unless one has facts. “There’s something in the sky that is moving in an odd way? I wonder what that is. Could it be an insect? A bird? A plane? Underdog?” That thing in the sky is a fact. Or at least one’s believing that one sees it is a fact. Thus one speculates. One creates a series of hypotheses and tests them against one’s knowledge, one’s database of facts in one’s head. Or, one conducts other measurements and captures data. But one is already speculating, or one would not know what to measure to add more facts.
The scientific method is all about speculating before one has all the facts. One has one fact or series of facts. There is a phenomenon that is currently unexplained by accepted theory. That is a fact. But the next step is the “I wonder why” step. (That’s speculation, June!) One comes up with at least one hypothesis to test that might solve the mystery of the phenomenon. Once one has one or more hypotheses, one designs tests to determine more facts to try to prove or disprove the various hypotheses. In science, these tests are called experiments. Then we run the experiments to gather more facts and cut down our possible speculations. Of course, there is much more to it than that. The experiments have to give valid measurements to test the hypothesis. The hypothesis needs to be falsifiable. And there is much, much more. But the point is that Speculation, also known as hypothesis formation, comes before the facts, or experimentation. The general steps of the scientific method are something like this:
- Observe – Find a question that you think isn’t answered.
- Research – Ensure the question isn’t answered and try to learn more about the surrounding circumstances and, yes, facts that already exist.
- Hypothesize – Speculate. It’s better to come up with multiple hypotheses in a brain-storming session and then choose the most likely to test first, but if you only have one, go with what you’ve got.
- Experiment – Get the facts that you couldn’t wait on because you’re creating new information.
- Analyze – Check the new facts to see if the hypothesis being tested seems to work to solve the question.
- Conclude – Determine if you have solved the mystery with the new facts.
- If the hypothesis fails, go back to Hypothesize, or to the Experiment Step if you already have other hypotheses to test.
You have to speculate before all of the facts have come in.
This concludes my Ted Talk.
Ever run into a quotation and think, That ain’t right? What was it?Published in