On-line version ISSN 1667-782X
MARONE, Luis and GALETTO, Leonardo. The dual role of hypotheses in ecological research and its association with the hypothetico-deductive method. Ecol. austral [online]. 2011, vol.21, n.2, pp. 201-216. ISSN 1667-782X.
Hypotheses and the hypothetico-deductive method are blamed for making science too formal, and some people claim that hypotheses may be unnecessary for wildlife research and that there should still be a place in basic and applied Ecology journals for studies that are not driven by explicit hypotheses. All these assertions could not reflect appropriately the double role of hypotheses in ecological research: to propose explanations for natural patterns as well as to guide data gathering in the field or laboratory. Ecologists skeptical with hypotheses suspect indeed of the capacity of their science to offer explanations that are able to produce useful predictions. These ecologists frequently adhere to epistemological instrumentalism, but they do employ implicit hypotheses to guide their own research. Instrumentalist research may lack explanatory power but, as any other research, need to be driven by some, at least, low-level (empirical) hypotheses, which may take the form of predictions or may be masked within simple empirical questions. The "inquiry cycle" of Peter Feinsinger as well as Fred Guthery's "hypothesis-free science" offer some evidence supporting our claims. The use of explanatory hypotheses is a matter of epistemological taste and ecologists are free to use them or not, although they should also be conscious of the consequences, for the development of Ecology, that every decision has. Lastly, we assess the dilemma of whether ecologists should include hypotheses or not in descriptive (i.e., instrumentalist) research projects. Although this may be an important issue, more important is realizing that it does not appear to be possible to conduct research without adhering to some assumptions or hypotheses, even when they do not imply a genuine attempt at offering an explanation to the starting research problem.
Keywords : Instrumentalism; Scientific method; Realism.