Debates—Hypothesis testing in hydrology: Theory and practice

Water Resources Research | Pfister & Kirchner [2017]


The basic structure of the scientific method – at least in its idealized form – is widely championed as a recipe for scientific progress, but the day-to-day practice may be different. Here, we explore the spectrum of current practice in hypothesis formulation and testing in hydrology, based on a random sample of recent research papers. This analysis suggests that in hydrology, as in other fields, hypothesis formulation and testing rarely correspond to the idealized model of the scientific method. Practices such as “p-hacking “or “HARKing “(Hypothesizing After the Results are Known) are major obstacles to more rigorous hypothesis testing in hydrology, along with the well-known problem of confirmation bias – the tendency to value and trust confirmations more than refutations – among both researchers and reviewers. Nonetheless, as several examples illustrate, hypothesis tests have played an essential role in spurring major advances in hydrological theory. Hypothesis testing is not the only recipe for scientific progress, however. Exploratory research, driven by innovations in measurement and observation, has also underlain many key advances. Further improvements in observation and measurement will be vital to both exploratory research and hypothesis testing, and thus to advancing the science of hydrology.

Full text can be found here.



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