Biologists analyze their tables, graphs, and charts to draw conclusions about whether or not a hypothesis is supported, as shown in step © of Figure 1-9. The hypothetical owl data show that in the light, owls struck with greater accuracy at the mouse than at the leaf, but in the dark, owls struck with greater accuracy at the leaf than the mouse. Thus, the findings support the hearing hypothesis, but not the vision hypothesis.
An experiment can only disprove, not prove, a hypothesis. For example, one cannot conclude from the results that the hearing hypothesis is proven to be true. Perhaps the owl uses an unknown smell to strike at the mouse. One can only reject the vision hypothesis because it did not predict the results of the experiment correctly.
Acceptance of a hypothesis is always tentative in science. The scientific community revises its understanding of phenomena, based on new data. Having ruled out one hypothesis, a biologist will devise more tests to try to rule out any remaining hypotheses.
Scientists often draw inferences from data gathered during a field study or experiment. An inference (IN-fuhr-uhns) is a conclusion made on the basis of facts and previous knowledge rather than on direct observations. Unlike a hypothesis, an inference is not directly testable. In the owl study, it is inferred that the owl detects prey from a distance rather than by direct touch.
As shown in Figure 1-11, scientists often apply their findings to solve practical problems. They also build models to represent or describe things. For example in 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick used cardboard balls and wire bars to build physical models of atoms in an attempt to understand the structure of DNA. Mathematical models are sets of equations that describe how different measurable items interact in a system. The experimenter can adjust variables to better model the real-world data.
Biologists often apply their knowledge of the natural world to practical problems. Studies on the owl's keen ability to locate sounds in space despite background noise are helping biotechnologists and bioengineers develop better solutions for people with impaired hearing, such as the people shown in this picture.
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