Testing the null hypothesis: the forgotten legacy of Karl Popper?

J Sports Sci. 2013;31(9):919-20. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2012.753636. Epub 2012 Dec 19.


Testing of the null hypothesis is a fundamental aspect of the scientific method and has its basis in the falsification theory of Karl Popper. Null hypothesis testing makes use of deductive reasoning to ensure that the truth of conclusions is irrefutable. In contrast, attempting to demonstrate the new facts on the basis of testing the experimental or research hypothesis makes use of inductive reasoning and is prone to the problem of the Uniformity of Nature assumption described by David Hume in the eighteenth century. Despite this issue and the well documented solution provided by Popper's falsification theory, the majority of publications are still written such that they suggest the research hypothesis is being tested. This is contrary to accepted scientific convention and possibly highlights a poor understanding of the application of conventional significance-based data analysis approaches. Our work should remain driven by conjecture and attempted falsification such that it is always the null hypothesis that is tested. The write up of our studies should make it clear that we are indeed testing the null hypothesis and conforming to the established and accepted philosophical conventions of the scientific method.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Logic*
  • Research Design*
  • Science*
  • Statistics as Topic