Biology & Philosophy

, 33:30 | Cite as

Not null enough: pseudo-null hypotheses in community ecology and comparative psychology

  • William BausmanEmail author
  • Marta Halina


We evaluate a common reasoning strategy used in community ecology and comparative psychology for selecting between competing hypotheses. This strategy labels one hypothesis as a “null” on the grounds of its simplicity and epistemically privileges it as accepted until rejected. We argue that this strategy is unjustified. The asymmetrical treatment of statistical null hypotheses is justified through the experimental and mathematical contexts in which they are used, but these contexts are missing in the case of the “pseudo-null hypotheses” found in our case studies. Moreover, statistical nulls are often not epistemically privileged in practice over their alternatives because failing to reject the null is usually a negative result about the alternative, experimental hypothesis. Scientists should eschew the appeal to pseudo-nulls. It is a rhetorical strategy that glosses over a commitment to valuing simplicity over other epistemic virtues in the name of good scientific and statistical methodology.


Null hypothesis Community ecology Neutral theory Comparative psychology Mindreading hypohesis Reasoning strategy 



Versions of this paper were presented at POBAM 2014 and SPSP 2015. We thank the audience for their questions and discussion. We would also like to thank Adrian Currie, Shay Logan, Helen Longino, Elliott Sober, Kent Staley, Jos Uffink, and C. Kenneth Waters for extensive comments and discussion. William Bausman’s writing of this article was supported in part by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation: #50191; From Biological Practice to Scientific Metaphysics.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of GenevaGeneva 4Switzerland
  2. 2.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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