What's your theory on this term?
December 14, 2012 2:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to think of a word.... Is there a term for a 'theory' (in the scientific sense) that explains the majority of the data/observations, but is not fully complete?

....in other words, there is still an element that needs to be worked into the explanation and that has not happened yet. It's an...incomplete theory. I'm looking for a term for that if one exists.
posted by mockjovial to Science & Nature (14 answers total)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by ottereroticist at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2012

Conjecture, model, conception.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:35 PM on December 14, 2012

Why doesn't the word theory work? In my experience (I am a scientist), theories never explain ALL the data. I feel like I'm missing something in your thinking about this -- and that something might help get you a better answer.
posted by OrangeDisk at 2:38 PM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

An "empirical model" is one that makes successful predictions, but without a detailed understanding of why it works. Is that what you're looking for?
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Framework" is the word I would use when both "theory" and "empirical model" sound like I don't quite have the observations to back it up yet. Field = cognitive psychology.
posted by katya.lysander at 9:02 PM on December 14, 2012

conjecture, tentative theory, possible theory, potential explanation, partial theory...
posted by Lady Li at 11:10 PM on December 14, 2012

"theory" is the word. There is no such thing as a "complete" theory.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:54 AM on December 15, 2012


Nature never exactly repeats itself, so no theory can ever be fully complete; the entire point of a theory is to achieve a very highly compressed model of reality by selectively ignoring data deemed unimportant.
posted by flabdablet at 1:57 AM on December 15, 2012

I'd call this a model or a framework. I'm a social scientist.
posted by k8lin at 5:21 AM on December 15, 2012

posted by waving at 6:02 AM on December 15, 2012

Element (A) stands outside of (seems related to, but isn't consistant with) a hypothesis suggested by data (B, and the rest), so I need something that generates a more inclusive hypothesis that includes element (A).

I'll bet you math mavens have a formula that expresses that idea. Does it have a catchy handle? I'm going with protohypothetical until I find out otherwise.
posted by mule98J at 1:15 PM on December 15, 2012

That's what a theory is to me as a scientist.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:23 PM on December 15, 2012

The "Empirical models" that Johnny Assay mentioned are also known as "Phenomenological theories". Kepler's laws are typical examples: He used astronomical observations to determine the movement patterns of the planets, but there was no explanation for those patterns until Newton's mechanics.
posted by springload at 1:02 PM on December 17, 2012

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