Of science — and the question

In Class Test 3, I asked Why are scientists reluctant to say they have proved something?
Q&A(a) data can fit any hypothesis
(b) correlation does not equal causation
(c) human intuition is lousy
(d) scientists make mistakes
(e) data can be consistent with more than one hypothesis
(f) it is hard to reject the null hypothesis
(g) science is anti-authoritarian
(h) all of the above.

Two thirds of the class answered ‘all of the above’. Less than 20% of the class picked the correct answer (e). This is the sort of thing that makes professors despair. I don’t think it’s a tough question. It simply can’t be ‘all of the above’ — if (a) was correct, we couldn’t do science. What I think is going on here is that students’ recognize slogans I use in class and go for them. Options b, c, d, f and g are all things we have discussed in class. They are all perfectly good answers – to different questions.

Am I really the only professor on campus expecting precise answers to precise questions? Or am I missing something?

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