Freshman Statistics Seminar

Week 9:Formulating Hypotheses

Marta Shore


  • understand hypothesis generation
  • practice creating hypotheses

Article Summary:

  • Sherman 2001 Amer Sci 89 p142 “Protecting Ourselves From Food- Spices And Morning Sickness May Shield Us From Toxins And Microorganisms In The Diet”

This article provides hypotheses related to why people use spices in food and why pregnant women get morning sickness.  Their overall hypothesis is that both defend us (and our fetuses) against microbes.  To show this, they create 10 sub-hypotheses that are easier to verify (5 for spices, 5 for morning sickness).  In addition, they present 8 alternative hypotheses (4 for each) which are contrary to their overall hypothesis, and try to disprove those

Suggested Lesson Structure:
Read the article before class (it should be easy to read) and perform the active learning module.

Active Learning Modules:
Divide the class into four groups and give each group one of the four main sections of the article: Spicy food sub-hypotheses, spicy food alternate hypotheses, NVP sub-hypotheses, or NVP alternate hypotheses.  Each group needs to review all the hypotheses and the evidence presented and decide if it’s adequate or what else could be done, prepare an overhead, and report to the class.
After this is done, each group has the rest of the class to try to come up with some other hypotheses.  They can be sub-hypotheses or alternative hypotheses.  For example,

  • People who didn’t like spicy food moved from temperate climates to more northern ones to get away from those who liked spicy foods.
  • NVP (morning sickness) results from low blood sugar levels, not from dangerous food.
  • NVP is designed to lower the prospective mother’s energy levels, so that she will slow down more and let her body focus on the baby.

Additional Links:

Antimicrobial Function of Spices: Why Some Like it Hot

Morning Sickness: A Mechanism for Protecting Mother and Embryo
Samuel M. Flaxman and Paul W. Sherman
The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 75, No. 2 (Jun., 2000), pp. 113-148

Protecting Ourselves from Food