There is a distinction regularly drawn nowadays--in science textbooks, in the popular media, etc.--between the terms hypothesis and theory. Presumably many of our members have seen or heard it. It goes something like this: "The scientist begins by proposing a hypothesis. The hypothesis is then tested. If the hypothesis fails the test(s) it is rejected. On the other hand, if the hypothesis passes testing, and thus is now supported by evidence, it may be upgraded to the status of a theory. All theories begin life as a hypothesis." This what I refer to as the "stage theory" of theories, or STOT for short. Now, if STOT is supposed to be itself an empirical hypothesis/theory, a "law" if you like, based on a survey of how actual scientists use these terms, then I submit it is clearly false. Close attention to the usage of actual scientists in actual real world situations will quickly reveal its falsity; any doubters are encouraged to keep a hawk's eye on the literature from now on. But a few examples to get us started . . . 1. Never once have I heard anyone, including Einstein himself, refer to general relativity as a 'hypothesis'. This includes even the period prior to its completion when clearly, given its unfinished state, there could be no talk of testing or supporting evidence. It was invariably "Mr Einstein (or "I") is working on a new theory". It would appear, then, contra STOT, that not all theories begin life as a hypothesis. 2. Darwin's ideas on evolution circa 1859 were variously referred to using both terms: hypothesis and theory -- apparently depending only the whim and caprice, or perhaps the breakfast, of the writer involved. 3. We are routinely told by scientists themselves that string theory thus far remains untestable. It is nonetheless invariably referred to as 'theory' and not 'hypothesis'. It would appear, then, contra STOT, that not all theories have been tested and are supported by evidence. Moreover, I've no memory of string theory beginning life as "string hypothesis". Another way to look at STOT, though is to regard it as prescriptive rather than descriptive. In other words, as opposed to an accurate description of how scientists actually use these terms, it is some pedant's prescription of how these terms ought to be used. For comparison, consider the linguistic legislators of a past age (thank God!) and their views on sentences containing double negatives and split infinitives. They were obviously not trying to describe how people actually speak, because as we all know, people like William Shakespeare and Captain James T. Kirk do routinely use double negatives and split infinitives. Instead, the pedants were prescribing how language, in their opinions, ought to be used. In the case of a prescription, unlike an empirical description, the question of truth or falsity does not arise. A suggestion (e.g. "You should drink less"), unlike a statement, is not in the truth-falsity business. I suspect proponents of STOT are simply confused: they think they are describing the actual usage of scientists, while a cursory glance through the scientific literature quickly belies the myth. What I'm wondering, then, is how this all came about. Who came up with this stage theory of theories? All I know is that it seems only to have gained currency in recent years. Can anyone out there shed some light on this? Another suspicion of mine is that STOT may have been conjured up by some frustrated evolutionary biologist sick to death of hearing his Creationist bêtes noire smirk, "Evolution is just a theory". One can almost hear Richard Dawkins groan, "It's not just a theory, you idiot!!! It is overwhelmingly supported by evidence!!" LOL Any comments, critiques, insights welcome. Edit P.S. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I'm not a Creationist.