The practice of science involves formulating and testing hypotheses, statements that are capable of being proven false using a test of observed data. The null hypothesis typically corresponds to a general or default position. For example, the null hypothesis might be that there is no relationship between two measured phenomena or that a potential treatment has no effect.
The term was originally coined by English geneticist and statistician Ronald Fisher in 1935. It is typically paired with a second hypothesis, the alternative hypothesis, which asserts a particular relationship between the phenomena. Jerzy Neyman and Egon Pearson formalized the notion of the alternative. The alternative need not be the logical negation of the null hypothesis; it predicts the results from the experiment if the alternative hypothesis is true. The use of alternative hypotheses was not part of Fisher's formulation, but became standard.
The null hypothesis can never be proven. Data, such as the results of an observation or experiment, can only reject or fail to reject a null hypothesis. For example, if comparison of two groups (for example, comparing subjects treated with a medication with untreated subjects) reveals no statistically significant difference between the two, it does not prove that there really is no difference; it only shows that the results were not sufficient to reject the null hypothesis.