Sorry if this is a very basic question but I have to clear my head.

When reading a research article, how can I identify the assumptions it makes? Can I "assume" any non referred part/sentence to be an assumption by the author? For example, if an article in the field of computer science states in the normal flow of the discussion that "micro-controllers have become the bedrock of automation systems" OR "open source operating systems are more secure than propriety operating systems", but the author does not refer to any source for his/her claims, Can I consider these sentences to be "assumptions" by the writer?

Am I right? If not, can anyone explain it to me?

The other question is that whether stating a universal truth should be considered as an assumption by the writer? e.g. "mobile phones have communications easier and more reliable".


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    What effect does the classification as an "assumption" have for you? – O. R. Mapper Jun 30 '16 at 12:34
  • Why is "mobile phones have made communications easier and more reliable" a universal truth and "open source operating systems are more secure than propriety operating systems" an assumption? – Maarten Buis Jun 30 '16 at 13:45
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    @MaartenBuis, as a reviewer, I'd want to see a reference for both those statements. As a reader, I might let the first go. – Bill Barth Jun 30 '16 at 14:12
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    References serve two purposes: 1) It makes sure that you don't take credit for the work done by others. Anything that does not contain a reference is assumed to be your work. So you need to be very very careful not to stop citing too soon, otherwise you will be accused of plagiarism. 2) It can act as an "external appendix". It is like saying I don't want to discuss the reason here, but you can read more about it here. Any statement you make needs to be supported by evidence, either within the article or in such an "external appendix". So, when in doubt, cite. – Maarten Buis Jul 1 '16 at 10:54
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    @JewelThief, any time I think "oh, yeah!? Prove it!" or "really?!?" when I read a line, I want to see a reference. Sure, you have to stop at some point, but neither of your lines has reached that point. I doubt, seriously that mobile phones are more reliable than land-line phones, so I'd like to see a reference, and I don't think that all open-source OSes are more secure than closed ones. You either need to cite something for that or narrow it. I don't think that even all Linux versions are more secure. Cite that or get a request from me as a reviewer to. As a reader, I might just stop. – Bill Barth Jul 1 '16 at 13:32

There is no clear way to distinguish hidden assumptions, but let's discuss your example (I'm unfamiliar with the field):

open source operating systems are more secure than propriety operating systems

Some possibilities:

  • The author makes an assumption here. It can be, e.g., based on their personal experience, or justified by some common sense.
  • The community makes an assumption. This may be a generally accepted assumption, but nobody has actually done research on it.
  • This is a generalization / rule of thumb which usually holds true.
  • This is a well known fact, so old or trivial that nobody bothers to cite it anymore.

I usually consider all nontrivial statements as assumptions/hypotheses/conjectures unless I find evidence to the contrary.

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