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Thursday, January 21, 2010

FALSIFIABILITY & SCIENCE - EXTENDING POPPER


Falsifiability, as defined by the philosopher, Karl Popper, defines the inherent testability of any scientific hypothesis...

One of the tenets behind science is that any scientific hypothesis and resultant experimental design must be inherently falsifiable. Although falsifiability is not universally accepted, it is still the foundation of the majority of scientific experiments.

WHAT IS FALSIFIABILITY?
In its basic form, falsifiability is the belief that for any hypothesis to have credence, it must be inherently disprovable before it can become accepted scientific proof.

For example, if a scientist asks, “Does God exist?” then this can never be science because it is a theory that cannot be disproved.

From http://www.experiment-resources.com/falsifiability.html

However I would like to go a bit further & suggest that very few, if any, theories are innately unfalsifiable.

Taking the God one - this is a theory which has probably been around for as long as humans have had abstract thoughts. We have had gods who lived at the top of mountains (eg Olympus & Sinai) but this was an easily falsifiable theory since one could go & look. Then we have them living across the rainbow but this can be falsified by knowing what the rainbow is. The development of sky gods was essentially because this was more difficult to test than river or earth ones. Nowadays God is placed in an unknowable place, heaven. Even so the other attribute of all worshipped gods is that they answer prayers & this can be falsified by noting that life insurance premiums, while they take many things into account, do not distinguish between religious believers of various sorts & atheists.

In effect then the God theory has only become unfalsifiable by continually refining the theory until He has no describable influence on the universe.

Unfalsifiable hypotheses are very much the reverse of quantum physics where it is impossible for the observer to see what is happening without influencing it. For unfalsifiable theories it is impossible for the theory to have any relevance to or measurable existence in the universe if it cannot be tested.

Such theories are inherently uninteresting. What is more interesting to human beings is the way that, rather than drop a disproven theory, it gets changed to make it unfalsifiable, at least by the available technology. This is akin to lopping off the legs, then arms, then head & ultimately body to make it fit the unobservable space.

The global warming scam exhibits this. From 1980-98 the rise in global temperature was taken as evidence for it, despite some minor but crucial problems like the failure of the troposphere (where the CO2 is) to warm more than the surface & forecasts were made of 300 ft sea level rises. Over time the limbs have been hacked of by diminishing the amount of warming & sea level rise (the IPCC now says 17 inches) & now by saying that warmth doesn't count because this is only "weather" not "climate" even though we have had a decade of cooling "weather".

The punch line is that if anybody has a claim which is inherently & initially untestable they are unlikely to get far. Much more common is a claim, which has political approval, which gets altered ad hoc over time as each part gets disproven. The people doing that have nothing to do with the scientific method and this is not an unfalsifiable semi-scientific theory it is one which has been proven false but whose followers are unpersuadable.

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