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Is Scientific Method a Process of Falsificationism?

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Matthew Baxendale

on 24 November 2012

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Transcript of Is Scientific Method a Process of Falsificationism?

Is Scientific Method a
Process of Falsificationism? An Assessment in Two Objections Objection from
Practical Application Kuhn's Objection
and Popper's Response Premises and Issues Necessary & Sufficient? Reply Practical Application? Introduction: Popper's Position Conclusion Structure Meaning objecting to the thesis that scientific method is a process of falsification on the grounds that, in actuality, scientists do not adhere to the main tenets of Falsificationism. In other words Popper's theory does not have any practical application.

Lets take a look at the argument... The Argument 1. If falsification is the method of science then it must be shown that it is used by scientists
2. If falsification is used by scientists then one falsifying instance of a theory is necessary and sufficient to falsify that particular theory.
3. One falsifying instance of a theory is not necessary and sufficient to falsify a particular theory.
4. Suppose that the method of science is falsification.
5. Then it must be shown that it is used by scientists. (from 1,4)
6. It is not used by scientists. (from 2,3)
7. Hence a contradiction and the supposition must be false. (from 5,6)
Therefore,
8. It is not the case that the method of science is falsification. Just in case you're (rightly ) suspicious of my logical inferences 1. P --> Q Premise {1}
2. Q --> R Premise {2}
3. (~R) Premise {3}
4. P Assumption {4}
5. Q Modus Ponens 1,4 {1,4}
6. (~Q) Modus Tollens 2,3 {2,3}
7. ((Q) & (~Q)) &-Intro 5,6 {1,2,3,4}
8. (~P) Reductio Ad Absurdum 4,7 {1,2,3} Where does justification for Premise (3) come from?

It can be argued that it is simply not the case that scientists consider
a theory false in virtue of one falsifying instance, to wit:
In September 2011 Scientist at CERN, from the Opera Group,
purported that they had observed a Neutrino
(an elementary sub-atomic particle) traveling faster than the speed of light. This was an falsifying instance of Einstein's law of special relativity! Despite running the tests several times, physicists still refused to accept the conclusion. Since then experiments have been 'disproved' via further experimentation (clocking the neutrino at the speed of light not beyond it.) Einstein's theory was maintained and in the summer of 2012 Scientists at CERN claimed the discovery of the Higgs Boson ( an elementary particle required to complete 'the standard model of physics.') Bibliography 1. If one falsifying instance of a theory is not necessary and sufficient to falsify that particular theory then it is the case that legitimate modifications can be made to theories
2. One falsifying instance of a theory is not necessary and sufficient to falsify that particular theory.
Therefore
3. Legitimate modifications can be made to a theory to avoid falsification.

4. If it can be shown that it is used by scientists then falsification is the method of science
5. If legitimate modifications can be made to theories then falsificationism is used by scientists
6. Legitimate modifications can be made to theories.
Therefore,
7. Falsification is the method of science. The contentious premises at play in this argument are (1) and (5).

Premise (1)
The antecedent in this premise is taken straight from the original argument so we don't need to worry about that - however the consequent is new to the picture, what is a legitimate modification and why can it be made to theories?

Premise (5)
This premise is merely stating what have already discussed with regards to Einstein and Neutrinos. It seems to be the case that when a controversial or strange falsifying instance appears, Scientists maintain the theory in question and continue experimenting - making modifications to the theory that they are testing and to the equipment/ testing methodology until they are sure that this is a genuine falsifying instance - which sometimes (as in the case of the neutrino's) it is not. Legitimate Modifications Vs. Ad Hoc Modifications What is a legitimate modification to a theory that enbables it to avoid falsification on basis of one falsifying instance? Chalmers (1999: 77) explains in contrast to an ad hoc modification,

"A modification in a theory, such as the addition of an extra postulate or change in some existing postulate, that has no testable consequences that were not already testable consequences of the unmodified theory will be called ad hoc modifications."

So to define a legitimate modification in contrast to the above statement would mean that a legitimate modification is one that has new testable consequences for that particular theory. I would like to suggest some legitimate modifications:

The addition of a new postulate and/or the change of an existing one.
The modification of testing methodology/ equipment. Further Considerations Here I have begun to discuss what I call 'the objection from practical obligation.' I would like to make some closing considerations on the arguments presented
Firstly, I have left the argument here, however there are, obviously, adequate arguments in response to the 'reply' to the objection:

there are assumptions in the 'reply' that have been left unchallenged for example is it that case that we must demonstrate that scientists use or (more importantly) claim to use a particular theory of science in order to validate it?
What of this distinction between legitimate and ad hoc modifications? Can it be upheld - is it useful?

I have not discussed these points here, however perhaps they too could be overcome.
The main point I want to draw out from this discussion is that this particular objection belongs to a family of objections that seeks to undermine falsificationism by claiming that it is just too simple - it over-simplifies the method of science and as such cannot be considered as a worthy account of it. In my response to this objection I have begun to retort that perhaps the general understanding of falsificationism is, itself, over-simplistic.
By drawing one distinction I hope to highlight the view that falsification is a complicated and sophisticated view. It needs to nuanced and refined. Falsification begins with Popper but by no means must it end there... The Structure of this presentation will be as follows:

We will consider the 'objection from practical application' which, as its main thrust, claims that falsificationism cannot be the method of science as, quite simply, scientists do not proceed in this fashion.

We will then consider Kuhn's objection that Popper has overlooked the true nature of science, and in doing so, has failed to provided a satisfactory description of the scientific method.

We conclude that neither of these objections pose problems sufficient for discarding falsification as the method of science, at least not in the forms that we have presented them, or without further argument. From this presentation we conclude the following:

The 'objection from practical application' does not give us sufficient reason to negate the claim that the scientific method is the method of science. Furthermore this objection (and objections like it) attack an over-simplified version of falsificationism

Kuhn's objection to falsificationism essentially falls on its own sword, in that it attempts to show Popper's description of the scientific method to be lacking, but reveals it's own definition to be dangerously 'dogmatic.' Vienna Circle Schlick Neurath Carnap Reichenbach Hempel Popper Logical Positivists' Verification Principle Falsificationism “Popper argued that the central virtue of science, as opposed to pseudo-science, is not that it puts forward hypotheses that are confirmed by evidence to some high degree, but that its hypotheses are capable of being refuted by evidence. That is, they genuinely face the possibility of test and rejection through not conforming to experience.” (Blackburn, 2008, p. 130) Blackburn, Simon, 2008, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd edn. rev. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (First publ. 1994.)

Chalmers, A. F. (1999). What is this thing called Science? 2nd edn. Maidenhead: Open University Press. (First publ. 1976.)

Curd, Martin and J. A. Cover. (1998). “Commentary.” In Martin Curd and J. A. Cover, eds., Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. London: W. W. Norton, pp. 62-82.

Fumerton, Richard A. (1999). “Logical Positivism.” In Robert Audi, gen. ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 514-516. (First publ. 1995.)

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1970). “Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?” In Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-23.

Miller, David W. (1999). “Popper, Karl Raimund.” In Robert Audi, gen. ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 722. (First publ. 1995.)

Popper, Karl. (1959). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London: Routledge. (First publ. 1935.)

Popper, Karl. (1970). “Normal Science and its Dangers.” In Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 51-58.

Watkins, John. (1970). “Against ‘Normal Science’.” In Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 25-37. “The driving force of positivism may well have been adherence to the verifiability criterion for the meaningfulness of cognitive statements. Acceptance of this principle led positivists to reject as problematic many assertions of religion, morality, and the kind of philosophy they described as metaphysics.” (Fumerton, 1999, p. 514) Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-96) American historian and philosopher of science. Educated at Harvard University. Receiving a B.S. (1943), M.S. (1946), and Ph.D. (1949) in physics. Taught at Harvard (1951-56), Berkeley (1956-64), Princeton (1964-79), and M.I.T. (1979-91). His ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ (1962) “became one of the most influential modern works of the history and philosophy of science.” (Blackburn, 2008, p. 201) Karl Popper (1902-94) Austrian-born British philosopher best known for contributions to the philosophy of science and to social and political philosophy. Educated at the University of Vienna. Receiving a Ph.D. (1928) in psychology. Taught philosophy in New Zealand for almost a decade (1937-46) before becoming a reader (1946) and professor (1949-69) in logic and scientific method at the London School of Economics. Knighted in 1965. Elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1976. Kuhn's Objection
in Propositionally Valid Form 1. If scientific method is a process of falsification, then ‘normal science’ and ‘extraordinary science’ (i.e., falsificationism) are one and the same. 2. ‘Normal science’ (‘NS’) and ‘extraordinary science’ (‘ES’) are not one and the same. Therefore, 3. Scientific method is not a process of falsification. i. If ‘NS’ is common practice and ‘ES’ is a rare phenomenon, and ‘NS’ is the testing of anomalies within prevalent theories and ‘ES’ is the testing (and possibly dethroning) of prevalent theories, then ‘NS’ and ‘ES’ are not one and the same.

ii. ‘NS’ is common practice and ‘ES’ is a rare phenomenon.

iii. ‘NS’ is the testing of anomalies within prevalent theories and ‘ES’ is the testing (and possibly dethroning) of prevalent theories.

iv. ‘NS’ is common practice and ‘ES’ is a rare phenomenon, and ‘NS’ is the testing of anomalies within prevalent theories and ‘ES’ is the testing (and possibly dethroning) of prevalent theories. 2. ‘Normal science’ (‘NS’) and ‘extraordinary science’ (‘ES’) are not one and the same. Therefore, v. ‘Normal science’ (NS) and ‘extraordinary science’ (ES) are not one and the same. {1} 1. P & Q Premise

{2} 2. R & S Premise

{3} 3. (((P & Q) & (R & S)) → T) Premise

{1,2} 4. ((P & Q) & (R & S)) &-Intro 1,2

{1,2,3} 5. T MP 1,2,3 {1} 1. (P → Q) Premise

{2} 2. (~ Q) Premise

{1,2} 3. (~ P) MT 1,2
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