Here it is question number 2 for you to ponder over the next two weeks, posted as a text question this time as I want to wanted to include a couple of links. This one explores falsification and the presentation of scientific findings, so here we go:
Falsifiability (or refutability) is the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or a physical experiment. In 1934 Karl Popper published “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” where he outlined the principles of the hypothetico-deductive scientific framework and a set of methodological rules called Falsificationism. Here he presents the idea that a thesis is “unscientific” (even if it were a false thesis) if we could not get rid of it by confronting it with an observation that contradicts it.
For example “antibiotics kill all micro-organisms” is scientific (even though obviously false) as we could test this and show this to be untrue (e.g. with a single case of a viral infection). It is therefore a scientific and falsifiable statement. On the other hand “Some witchcraft does cure illness” is unfalsifiable, and unscientific, as no amount of experimentation or observation could ever disprove the premise.
This idea of conjecture and refutation is an important one in science, and moves us beyond simple positivism. In science we develop ideas and theories through the observation of phenomena (inductive processes) and then propose theories to explain them, and then test our theories through (whenever possible) deductive processes. In this way we change our terms of reference and overthrow previously established orders as we move ahead with new knowledge (e.g. the Copernican revolution that changed our understanding of the Solar system).
We should then, be careful to consider the importance of both negative and positive data in science as the importance of publishing negative clinical studies is a vital part of the scientific process. It would be easy to ignore one side and focus on the ones that support our own pet theory. Given these thoughts what do you think of this story published recently in both US and UK newspapers with different viewpoints (see http://content.nejm.org/content/vol360/issue13/index.dtl for the papers they are based on)?
Take a look at the stories at:
and this one:
Lastly try and discuss in pairs and post a joint response, even if you don’t reach agreement! 🙂
Popper, Karl (1954) The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Basic Books, New York, NY