Critical Thinking Media Competence

Falsification—The True Key to Scientific Progress?

by Kristian Knuth (KristianKnuth)

As Karl R. Popper (1902-1994) suggests, scientific progress is based solely on falsification. Only continuous falsification of various other therories leads to a single prevailing theory which is accepted as being closest to the truth. To Mr Popper, this is the only key to “real science“. However, there are different views on how scientific progress comes about. Thomas Kuhn (1922-1969) is one of the most cited critics of Popper´s theory.

Kuhn claimed the exact opposite. In fact, sticking to a paradigm and conducting research only within its limits can lead to scientific progress twofold. Firstly, this research brings knowledge. Even though the validity of the findings is to be viewed with the restrictions of the paradigm itself, it might contribute to a clearer image of truth. Secondly, these findings might lay the foundation for improvement, an increased effectiveness and accuracy of the paradigm used. This describes a more pragmatic science that does not claim to be the only true way and is continuously evolving and improving itself.

Also, there is a contradictious element to point out in Poppers theory. According to falsificationism theories can never be verified. The process of falsification, however, is based on methods that - again - involve certain theories. So in turn, the result that is brought by falsification tests is only theory.

To Kuhn, the idea of theories disapproving other theories was mere nonsense. There would be two ways to look at a theory that, from a falsificationist point of view, was proven wrong: One way is to concider it a myth. Then again, one would have to admit, that there is no real difference between a myth and today´s science. The other is to also consider this theory science and one would have to admit that scientific research can very well lead to different - even contrary - results.


Emili Gubbini : Is falsification the basis of real science, as Popper argues?

Claus Beisbart : Popper vs. Kuhn (Zusammenfassung zum 9.1.2012)