Karl Popper (1902-1994) gave us Falsificationism, a
relatively simple but often misunderstood philosophical
tool for demarcating between science and non-science.
He laid down this methodology in his magnum opus, The
Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).
His aim was to overcome the Problem of Induction, where
only confirming instances are noted. Turning this on
its head, Popper said that just one contrary result
should be enough to falsify a theory, although any contrary
results should of course be repeatable.
To Popper, the terms Testable, Falsifiable, and Scientific
were synonymous. For a theory to be scientific it should
be testable, and those tests should be vulnerable to
being proved false, ie., falsified. Popper was critical
of so-called theories that leave room for ambiguity;
where the results of a test, in other words, can be
interpreted to fit the theory. Such theories are meaningless,
as they fail to add to our knowledge.
A theory, therefore, can be conclusivley falsified,
but never conclusively verified, as falsification is
its anticipated fate. "Our knowledge can only be
finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite,"
Popper summed up.
Science, according to Popper, thus proceeeds by a process
of 'Conjecture and Refutation'. He was keen to promote
bold theories, and pointed out that the falsification
of a theory was not necessarily a bad thing. In fact
he suggested that falsification might be celebrated
as, ultimately, it marks progress.
Popper, however, recognised problems with Fal. It is
very often possible to immunise a theory against falsification
with ad-hoc hypotheses. Most scientists, after all,
are only human, and sometimes reluctant to see their
cherished theories undermined. Many anomalies are still
ignored or dismissed while the scientific community
pay lip service to Falsifiability. For example, is there
any aspect of the Big Bang that is not ridden with anomalies
and inconsistencies? Most of these would no doubt be
falsifying instances were they to be seriously investigated!