Scientific Thinking LO22001

Richard Karash (
Sat, 26 Jun 1999 10:48:35 -0400

Replying to LO21993 --

>Falsification is important not simply as a stage in scientific method. It
>is also extremely important as a criterion for a theory being worthy of
>consideration at all. (I believe this came from Karl Popper originally.)
>The idea, oversimplified, is this: If someone proposes a theory (or any
>statement asking for your belief), it must be "falsifiable." That is, in
>principle, there must be some data/observations which, if seen, would
>render the theory or statement false.

John, when you say "in principle, there must be data.." I think you're
saying that we should be able to conceive a measurement or experiment that
would discriminate between the proposed theory and others.

This makes good sense to me, but I think is horribly misunderstood in the
world at large.

So here's an attempt in simple language: We're seeking explanations
(theories or models) that help us understand the world. In the speculation
stage we invent possible explanations. Some of these can be rejected right
away; for those that might be worth pursuing, ask, "OK, what can we
examine or test to see if this explanation is valid? What experiment or
measurement would discriminate between one explanation and another? If
this explanation is *not* valid (and XXX explanation *is*), what
experiment or measurement would show this?"

The last question is difficult because it requires we consider a good
alternative, not just a straw man. This is exactly the null-hypothesis
approach of statistics, which is so widely mis-understood. I wish all this
could be more easily understood.

In my hotel-internet example (LO21982), it was an important step to
conceive an experiment that would support or falsify one or more of the
theories (bad plug, bad cable, & bad computer).

>We get into trouble, often, with "theories" that can explain away any
>observations or data. No matter what turns out to be the case in the
>world, the theory will deal with it. This is what is meant by a theory
>that is not falsifiable. And Popper, and others, would throw such a
>theory out as unworthy of consideration.

John, I wonder if the problem is in the theory or the theorizer? Of
course, they are connected, but I think that a better process would
improve bad theories of this kind. I'm suggestion that when good people
have these weak theories hanging around, it's because they haven't
invested enough in the remaining stages in the process.

-=- Rick


Richard Karash ("Rick") | <> Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer | "Towards learning organizations" | Host for Learning-Org Discussion (617)227-0106, fax (617)523-3839 | <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>