Thought Experiments


Does Science Need Falsifiability?

If a theory doesn’t make a testable prediction, it isn’t science.

It’s a basic axiom of the scientific method, dubbed “falsifiability” by the 20th century philosopher of science Karl Popper. General relativity passes the falsifiability test because, in addition to elegantly accounting for previously-observed phenomena like the precession of Mercury’s orbit, it also made predictions about as-yet-unseen effects—how light should bend around the Sun, the way clocks should seem to run slower in a strong gravitational field, and others that have since been borne out by experiment. On the other hand, theories like Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis failed the falsifiability test—in Popper’s mind, at least—because they could be twisted to explain nearly any “data” about the world. As Wolfgang Pauli is said to have put it, skewering one student’s apparently unfalsifiable idea, “This isn’t right. It’s not even wrong.”

Some theorists propose that our universe is just one bubble in a multiverse. Will falsifiability burst the balloon? Credit: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson, adapted under a Creative Commons license.

Now, some physicists and philosophers think it is time to reconsider the notion of falsifiability. Could a theory that provides an elegant and accurate account of the world around us—even if its predictions can’t be tested by today’s experiments, or tomorrow’s—still “count” as science?

As theory pulls further and further ahead of the capabilities of experiment, physicists are taking this question seriously. “We are in various ways hitting the limits of what will ever be testable, unless we have misunderstood some essential point about the nature of reality,” says theoretical cosmologist George Ellis. “We have now seen all the visible universe (i.e back to the visual horizon) and only gravitational waves remain to test further; and we are approaching the limits of what particle colliders it will ever be feasible to build, for economic and technical reasons.”

Case in point: String theory. The darling of many theorists, string theory represents the basic building blocks of matter as vibrating strings. The strings take on different properties depending on their modes of vibration, just as the strings of a violin produce different notes depending on how they are played. To string theorists, the whole universe is a boisterous symphony performed upon these strings.

It’s a lovely idea. Lovelier yet, string theory could unify general relativity with quantum mechanics, solving what is perhaps the most stubborn problem in fundamental physics. The trouble? To put string theory to the test, we may need experiments that operate at energies far higher than any modern collider. It’s possible that experimental tests of the predictions of string theory will never be within our reach.

Meanwhile, cosmologists have found themselves at a similar impasse. We live in a universe that is, by some estimations, too good to be true. The fundamental constants of nature and the cosmological constant, which drives the accelerating expansion of the universe, seem “fine-tuned” to allow galaxies and stars to form. As Anil Ananthaswamy wrote elsewhere on this blog, “Tweak the charge on an electron, for instance, or change the strength of the gravitational force or the strong nuclear force just a smidgen, and the universe would look very different, and likely be lifeless.”

Why do these numbers, which are essential features of the universe and cannot be derived from more fundamental quantities, appear to conspire for our comfort?

One answer goes: If they were different, we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.

This is called the “anthropic principle,” and if you think it feels like a cosmic punt, you’re not alone. Researchers have been trying to underpin our apparent stroke of luck with hard science for decades. String theory suggests a solution: It predicts that our universe is just one among a multitude of universes, each with its own fundamental constants. If the cosmic lottery has played out billions of times, it isn’t so remarkable that the winning numbers for life should come up at least once.

In fact, you can reason your way to the “multiverse” in at least four different ways, according to MIT physicist Max Tegmark’s accounting. The tricky part is testing the idea. You can’t send or receive messages from neighboring universes, and most formulations of multiverse theory don’t make any testable predictions. Yet the theory provides a neat solution to the fine-tuning problem. Must we throw it out because it fails the falsifiability test?

“It would be completely non-scientific to ignore that possibility just because it doesn’t conform with some preexisting philosophical prejudices,” says Sean Carroll, a physicist at Caltech, who called for the “retirement” of the falsifiability principle in a controversial essay for Edge last year. Falsifiability is “just a simple motto that non-philosophically-trained scientists have latched onto,” argues Carroll. He also bristles at the notion that this viewpoint can be summed up as “elegance will suffice,” as Ellis put it in a stinging Nature comment written with cosmologist Joe Silk.

“Elegance can help us invent new theories, but does not count as empirical evidence in their favor,” says Carroll. “The criteria we use for judging theories are how good they are at accounting for the data, not how pretty or seductive or intuitive they are.”

But Ellis and Silk worry that if physicists abandon falsifiability, they could damage the public’s trust in science and scientists at a time when that trust is critical to policymaking. “This battle for the heart and soul of physics is opening up at a time when scientific results—in topics from climate change to the theory of evolution—are being questioned by some politicians and religious fundamentalists,” Ellis and Silk wrote in Nature.

“The fear is that it would become difficult to separate such ‘science’ from New Age thinking, or science fiction,” says Ellis. If scientists backpedal on falsifiability, Ellis fears, intellectual disputes that were once resolved by experiment will devolve into never-ending philosophical feuds, and both the progress and the reputation of science will suffer.

But Carroll argues that he is simply calling for greater openness and honesty about the way science really happens. “I think that it’s more important than ever that scientists tell the truth. And the truth is that in practice, falsifiability is not a good criterion for telling science from non-science,” he says.

Perhaps “falsifiability” isn’t up to shouldering the full scientific and philosophical burden that’s been placed on it. “Sean is right that ‘falsifiability’ is a crude slogan that fails to capture what science really aims at,” argues MIT computer scientist Scott Aaronson, writing on his blog Shtetl Optimized. Yet, writes Aaronson, “falsifiability shouldn’t be ‘retired.’ Instead, falsifiability’s portfolio should be expanded, with full-time assistants (like explanatory power) hired to lighten falsifiability’s load.”

“I think falsifiability is not a perfect criterion, but it’s much less pernicious than what’s being served up by the ‘post-empirical’ faction,” says Frank Wilczek, a physicist at MIT. “Falsifiability is too impatient, in some sense,” putting immediate demands on theories that are not yet mature enough to meet them. “It’s an important discipline, but if it is applied too rigorously and too early, it can be stifling.”

So, where do we go from here?

“We need to rethink these issues in a philosophically sophisticated way that also takes the best interpretations of fundamental science, and its limitations, seriously,” says Ellis. “Maybe we have to accept uncertainty as a profound aspect of our understanding of the universe in cosmology as well as particle physics.”

Go Deeper
Editor’s picks for further reading

Edge: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? Falsifiability
Sean Carroll calls for rethinking the falsifiability principle.

Nature: Scientific method: Defend the integrity of physics
George Ellis and Joe Silk’s defense of falsifiability.

Philosophy of Science: Underdetermination and Theory Succession from the Perspective of String Theory
Richard Dawid, a philosopher of science, argues that string theory is ushering in new paradigm of scientific thinking.

Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society: Cosmology, A Brief Review
In this 1963 address, cosmologist William McCrea surveyed the state of cosmology and suggested that it may be impossible to overcome uncertainty in our knowledge of the fundamental laws of the universe. (Hat tip to George Ellis.)

The Trouble with Physics
Physicist Lee Smolin offers a biting critique of string theory in this popular 2006 book.

Tell us what you think on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Kate Becker

    Kate Becker is the editor of The Nature of Reality, where it is her mission to blow your mind with physics. Kate studied physics at Oberlin College and astronomy at Cornell University, and spent seven years as senior researcher for NOVA and NOVA scienceNOW. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

    • 20pizzapies

      Every man’s gotta know his limitations – Scientists take notice .

      • Hominid

        Rigorous scientists are way ahead of you in that regard.

        • 20pizzapies

          PROVE IT . PROVE the BIG BANG , or the cause of acceleration of the galaxies , or Dark Matter /Energy , or what occurred before 3 planck segments after the alleged Big Bang /Inflation , open or closed Universe , Heat death or Big crunch , Multiverse , String Theory , Deterministic or Probablistic Universe ,

          • Hominid

            Science does not “prove” anything. You’re scientifically illiterate. Moreover, if you’d read my comments, you’d see that I agree that those are philosophical speculations, not science.

            • 20pizzapies

              Hominid , you’re too full of yourself to know what you don’t know . But wait ! What’s this ??? Philosophical Speculations coming from who ? Theoretical Physicists , Mathematicians and Cosmologists ? I’m shocked , just shocked / hey man go and try to impress some 4th graders with your foam from the mouth .

            • Hominid

              You’re beaten and blathering.

            • 20pizzapies

              LOL….that make you feel better to say it ? Obviously not a man who know his limitations . No surprise there , you were in over your head several posts ago .

            • Hominid

              You’re an intellectual palooka.

    • agh

      Seems that we are transitioning from science to religion: fact to faith. Good luck with that. Evidence? Naw. belief. A scientific ‘new age.’

      • Hominid

        Theoretical physicists are more philosophers than scientists. To even consider the abandonment of falsifiability is to betray rigorous science and embrace delusion and BS.

    • Bert

      These guys should consult in a deeper way the philosophy of science, say… Imre Lakatos’ research programes…..Lakatos builds on Poper’s ideas, but is much less conservative…..

    • Consultofactus

      Yeah, I like the nomenclature of mathematics. We too have elegant and compelling concepts that very well may be true – but like the famous zeta function we give ’em names like Riemann’s hypothesis or Goldbach’s conjecture, etc. I don’t claim to understand the nuances of “String Theory” but when I hear the word “theory” associated with it I feel it’s a bit of an overstatement – compare this to the Special Theory of Relativity which is experimentally verifiable and has yet to have experienced any observation that would disprove it. I’m comfortable with the name Special Theory of Relativity, I’d be more comfortable if physicists would rename “String theory” to “String Hypothesis” or “String Conjecture” – not taking anything away from their brilliance…..

      • John Hutchinson

        of “String speculation”

        • Mongo

          Man, isn’t that the truth.

      • Nedward Marbletoe

        sometimes the diff between hypothesis and theory is simply the level of complexity. e.g. a conjecture is usually one simple sentence or preposition.

    • guest

      Am I the only one tired of Sean Carroll’s heavy handed certainty on matters which most agree are uncertain????

      • You most certainly are not! And I can see why Mr. Carroll would be an advocate for further expansion of the megaflum that “modern precision cosmology” is rapidly turning into…

    • 20pizzapies

      If I say , what about String Theory , Multiverses , Infinite other Universes , etc , what are they based upon ? An “Elegant equation ” ? What is that ? Is it falsifiable , testable , is there empirical evidence ? No , no ,and no , but it’s based on our educated best guess . Why is that ? -The Math predicts it . But can you test it ? No , not yet , but it most likely should /could resemble what we predict . So what is reality ? Well get a room full of Theoretical Physicists , Mathematicians and Cosmologists and whatever three or more concur on , that is what reality is , until we prove otherwise .
      I get that , I really do , after all ,we are limited in what we can observe and the time spent on working on the problem , indeed the time the human race has been in existence is so utterly miniscule compared to the Age of The Universe , no matter which theory sits well with you . Are Scientists allowed to say , we just don’t know ? Is there a point at which the philosophical is considered relevant by Science – given their predisposed Galileo Complex ? Is Occam’s Razor , just a nice phrase to quote ? We truly do not have any idea whatsoever of what occurred before 3 Planck time segments after the Big Bang [or if you will ] the Super Inflation . And from that point up to 300.000 years or so after the Big Bang/Inflation is still not near cloae to being fully understood .

    • NostraFeratu

      Elegance is often the shortest path to truth, but should not be confused with fact. Hundreds of brilliant deductions are damned by a single slightly flawed assumption.

      • Hominid

        That’s why science demands experiment rather than argument.

        • SageThinker

          This is what it demands: “The criteria we use for judging theories are how good they are at accounting for the data, not how pretty or seductive or intuitive they are.”

    • billyd1953

      But what if reality is not falsifiable? What if a theory is correct but can never be proven or disproven? How do we proceed when the data is best explained by a theory that is unfortunately not falsifiable? We can’t simply reject a possible correct view of reality just because its verification falls outside of the traditional scientific method. And perhaps we will discover other implications of the theory that somehow do turn out to be provable or disprovable. It may be a technological limitation or it may be a limitation inherent to the nature of the theory.

      • Scott

        Maybe we need some term that effectively says “It’s not falsifiable, but the math says it’s possible”

        • Hominid

          Gigantic mistake! Math can be the ultimate delusion.

          • Scott

            Not really. If it turns out the math is wrong or unsupportable, then the idea falls off the list.
            The idea that “spiral nebulae” were inside our galaxy would be an example–when it was first proposed, it wasn’t falsifiable, but nothing in the math ruled it out. It didn’t make it right, it just meant that we couldn’t say it was impossible.

            • Hominid

              You just contradicted yourself.

      • Hominid

        You can’t know if something is “true” if it is “inherently unprovable.” You’re speaking gibberish.

        • billyd1953

          Read up on Godel’s incompleteness theorems. But, I’m not saying you can know it’s true, I’m saying what if it is true, but we can’t prove it. Reality doesn’t care if we can prove it or know it’s true. Presumably, reality just is what it is, independent of whether we can prove it or know it. So, I’m saying how can we assume something is not true just because we cannot prove it, even though it is completely consistent with whatever we do know and are able to know.

          • Hominid

            First, there is no such thing as ‘truth.’ Second, you’re completely illogical (as in gibberish) if you can’t know, it doesn’t matter. Make believe is neither ‘truth’ nor knowledge. You’re talking childish nonsense.

    • Stan

      This is just a way for science to escape from ‘god must have done it’…

      • Joe Orum

        believe in what you wish. i will look to reality..

        • Hominid

          Perhaps useful approximations of reality, Joe.

          • Joe Orum

            How about non disputable facts. Its that clear enough jagoff?

      • Hominid

        Rigorous science has no need to “escape” from that made up nonsense – it has no hold on science.

      • TexasStomp

        Newsflash. Scientist don’t “study” something with an answer already in mind. They form a hypothesis and investigate that hypothesis every way possible and ACCEPT whatever result emerges. The got no dog in the race so even if the result is, “There’s no predictable result” on this topic……that’s the answer until better tests can be devised.

    • lds871

      Plenty of worthwhile pursuits and ideas are not falsifiable. It’s just that they’re not science.

      Things like love, or political “theory” are not part of science, at least not now. String theory is a part of some beautiful mathematics, but it’s not science (yet?). The quantum theory of atomic structure and light is probably the best example of solid science, backed by mountains of evidence and correct predictions – as well as virtually all of modern technology on which modern civlization depends.

      Falsifiability is central to scientific progress, but not to all human endeavors. Perhaps some people get confused about this, and so go down the path of either junk science or just plain bad ideas.

      • kso721

        Isn’t psychology one of the sciences? love is a study of psychology, no? politics is a social science… seems to be semantics about what = science… $.02

        • Hominid

          Social STUDIES are NOT science. Just because one calls something a ‘science’ doesn’t make it so.

          • kso721

            Lol. And what gives you the authority to make such a declaration? Is there not valuable information derived from observations in each of these fields that make those who study them make hypotheses, test and analyze data, and communicate results? your argument just got refuted.

            • Hominid

              I’m a credentialed and proven scientist of long standing.

              You refuted nothing. I did not sat there was no value in social studies – not anywhere (can’t you read?). I said they are not science, dummy.

            • kso721

              Seems you lack observation which is the basis of science. Long standing huh? Anyone that would say social sciences aren’t sciences, is not a scientist imo. are social sciences, since you think the argument is simply regarding social sciences, are they not falsifiable?

            • Hominid

              Your wishful thinking trumps reality.

            • kso721

              doging the question. Are social sciences not falsiafiable?

            • Hominid

              They are not. And, they fail to meet other essential criteria for rigorous science. Social studies are not science and should not be presented as such.

            • kso721

              Lol. That’s the kind of position that makes people disregard good science.

            • Hominid

              Exactly the opposite. Claiming that pseudoscience is valid (like man-caused global warming) – which it is not – is what leads people to doubt valid science (like evolution).

            • kso721

              Let me guess…, you’re a conservative, your denial of reality and ability to stay on topic were clear.

            • Hominid

              Ahah!! I was right. And, now you exhibit the second core symptom of Lib Psychotic Syndrome – projection. Let’s if the third comes forth.

            • kso721

              And you bleed the conservative plague of making Chronic Irrational Overarching Assumption Disease. So, what is your basis of scientific illiteracy? Do share.

            • kso721

              Let’s see here, So the correlation of change in CO2 v temperatures as recorded via ice cores is a non-falsifiable pseudoscience? Hmmmm tell me about those credentials again plz.

            • Hominid

              You’re reading comprehension is failing you again. I said that falsifiability is just one of several problems with the pseudosciences.

              BTW, that correlation ranges from weak to negative.

              C’mon now – don’t hold back.

            • Nedward Marbletoe

              “The overall correlation between our CO2 and CH4 records and the Antarctic isotopic temperature is remarkable (r2=0.71 and 0.73 for CO2 and CH4, respectively).”
              Not exactly ‘weak to negative’ is it?
              ref p 433 in:

            • I’m a liberal and I completely agree with you. So perhaps you should leave politics and internet psychology out of it.

            • Hominid

              Nothing is absolute. Psychoses – like everything – exist in degrees.

            • RainingAgain

              Perhaps you are an artist, but you seem to have no grasp of the scientific method or its philosophy. There is only one school of General Relativity as the theory has been widely accepted. The last I read there were in excess of 600 conflicting schools of the pseudo-science that is Psychology. Perhaps you might like to compare and contrast?

            • kso721

              Damn. You’re full of bad assertions. I’m not sure it’s me that has no grasp of the scientific method. maybe you should reread it again.

            • Hominid

              He’s right – you’re scientifically illiterate.

          • Davielama9000

            If they are done correctly they are. For example: Sociology is defined as: “The scientific study of social behavior.”

            • Hominid

              LOL!! Who cares what it’s”defined as”? I could equally well define it as “the systematic study of social behavior” or, more accurately, “the attempt to systematically study social behavior.”

              It’s not science because the dependent variables are unreliable – human attitudes and interpretations change over time and with circumstances. E.g., homosexuality was considered a psychopathology a couple decades ago and is now claimed to be normal.

            • Davielama9000


            • Nedward Marbletoe

              psychology could be scientific if it was fully grounded in evolutionary theory

      • Hominid

        That’s right.

    • FSM

      Theories are tools that are only as real as they are useful. Falsifiability is another way of talking about how useful a particular theory is. If a theory can’t be used to predict future events; if it isn’t productive, then what is it for?

      I think Sean Carroll hits close to the mark when he talks about “philosophically-trained scientists.” The philosopher Dan Dennett has said that the job of scientists is to answer questions, and the job of philosophers is to help create those questions. A
      theory that isn’t falsifiable is philosophy; an interesting question that science could pursue. When science then takes this philosophical question, and makes it falsifiable; then it becomes a scientific theory, then becomes productive tool in the arsenal of science. Before that, it’s just a neat idea.

      • Hominid

        That’s right. But, I would argue that philosophy is not necessary to asking good questions – in fact it’s usually counter-productive to doing so.

    • notestnoscience

      Speculation, no matter how elaborate or elegant, is not science, until it is tested. Period.

      • Joe Orum

        here here

      • comeonman

        *fixed to fit 21st century scientific consensus:

        Speculation, no matter how elaborate or elegant, is not a natural science. Period.

        • Hominid


      • Hominid

        Short and sweet!

      • greenist

        Who needs testing when you have “consensus”?

      • Mongo

        Well then, throw away 90% of modern physics.

        • Nedward Marbletoe

          what part of physics hasn’t been tested? name 1 part of the standard model or general relativity.

          • Mongo

            String theory. Duh. Among so many other speculations.

            • Nedward Marbletoe

              string theory is NOT part of the standard model or general relativity. try again space cadet.

            • Mongo

              Re Std Model –

              Close enough, scooter.

            • Nedward Marbletoe

              not at all part of the standard model. like machine screws are not at all part of alphabet soup. now, i agree that there’s a lot of speculation in physics — at the edge of knowledge. what else are you going to do there

            • Mongo

              Not much else you can do, at least currently. It’s a real problem.

            • Mongo


            • Nedward Marbletoe

              ! 🙂 ! united colors of hadron

              my favorite color is blue-antigreen

            • Nedward Marbletoe

              String theory gets a test:

              “The physics of the quark–gluon plasma is governed by quantum chromodynamics, but this theory is mathematically intractable in problems involving the quark–gluon plasma.[7]In an article appearing in 2005, Đàm Thanh Sơn and his collaborators showed that the AdS/CFT correspondence could be used to understand some aspects of the quark–gluon plasma by describing it in the language of string theory.[8]

            • string theory is NOT part of the standard model or general relativity. try again space cadet.

      • Christopher Doherty

        How does one who is comprised of physical matter even begin to test anything beyond physical matter or non-baryonic matter? Your definition of science is far to rigid! String Theory is based upon a solid mathematical foundation. It is science. It’s not a scientific fact, yet! Here’s something I’d like you to define for me. Is Natural selection in your opinion scientific fact? If you think so, then I ask…Why did we lose our fur, too then have to hunt things for fur to keep us warm? How’s that an evolutionary advantage? Consciousness and levels of consciousness has to play a big role in String Theory, after all, it’s MIRACULOUS to think that we are atoms that are aware of the fact that we are atoms!!! We have 50% of the same genetic composition that comprises a banana!!

        • Yes, math is great but you could have two people with completely opposite / opposing theories. The maths for both (theories) could be peered reviewed and deemed absolutely stinkin’ correct.
          But only one of the theories can be correct so that means one of the theories must be wrong. i.e. Is string theory 10 or 26 dimensions? One of those has to be wrong.

          They actually both might be wrong.

          So if you prove something with math you actually DID NOT prove or disprove anything.

        • TheMechanicalAdv

          “How’s that an evolutionary advantage?” It’s not. Life is full of flaws, and it’s because there isn’t an overall consciousness to guide it.

          So you think it’s miraculous that a universe of strings can interact via continuous forces? It’s miraculous because it’s nonsense!

          The universe is not a mathematical object. It’s an object doing mathematics, imperfectly. Those few physicists who still remember what science is are learning to see through the cracks in that imperfection. What’s really “MIRACULOUS” is that there still are such people surviving after the string theorists wrought their inquisition.

    • Matt

      I think the aversion to the word FACT is already damaging the public’s “faith” in science. gravity is a theory. that doesn’t mean it’s not real. and what the hell is with the 3% of the scientific community that doesn’t say that global climate change is man made? are there really that many fake scientists out there? 3% of them??? and if they are just being too careful maybe they need to reconsider. kinda analagous to this topic. there needs to be a way to remain unbiased while at the same time emphasizing the reliability, accuracy, and precision of the information…

      • notestnoscience

        Science does not deal with “facts”; it deals with models. If the model fits and can be tested we ‘use it’ until we get a better model. That’s the beauty of it. Models which are in the proposal stage are speculations until tested. At worst, these are just opinions and beliefs. And we know what that leads to.

        • Matt

          yeah I get it. I think you are missing my point. i think it’s great how careful scientists are when it comes to staying true to themselves and their experiments / models. but what good are verifiable models when people come along with strong opinions from nothing and talk about “their side of the story”

          there has to be a way to convey the legitimacy of the information, politically, without having to make idiots sit through a 30 page published papers on recent studies. instead of just rolling over and taking it (not speaking out or doing anything) about impending waves of extremist beliefs that ruin our planet. 52% of wildlife destroyed in the past 40 years. 76% of marine life factored into that average, gone. there is a fact. we don’t have time to wait around for the other half of the biosphere to be annihilated while we pussyfoot around these issues.

          • Hominid

            Do you not see the self contradiction in your remarks?

            • Matt

              do you not see the banal pointlessness and negativity of most of your remarks? honestly just use your imagination. so much missing the point and useless / negative commentary with nothing to contribute. I listed a few troubling numbers based on reality and science and see nothing but platitudinous opinions in the comments.

            • Matt

              do you not see the banal pointlessness and negativity of most of your remarks? honestly just use your imagination (wait wait let me pre-empt the socially inept response to that and point out that this imagination comment is sarcasm and I understand that science is facts and not faith). so much missing the point and useless / negative commentary with nothing to contribute. I listed a few troubling numbers based on reality and science and see nothing but platitudinous opinions in the comments.

            • Hominid

              Your numbers are not supported by science. And, you’re blathering. I see you are motivated by political ideology and wishful thinking, not objective reality.

            • Matt

              calm down. I can see by your disquss profile your are an angry conservative and that’s great. all it takes is a simple google search, friend.



              now what? gonna accuse nasa of conspiracy’s or pick on CBS? or another character flaw of mine would be great. yet somehow your useless trolling has led to something positive. I can now correct myself. it’s not 76% of marine life, it was “39 percent of marine wildlife gone, 76 percent of freshwater wildlife gone — all in the past 40 years”

              it’s possible to have a conversation about things we should all agree on. pretty sure we’re all human beings on planet earth with more information and opportunities and wealth than ever. here’s a chart of global and US gdp if you don’t wanna believe that.


      • Abraham_Franklin

        “what the hell is with 3% of the scientific community that doesn’t say that global climate change is man made?”

        3% is a meaningless number. All climate scientists believe in man made climate change. The question is how much change?

    • wilywolf

      Sounds like somebody wants the rules relaxed so their pet project can win a prize.

    • jeffro1969

      This is all well and good for brainstorming, but if you can’t test it, it isn’t science.

      There is one non-falsifiable, un-testable “theory” out there right now being used as a pretext for a huge power grab. They call it “settled science” and fudge numbers and fabricate data to support it, and call the skeptics who quesiton them “flat-earthers”.

      • Nedward Marbletoe

        bs. untestable means untestable IN PRINCIPLE.

    • Dana Franchitto

      If a theory offers an elegant explanation ,we should not jump to discredit it because it is not testable or falsifiable at present. But by the same token we should not just believe it by faith either. let’s keep our minds open and understand that theories are provisional, as they should be.

      • Hominid


        • Dana Franchitto

          well, thank you fro throwing light on this issue.

          • Hominid

            Thank YOU for the patronizing statement of the obvious.

      • mainlybacon

        Maybe this is true, but string theory is not an elegant explanation for anything, it is a maze of contradictions and confusion, and not even string theorists agree on what the theory is.

    • PictishWolf

      But, what do we really mean when we state that science is true? Is it just the shared, considered opinion of an arbitrary number of people who may or may not be qualified to make such a judgment based on a limited amount of data? Or do we actually mean objective truth? Knowledge of a possible objective truth requires omniscience. If you do not know what you do not know, you cannot say that what you think you know cannot be disproven by the next observation of related phenomena. Many scientists arrogantly assume their pet theory is true, when no one can be absolutely certain of anything, ever. We, as non-omniscient beings, should never presume to be certain of anything. The words fact and truth either need to be redefined to correctly express the inherent uncertainty of our existence, or we should never use those words because they are beyond our capacity to discern.

      • Hominid

        Bona fide scientists do “state that science is true” – that’s a straw man.

    • Bill_Fan

      Global Warming.

    • MMSands

      Next thing scientists will be admitting the possibility of there being a God. The HORROR!!! You mean, there’s a possibility we don’t have all the answers or even all the questions yet? Noooooooo! Say it ain’t so!

    • Profrankm

      Not understanding the meaning of a word does not make the word misunderstood by those who it regularly. There are theories of principle and then there are constructive theories. Theories of principle are used as frameworks to accurately describe nature. General Relativity and Quantum Theory are theories of principle also known as background independent theories. Constructive theories (background dependent theories) describe an aspect of nature in models and equations. The theory of the electron is a constructive theory; and so is the theory of the electromagnetic field for example. What we are looking for is a Theory of Everything commonly called a TOE or a Unified Field Theory. With a TOE we can align Quantum theory and General Relativity theory and perhaps devise tests for String, MWI “theories.” One of the aspects of a TOE or a Unified Field Theory when it is found is that it will show how electromagnetism and gravity emerge as different aspects of a single fundamental field. No one as of yet has been able to do this. This will be the first aspect of such a theory.

    • John Mathews

      That’s why they call it the big bang “theory”.

    • Bruce Caithness

      Agassi and Meidan’s take on logical positivism in “Philosophy from a Skeptical Perspective”

      “logical positivism: the justification of positivism by the (absurd) claim that
      metaphysical utterances are inherently meaningless”

      Karl Popper rejected this view and sought a better means of differentiating science from other often admirable pursuits.

      I think Sean Carroll is falling into the less admirable pursuit of
      returning to some sense/nonsense or meaningful/non-meaningful taxonomy,
      and also falling down the pragmatism rabbit hole where technique gets
      promoted above science as an institution governed by norms that control
      its search for explanations about how the universe works (true

      • Bruce Caithness

        Karl Popper’s associate, Ian C. Jarvie, in his “The Republic of Science” (2001), compiles a list which gives a sense of the implicit rules that regulate the conversation scientists have around their theoretical claims.

        (SUPREME NORM) “the other rules of scientific procedure must be designed in such a way that they do not protect any statement in science against falsification” (Popper, ‘The Logic of Scientific Discovery”, p. 54).

        (R1) “The game of science is, in principle, without end. He who decides one day that scientific statements do not call for any further test, and that they can be regarded as finally verified, retires from the game” (LScD, p. 53).

        (R2) “Once a hypothesis has been proposed and tested, and has proved its mettle, it may not be allowed to drop out without ‘good reason'” (LScD, p. 53-54).

        (R3) “[We] are not to abandon the search for universal laws and for a coherent theoretical system, nor ever give up our attempts to explain causally any kind of event we can describe” (LScD, p. 61).

        (R4) “I shall…adopt a rule not to use undefined concepts as if they were implicitly defined” (LScD, p. 75).

        (R5) “Only those [auxiliary hypotheses] are acceptable whose introduction does not diminish the degree of falsifiability or testability of the system in question but, on the contrary, increases it” (LScD, p. 83).

        (R6) “We shall forbid surreptitious alterations of usage” (LScD, p. 84.)

        (R7) “Inter-subjectively testable experiments are either to be accepted, or to be rejected in the light of counter-experiments” (LScD, p. 84).

        (R8) “The bare appeal to logical derivations to be discovered in future can be disregarded” (LScD, p. 84).

    • failureofreality

      The requirement of Popper’s falsifiability principle is that a theory, to be scientific, must state an event or condition that proves it is false. If anything that happens confirms a theory, it is not scientific.
      This principle attempts to deal with the problem Hume explained when trying to make a general statement such as “All swans are white”. You can accept it as true until you encounter a black swan. The black swan falsifies the statement.
      We would all benefit from sticking as close as possible to Popper’s principle. Especially in the social sciences, almost any event can confirm a theory.

      • Hominid

        Social science is an oxymoron.

    • Mythee

      I think this article is twisting things unnecessarily and saying that there is a problem when there really isn’t.

      Hypotheses and theories already have that distinction of both being a part of the scientific process, but one of them is falsifiable and well-tested, while the other one is not.

      Science is the pursuit of truth. Hypotheses and theories both play a role in that, but we should not consider something which cannot be tested and proven at the same level as something which can be tested and proven.

      • Agreed. And as scientists, they should avoid presenting hypotheses to and in the media as “well established fact” — “Inflationary Big Bang,” the enigmatic “dark energy/matter” ideas and “Hawking Radiation” comes to mind. It is said that the former model is accepted because it (supposedly) explains most observations, when in fact many of the “explanations” are simply interpretations of observational data (with several alternate “explanations” available, which are usually ignored by the “mainstream”… The latter is hypothetical conjecture, requiring exotic “negative mass” in order to even begin to work (but even then also requires heat to flow from cold to hot), Still, watching the Discovery Channel and their many “science” programs, none of the “big name” scientists ever mentions that these ideas are hypotheses, primarily used because nothing better has (yet?) been proposed… and to save the “fiat lux” creation theory (the “bang” BS)

        BS like “traversable wormholes” and “time travel” and “parallel universes” is about as far from science one can get… but it all gets huge publicity. Sometimes I wonder if all this hype is simply a marketing ploy in order to sell more books (like Krauss’ “Universe From Nothing” or Tegmark’s “Mathematical Universe”…)

        • Hominid

          Translating rigorous scientific findings for public consumption is an impossible task because the vast majority of people lack the extensive knowledge base, the cognitive capacity, and the motivation required to understand it.

          • rtcdmc

            The irony is that the vast majority of the public relies on “journalists” to summarize the science. Or worse, politicians.

          • Barbara Piper

            This is one important point in Harry Collins’s new book Are We All Scientific Experts Now? It’s also a caution that pontificating about “Science” is even harder, since most scientists are, at best, experts at pretty narrow ranges of knowledge and practice. Sharon Traweek’s classic Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physics makes the point that it took her years of work in high energy physics before she could “pass” as a physicist, and even then only as a high energy physicist….

            • Hominid

              More pop culture irrelevancies. Give it a rest, will ya?

            • Barbara Piper

              As you wish.

      • Mark Byron

        One problem is with the word “theory.” It covers well-tested ones (relativity, evolution) and the untestable-at-present ones like string theory. Giving the more novel hypotheses a different name might help clarify things for the layman.

        Then culture and politics gets in the mix, as folks who don’t like the implications of a theory can say, somewhat disingenuously in some cases, “it’s just a theory.”

        • Hominid

          Language is science’s biggest enemy because it is inherently ambiguous. That’s a major reason why scientists like to boil things down to maths whenever possible.

      • Hominid

        Science is NOT the pursuit of truth! It is the pursuit of increasingly useful (predictive) approximations of reality external the illusions of the human mind.

        Science does NOT prove! It approximates reality . . . if it’s solid science.

    • xyphynx

      The religious are conspiring against natural science! Let’s start another religion! We’ll hen loose the only leverage we have compared to the religious , “The Evidence”!!

      • Hominid


    • Barbara Piper

      Rejection, or at least suspicion of Popper’s falsifiability goes back many years, and is hardly news. My husband’s undergraduate thesis in the philosophy of science more than 40 years ago was about the problems of Popper’s falsificationism, and there was considerable literature on the issue then. Popper was a philosopher, who paid little attention to how actual science is conducted; Kuhn, among others, decades ago pointed out that real science works differently, with falsification being irrelevant, especially when there are no better alternatives. Even Isaac Asimov got in on the anti-Popper act, in his book on neutrinos, pointing out that the neutrino hypothesis was, at the time it was developed, a way of saving a theory that appeared to have been falsified experimentally, by inserting a hypothesis — a common strategy, like epicycles, used to rescue a theory — that was virtually untestable at the time it was proposed. Collins and Pinch do a nice job in their recent book The Golem: What You Should Know About Science of describing the tortured history of efforts to prove that neutrinos exist, not that they don’t exist (Popper’s approach). “Does science need falsifiability?” It hasn’t relied on falsifiability so far — why is this news?

      • Hominid


        • Barbara Piper

          Ah, your usual thoughtful comment.

          • Hominid

            Isn’t it? Isn’t baloney properly identified as baloney? Is it to be legitimized by serious discussion?

            • Barbara Piper

              Serious scholars have been discussing this in serious publications for many years. If you have nothing to add except a dismissive “baloney” that’s ok — not everyone will be able to contribute. I understand the problem of being a ‘native’ in any discussion of science; it’s hard to step back and see the larger picture, a perspective on multiple disciplines over several centuries. Collins and Pinch are distinguished historians of science; if you’d like to dismiss their work as ‘baloney’ without engaging it at all, you’re free to do so, but it really doesn’t give you much to offer here.

            • Hominid

              Appeals to authority are a logical fallacy. Opinions of so-called scholars don’t impress me if they’re baloney.

              You failed to notice that the issue under discussion is science, not “multiple disciplines.” Try to stay on topic.

              Baloney was only one of my postings – you’ll see that, in others, I offer much.

            • Barbara Piper

              That wasn’t an appeal to authority at all — it was a reference to the fact that serious scholars have discussed these issues seriously, and if you decline to join in, that’s ok. Your dismissive “baloney” is somehow not even as compelling as the logical fallacy of ‘authority,’ so guess the best response there might be ‘right back at ya…’

              I did not fail to notice that the topic is “science” — the point was that biology, physics, physiology, etc, are multiple disciplines that have faced different kinds of research challenges over the years. Kuhn’s starting point — that Newtonian physics was being ‘falsified’ for decades before a better alternative emerged — might be paralleled in biology by the fact that Pasteur’s critical experiments to falsify spontaneous generation failed, yet even in the face of that failure his theory won; understanding why and how has important ramifications for falsifiability as part of a scientific research program, as Lakatos put it.

              I looked at your other comments here. They don’t offer much at all.

            • Hominid

              You’re just running your mouth – nothing meaningful emerges. Your inability to appreciate the insights I offer is your problem, not mine. You seem to think that citing “scholarly discussions” and verbosity are meaningful, whereas brevity and accuracy are not.

            • Barbara Piper


    • Tom C

      The future of pseudoscience depends on the rejection of falsifiabilty as much as totalitarianism is dependent on the rejection of the assumptions underlying the principles of the “open society”.

    • Abraham_Franklin

      “We are in various ways hitting the limits of what will ever be testable”

      Translation: Stop expecting results and just keep the grant money flowing.

      “[S]cientific results—in topics from climate change to the theory of evolution—are being questioned by some politicians and religious fundamentalists,”

      Hidden assumption: There are no scientists* who question climate change.

      * Scientists who question climate change aren’t real scientists.

    • Stonewall_61

      When living up to the scientific method becomes too burdensome for present day “scientists”, well simply change the scientific method. Especially if a rigorous application of the scientific method hampers progressive political projects.

      I knew this day would come. Eventually “scientists” would give up trying to make the ridiculous argument that climate change “science” adheres to the scientific method, and simply try to discredit the scientific method itself instead. If science endangers progressive “science” then it is science that must change. Choose the politically preferred answer and manufacture the evidence and method to back it up.

      Is there anything progressives cannot ruin?

      • Hominid

        A keen insight.

    • Jack

      I think we are beginning to face the reality of science itself, that is, the real purpose of science for human society. Modern science sprung from philosophical speculation when some philosophically inclined individuals decided to test their speculations against the phenomena of the world. This development took off when it was realized that the knowledge gained by this method results in the ability solve real world problems. As this was going on scientists continued living to some extent in old metaphysical world of the philosophers. Now perhaps in the realm of theoretical physics the low hanging fruit has been gathered in terms of providing useful ideas and physicists are being pushed back to their atavistic roots. We should continue to fund their activities though since they might yet come up with a few more pearls.

      • CHEMST

        I would disagree with the last sentence. There are many very important problems, like superconductivity and the nature of entanglement in quantum mechanics (off the top of my head), that might actually benefit Mankind sooner, if their efforts were redirected.

        • Jack

          You are right. I was thinking about the “Theory of Everything” speculation.

          • Hominid

            What “work” – the conjecture, you mean? Give me an experiment – not argument, not speculation – evidence!

    • CHEMST

      Theories that are not falsifiable are not in my opinion science. They are philosophy. Philosophy is not without its merits and is, in many, many cases, worthy of further efforts. The question that I would put to the string theorists at this point is “If your work cannot be tested, then it must make no predictions that can be of measurable consequence to to anyone at any time, so why would you want to waste your significant talents investigating it further?”

      • Barbara Piper

        You may be amused by the example that Grover Maxwell offered years ago: “All humans are mortal.” He argued that it’s a very useful, practical and important hypothesis, but it is not falsifiable. In order to falsify it, you’d have to find an immortal human, and you’d wait a long time for that! I mention this is in a playful spirit, not to debate your point, which strikes as reasonable.

        • donqpublic

          Ah, in the interest of a playful philosophical spirit, all you need is the null hypothesis: All humans are not mortal. I only have to observe one mortal human, not to mention the certified record of all known humans born prior to the twentieth century being dead to falsify that hypothesis. Thus, all humans born prior to the twentieth century are mortal, and most likely all humans born since the turn of the twentieth century will turn out to be mortal also and can be empirically tested. Indeed, asserting immortality is rather like asserting the possibility of perpetual motion. Since perpetual motion is impossible so is human immortality, and thus all humans are mortal.

          • Barbara Piper

            And my husband, a cardiologist, makes his living on exactly that assumption!

          • Nedward Marbletoe

            i think the null would be “some humans are not mortal.”

    • realheadline

      “You cannot prove a vague theory wrong. If the guess that you make is poorly expressed and the method you have for computing the consequences is a little vague then ….. you (claim) the theory is good as it can’t be proved wrong. If the process of computing the consequences is indefinite, then with a little skill any experimental result can be made to look like an expected consequence.”
      Richard Feynman

      • Hominid

        And, THAT is one of the many problems with the global warming notion – it couldn’t be more vague!

    • rtcdmc

      This is the second article that I have read recently that reinforces the notion of scientists as the new clergy. If the point of science is not empirical evidence, how is it different than religion?

      I have a theory about unicorns. Since I cannot falsify it, it must be correct. Right?
      For those who would argue with my assumption, how is my hypothesis different than the theoretical work discussed in the article?

      The article suggests that perhaps we might need to put more thinking in to experimental physics.

      Sorry, must run, have to work with my crystal ball repair guy, It’s down again.

    • pcodeDude64

      I would just like to mention that , although “Anthropic Principle ” was mentioned, … it did not include it’s two “inventors”, or, “discovers” or, in my humble opionion , “scientists”:
      Charles Tipler, and, John Barrow. They wrote a book called “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle” which USE TO sit on the “Philosoply ” shelf… NOW,…it is sitting on the “Cosmology” shelf… One things for sure…it will never leave MY shelf at home, and, (hopefully) some day, I will understand it 😉

      BTW: Does anyone know if, using the “teleportation” that is mentioned in the FABRIC OF THE COSMOS series, on NOVA-PBS, if it is possible that , maybe…JUST MAYBE,…we (humans) should be “teleporting” our brains’ “wavelength patterns and frequencies” into the universe FIRST,…and then, messing around with the rest of our bodies natural “conductivity” ? I would like to THINK that it is much more important to : 1)Have a Healthy Mind ; and, 2) Have a Healthy Body.
      Just my “two cents” worth 🙂

    • mainlybacon

      First of all, any analogy between string theory and music is ludicrous. It has zero to do with music; that’s just the sugar coating for the propaganda. It never had anything to do with music, and it never will. It is deliberating misleading to suggest this. If you take string and play it, it makes the same sound no matter how you play it, unless you change the string, the vibrating length or the tension, to name just a few variables. It would be equally valid to say string theory is like a bag of gas–no, wait, that would be better. Gas obeys physical laws, just like strings–both are testable, unlike string theory. You play a bunch of notes on your violin (by changing the string length) and I will write them down, I will record them. I will test them scientifically. See? Completely different. Please, no more fake music analogies. What is this, the 16th century? Even in the middle ages they could–and did–test strings with a monochord.
      OK, the second elephant in the room here, and the one that needs to be front and center, is that if you take away testing, anyone can say whatever they want, and that option is the least scientific of them all. It would be no different than putting the science papers in a shredder and handing out portions.
      Let’s just say what this is really about. There’s an entrenched group of people who will never admit that they are wrong (how very unscientific), and they wield a lot of political power. The tide has turned against them, and instead of doing the scientific thing–adapting–they are creating fake science.
      Every now and then, there is a paper with fake data. In the new system, that would be OK. In the old system, the error would be found and corrected.
      Guess what, this is not only not OK, it is like an academic virus that has the power to take over academic cells and turn them into rubbish factories.

    • Guest 101

      One thing is certain: if we don’t get this right, our disagreements will soon appear petty. I guess it is wishful thinking to expect constructive dialogue in forums such as this, but I maintain hope.

      None of us are immune to developing hubris. Holding to our opinions makes us feel in control. I believe that humanity’s ability to transcend entrenched thinking – on all sides of any issue – will be the true test of our ability to evolve, adapt and continue to survive.

      Sadly few of us work or think this way. But it won’t matter. Humans have been around for such an exceedingly small time that the universe will hardly notice when we’ve annihilated each other or die off due to our inability to transcend confrontation and work together.

    • TomA

      I think that you have a misunderstanding of how scientific investigation works. Lots of investigation plays out in the early stages as immature with respect to predictability and falsifiability. Who is to say what the future may bring? Perhaps string theory and cosmological equilibrium will be revolutionized by a future breakthrough that will bring them into the fold of traditional experimentation. You are too impatient. Bigger problems may require decades or even centuries to resolve, and there is not guarantee that a solution will occur to us.

    • b moe

      A “theory” that can’t be proven or disproven must be taken on faith. There is a word for that and it isn’t science.

    • In order to be “science,” a theory or hypothesis needs to be capable of being disproven. There needs to be some type of evidence that could falsify the theory. Whether we currently have the technology to observe such evidence is irrelevant. All that matters is that such evidence could exist.

      Could evidence exist to disprove string theory? Sure. We just lack the tools to observe it.
      Could evidence exist to disprove that Jesus was the son of God? No. Cannot be disproven.

    • putesputes

      If you can’t test it then you don’t understand it enough.

    • hestal

      What a waste of time.

    • Bob Quispnquake

      I’m sure most religionists would agree. There is no need to prove any theory.

      That includes these theories:

      • Dinosaur bones were planted in the soil by the devil to trick humans into damning themselves.
      • The universe was created in six days and Creationism perflectly explains all things. • People resurrect or reincarnate from the dead.
      • There is no evolution.

      Yup. No need to prove anything; so, these “theories” are as good as those proposed by scientists.

      Now do you see the problem?

    • Elegance is a measure of how closely a theory maps to the behavior of a system, using the fewest assumptions possible.

      In this sense, string theory does about as well as the standard model. Both agree largely with existing evidential data, and are, as such, justifiably referred to as “theories” – the only requirement of a theory is that it agrees with all available evidence and contradicts none of it.

      The difference, and the contention among physicists, is that the standard model predicts fewer things outside the evidence than does string theory, and the predictions string theory makes outside the evidence are largely outside our ability to test them.

      This does not imply string theory is _wrong_, per se – it’s as right as is the standard model – but it has a larger field which includes places it could still be wrong, and we’ve yet to be able to investigate those areas.

      This doesn’t actually contradict Popper’s requirement of falsifiability; instead, what is does is make the difference in modelling between the standard model and string theory a known variable – e.g., the narrative goes from “particles are massive points that move through 4-dimensional spacetime” to “it could be that particles are massive points that move through 4-dimensional spacetime, or it could be that particles are the three dimensional projections of 1-dimensional strings vibrating in nth-dimensional spacetime”.

      The problem is not that string theory isn’t entirely testable; it’s that the underlying assumptions of the standard model are _also_ not testable (e.g., the nature of particles), and string theory brings that to the fore, to the annoyance of those that work in what is a very pragmatic space.

      Laypeople tend to become uncomfortable when scientific narrative goes from concrete to ambiguous – but it happens, and is the same kind of phenomena that happened when Maxwell published his equations on electromagnetism, and later when Einstein worked out special relativity and later, general relativity (particularly, the idea that time was not fixed, and that gravity played a part really messed with people, and wasn’t immediately testable).

      Now, the fact that the underlying reality expressed by the standard model isn’t even thought upon is an artifact of its history: Feynman, as an example, urged his colleagues not to think too hard about why the numbers come out as they do, rather than to focus on what the numbers tell us. This is the strategy that’s brought us a clear enough understanding to deliver computers and accelerators and quantum chemistry and a thousand other fields and technologies that we enjoy today. This pragmatic scientific strategy is successful in being able to do a science and pay dividends on it, which benefits all of society (and ultimately, maintains the sustainability of scientific endeavor).

      This is a _good_ thing – however, even those that work exclusively in the domain of the standard model aren’t really convinced it’s the last word in physics: any time you have statistical modelling, it’s a clear signal that there’s something deeper going on that you’ve yet to be able to examine. Now that we’ve reaped the benefits and confirmed this layer of the physics beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s time to dig deeper – and that’s what string theory does; it takes the existing layer, and makes an attempt to scratch at its bedrock to find what’s underneath. This aspect of it _could_ be wrong, and until we’re able to make a testable prediction from it, we won’t know.

      But in as much as the standard model is science, so is string theory; string theory just has the _potential_ to contain more.

    • When we leave behind falsifiability, we leave open endorsement of crackpot nonsense like Marxism, Freudian ‘theory’, and Judeo-Christian Gods lighting up bushes and impregnating virgins.

    • Joshua Colwell

      I think it would be a mistake to remove the falsifiability criterion from science, but I also agree that string theory is fundamentally different than (and more logical and scientific), say, Marxism. It is based on physics and our understanding of the nature of the universe. But to me it seems that the fact that it is not testable also means it must be utterly useless. Because if it were useful, then it would mean we could do something with it that we could not do without it, and that would therefore constitute a test of the theory. If it just makes people feel more satisfied with their understanding of things, that’s not sufficient in my view for it to have the same standing as evolution or general relativity.

    • Strac5

      Falsifiability actually originally meant that all knowledge is wrong, and what remains is to prove it, so if an idea cannot be disproved, it’s not science. That’s irrational. All truths are contextual (e.g., boiling point of water depends on the pressure), but they are absolute within that context. Claims, hypotheses, theories, principles, and laws cannot be falsified if they are not false.

    • David Eisenberg

      Philosophy is not science, but science is a way to test philosophy and vise versa. The problems of science are always subject to philosophical analysis (correct or not). Falsifiability is a philosophical concept that we use to look at science, but we do not have to do so. If it was completely chucked tomorrow, I think it would make progress slower, but we’d still eventually arrive at the same solutions. It seems strange to me that even highly intelligent scientists start to treat ideas/concepts as actual “things,” likes the word “science” itself and “falsifiability” among others. “Science” is a process that is always applied imperfectly and partially so that we can best determine what is probably not true under certain circumstances, but theorizing, making hypotheses, experimenting, making observations, reaching conclusions, etc. are all part of the process, even if taken out of context. Right from the Egyptians, whoever made endless observations about the stars were doing science, even with hypotheses we no know were completely untrue. The process itself includes scientists reading each others work and criticizing it, trying to replicate it or rejecting it. All of it involves logic, or the rules of reason, and that is always philosophical, even if it seems so likely in some cases that it is also common sense. Scientists mostly get it wrong and we generally forget about those experiments and conclusions. Sometimes scientist or the general public think they got it right that something is likely not so but our language turns it into a positive statement or fact by the time the public hears about it. Even scientists don’t normally discuss gravity or relativity in terms of what is likely not so, but what they think is so or what engineers have been able to do. Sometimes engineering comes before scientific analysis and often random discovery supersedes much testing. I didn’t invent any of the above. It’s all information that is generally available in what any number of scientists and philosophers have written. In the end, it is silly to say that Einstein or Sumerian star charters weren’t doing science.

    • Uber Genie

      Great article about philosophy of science. Tegmark’s comment about multiverse theories being a, “Neat solution to the fine-tuning problem,” obscures a strange intent for a so-called scientist. Namely, why posit such an ad hoc theory that is completely untestable? Well it would eliminate one of the stronger arguments that there must be a Cretor of enormous intellect and power that transcends space and time. When a scientist proposes a theory based on wanting to disprove a religious idea, rather than an inference to the best explanation of the data , they are doing religion not science. In fact just as one can come up with a Freudian explanation for any human behavior, they to can also come up with an evolutionary description (Michael Ruse), or a neuroscience explanation (Sam Harris).

      Ellis and Silk’s article in Nature is compelling. Their point being that Relativity and Quantum Theory made clear (albeit strange) predictions that were testable. There are an inordinate amount of so-called scientist that are making baseless theories that inturn are being written about by undereducated reporters (Not referring to this author in that category by any means), making tv series that are selling a world view (Cosmos anyone). It is pure propaganda. All that has happened is that scientist of this stripe have stolen the pointy hats of the priests and cardinals and said, “I’m a scientist, the culture’s knowledge representative.” Not much os an upgrade if you ask me.

    • Uber Genie

      Peter Woit tears down this philosophical approach in, “Not Even Wrong.”

      Ellis lends much credibility as both a top physicist and philosopher.

    • Nedward Marbletoe

      what matters is IN PRINCIPLE falsifiability. it doesn’t matter if we have the tech or not to measure it today or tomorrow, or in 1000 years. Is it possible in principle to test? Nothing to do with practicality.

    • Nedward Marbletoe

      String theory is now being tested via its predictions for the quark-gluon plasma

    • Steven Dutch

      How does cosmology differ from Intelligent Design? Well, there are tons of ideas floating about in cosmology that aren’t falsifiable – yet. Still, they are testable in the sense that they have to be consistent with known facts, or, if they’re not, they’d better have a very convincing reason why not. Also, they often spin off smaller ideas that are testable. In principle, if we keep at it long enough, we stand a good chance of testing many of these ideas.

      So why does “c” have the value it does? I don’t think there’s any theory out there right now to tell us, but we know “c” relates intimately to many other physical constants. And even if we buy the multiverse theories that only those universes with just the right physical laws last long enough to give rise to beings capable of science, we still have the question, why do those laws lead to that result, and not others?

      On the other hand, Intelligent Design may tell us the Universe was the work of an Intelligent Designer (or maybe we’re just a science fair project forgotten in the back of the fridge) but there’s no apparent way to find out why the Designer chose “c” to have the value it does. If we say the Designer “had” to do it that way to get a consistent universe, then where did that rule come from? Unlike cosmology, Intelligent Design doesn’t lead to any additional testable ideas.

      There is no single Scientific Method. There’s a battery of methods that have been proven useful. Falsifiability is a particularly useful one, but not the only one. If I measure the density of a mineral or the radial velocity of a star, exactly what am I “falsifying?” Well, I’m falsifying the idea that the mineral is as dense as platinum or the star is traveling 10,000 km/sec, but that’s trivial. In cosmology, it’s possible to falsify some ideas, like dark matter is simply lots of faint stars, but logical consistency is equally powerful a testing method.

    • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      There is a high tension string particle field in space (not the string theory type).
      A good 2-D model would be something like a spiders web.
      Now imagine an infinite 3-D spiders web. If a vibration was set off in it, it would travel forever and the speed the vibrations travel (through the net) is the speed of light (that’s actually what light is, a vibration traveling through a string particle field)
      The speed vibrations travel through the particle field is the speed of light “c”

      The field strings have a certain amount of tension, length and mass. That makes ‘c’ the speed it is. If the tension, length or mass changed so would ‘c’

      Here is a regular string tension formula…

      Tension = velocity squared x mass / Length.

      If we plug c in and rearrange we get…
      TL = mc^2

      Both sides of the equation are in joules or energy… equivalent to “E”.
      It means the Tension of the strings in space times their length is equal to their energy.

      This is why the speed of light is involved in Einsteins mass energy equivalence equation…

      E = mc^2

      and actually why light travels at the speed of light…
      I always wondered why… now I know.
      It had to be something mechanical… tension and string lengths!

      So, you can arrive at Einsteins famous formula from completely different directions.
      You can think energy is contained in mass and released.

      E = mc^2

      Or you can think there is a particle field of strings and mass is inert, the energy is only potential… released (actually pulled) by tension on the strings.

      TL = mc^2

      They are equivalent. Which is correct? You do not know.

    • sirgareth

      I think what needs to be done is to associate theories with the philosophical world they wish to occupy. In the rational world non falsifiable theory clearly has no home. This is unfortunate.

      However, in the post modern world where “science betrays its elitism, sexism, and destructiveness by making the speed of light the fastest phenomenon thereby privileging it over other speeds” all theories have equal validity, not only the ones that can’t be proven wrong but the ones that actually are proven wrong. Wrong is a sexist term conveying rape and dominance by male “rightness”