The Idea That a Scientific Theory Can Be ‘Falsified’ Is a Myth

Mano Singham in Scientific American:

Transit of Mercury across the Sun; Newton’s theory of gravity was considered to be “falsified” when it failed to account for the precession of the planet’s orbit.

Fortunately, falsification—or any other philosophy of science—is not necessary for the actual practice of science. The physicist Paul Dirac was right when he said, “Philosophy will never lead to important discoveries. It is just a way of talking about discoveries which have already been made.” Actual scientific history reveals that scientists break all the rules all the time, including falsification. As philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn noted, Newton’s laws were retained despite the fact that they were contradicted for decades by the motions of the perihelion of Mercury and the perigee of the moon. It is the single-minded focus on finding what works that gives science its strength, not any philosophy. Albert Einstein said that scientists are not, and should not be, driven by any single perspective but should be willing to go wherever experiment dictates and adopt whatever works.

Unfortunately, some scientists have disparaged the entire field of science studies, claiming that it was undermining public confidence in science by denying that scientific theories were objectively true. This is a mistake since science studies play vital roles in two areas.

More here.