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Abduction vs. Falsification
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I really would like to take a Philosophy of Science class as part of my graduate education, but apparently they don't offer one here. And we've only talked briefly in my classes about what it means to be doing science and how to carry it out.

We talked about Popper and falsifiability, the idea that a hypothesis or theory is only scientific if it is falsifiable. This has always seemed wrong-headed to me for a number of reasons, and I'm currently of the opinion that falsifiability is not necessarily an important criteria for the scientific merit of a hypothesis or theory.

As critics of falsifiability have pointed out, outliers or data points that don't support a given hypothesis don't necessarily rule it out. A scientist might be inclined to view an anomaly as a measurement error. Even if it is independently verified, it may not necessarily lead to a falsification.

Falsifiability has the air of binary thinking to it, a very classical logical structure where things are either true or false, rather than incremental and probabilistic.

Abduction, or inference to the best explanation, seems like a much more reasonable way to think about science. You have evidence, and you judge your confidence in a particular explanation based on how well it explains the evidence.

In this way, a wildly theoretical claim with little evidence would have a reasonably low confidence rating, while a well-established theory with piles of evidence to back it up would have a high (but never 100%) confidence rating.

In this way, theories that are not necessarily falsifiable (e.g. conspiracy theories) can still be evaluated and given a particular confidence rating. Conspiracy theories typically have very weak evidence (mostly circumstantial) and tend to violate Occam's razor, a heuristic for selecting among competing explanations by basically choosing the simplest one that still explains the data. Conspiracy theories are typically Byzantine in their complexity, involving the cooperation of many different entities who would be unlikely to work together.

Viewed in this way, science is the enterprise of putting forth clearly-stated hypotheses and then piling up evidence which either increases or decreases the confidence in competing explanations, rather than setting up falsifiable hypotheses which can be knocked over like bowling pins.

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