One cannot prove whether a theory or hypothesis is true. One can only prove that it is false, a process called falsification. Falsification is a tool that distinguishes scientific social psychology from folk social psychology, which does not use the process of falsification.
Falsification History and Theory
From the beginning of the 20th century, various philosophers and scientists tried to define the best way to do science, mostly dealing with such questions as “How can you move from observations to laws?” or “How can you choose a universal theory from any number of possible theories?” Here, the philosopher Karl Popper provided the idea that no real-world theory can be considered scientific if it does not admit the possibility of a contrary case. This means that it has to be possible to make an observation that can falsify the theory. For example, the statement “all swans are white” would be falsified by observing a black swan (or admitting the possibility of a black swan somewhere in existence).
A scientific theory consists of several statements that are linked together in a logical manner. If the statements are proven false, then it becomes unreasonable to support the theory any longer. Therefore, of the old (falsified) theory is replaced by a newer (unfalsified) theory. Some researchers try to avoid the falsification of their theory by adding further statements, which account for the anomaly.
For Popper, the falsifiability of a theory is a criterion to distinguish science from nonscience. Consequently, researchers can never finally prove that their scientific theories are true; they can only confirm or disprove them. Each time a theory survives an attempt to falsify it, it becomes a more believable theory. To advance the science, one has to replace the falsified theories with new theories. These new theories should account for the phenomena previously falsified.
Falsification Criticisms and Modern Application in Social Sciences
Several philosophers and various researchers have criticized the falsification principle. In social sciences, where tests are very sensitive, many observations may be argued to be fallible and wrong. Hence, it is easy to make an argument against the falsification of a theory, by referring to observational errors.
In contrast to Popper, some philosophers see the development of additional statements that defend the old theory as a natural process. Other scholars later reformulated the falsification principle. Some argued that the shift from one theory to another could not be performed due to falsification of the many statements of a theory, but that a whole change of the paradigm was needed among the scientists, who share ideas about the same theory.
Falsification has been widely used in the social psychology. Current social science is multiparadigmatic. Generating several hypotheses on the same phenomenon is seen as additional help for researchers to overcome the subjective resistance of rejecting their theory.
- Ellsworth, P. C. (2004). Clapping with both hands: Numbers, people, and simultaneous hypotheses. In J. T. Jost, M. R. Banaji, & D. A. Prentice (Eds.), Perspectivism in social psychology: The yin and yang of scientific progress (pp. 261-274). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Lakatos, I., & Musgrove, A. (Eds.). (1970). Criticism and the growth of knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Popper, K. R. (1959). The logic of scientific discovery. New York: Science Editions.