Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

But Is It Science?

By Peter Bowditch

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but that’s not always possible with science.

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Recently there has been a succession of scientists, some quite famous, claiming that philosophy is dead and has been replaced by science, with particular disdain for the branch of the discipline named Philosophy of Science. One criticism is that the philosophers try to say what scientists do, and this doesn’t describe what actually goes on in laboratories and research establishments. This is missing of the point, because the philosophy is really about what science is as distinct from other forms of human activity rather than how it is actually done.

This is not the place for a robust discussion of Philosophy of Science because, as a famous mathematician once said, the margin is too narrow to contain it. However, one principle that helps to define what science is and how it can be distinguished from pseudoscience or nonsense is Popper’s idea of falsification. It is often misconstrued that Popper suggested scientists spend their time trying to falsify existing hypotheses or theories, but that’s nonsense. What the principle really means is that for a theory or hypothesis to be considered part of science it must be possible to think of an experiment or a test that can prove it to be false. Put another way, you might not be able to prove that something is universally true but there must be the possibility that it could be proved false.

The area of science that is...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.