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I'm studying crowd behavior and I have some tricky questions:

(1) Does operationalization guarantee testing falsifiability?

(2) Is the study of crowd behavior falsifiable science? From a Freudian perspective I would say it is not falsifiable (e.g., collective unconscious) and from other perspectives that operationalize some crowd variable I would say it is falsifiable.

(3) Could ethical concerns convert a question from being falsifiable into being non-falsifiable? Once we operationalize our variable, there is another "obstacle". Ethical concerns do not allow us to conduct a study that could arise for example panic. So sources to test our hypothesis are limited.

(4) Could an evaluated non-falsifiable problem evolve with time and become falsifiable? (e.g., Freudian vision to cognitive vision)

Thanks a lot.

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    The falsifiability criteria is usually relevant for theories, more than for fields of study. Per se, social sciences are empirical: thus, their theories can be falsifiable. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jun 8 '18 at 14:37
  • I made an edit that you may roll back or improve with another edit. I think it represents your intent. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Jun 8 '18 at 15:04
  • “Could ethical concerns convert a question from being falsifiable into being non-falsifiable?“ Can you provide an example showing when an ethical concern might affect falsifiability? I am not clear on this. – Mark Andrews Jun 10 '18 at 19:31
  • @MarkAndrews Suppose we want to conduct an experiment to test whether a event could implies panic movement, this not possible because it can harm people. All we can have about it is some recorded event certainly by chance and may be do not show us all what happens. So panic movement is very difficult to operationalize and we represent the frequently as emotional contagion what we do not have few mesures and we can't conduct such experiment so it is not possible to reject or not hypothesis.Would this question still falsifiable even if its not testable in thoses condition ? I hope it's clearer. – ranell Jun 10 '18 at 21:17
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As preliminary, first consider what operationalism and falsifiability mean.

Operationalism associates the meaning of a concept with a way to measure the concept. This originates with P. W. Bridgman’s The Logic of Modern Physics, New York: Macmillan, 1927.

Hasok Chang quotes Bridgman’s text, page 10, where Bridgman uses as an example the concept of "length":

In principle the operations by which length is measured should be uniquely specified. If we have more than one set of operations, we have more than one concept, and strictly there should be a separate name to correspond to each different set of operations.

Sven Ove Hansson quotes Karl Popper’s idea of falsifiability in Conjectures and refutations. The growth of scientific knowledge, New York: Basic Books, 1962, page 39, as:

...statements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable observations...

Those “conceivable observations” could falsify the “statements or systems of statements” if the observations actually occurred.


Given the above, here are some answers to the questions.

(1) Does operationalization guarantee testing falsifiability?

Defining the concepts one uses in terms of how they are measured does not mean that the statements or systems of statements using those concepts are falsifiable. In addition, one needs to describe conceivable observations that could falsify those statements or systems of statements using those concepts.

(2) Is the study of crowd behavior falsifiable science? From a Freudian perspective I would say it is not falsifiable (e.g., collective unconscious) and from other perspectives that operationalize some crowd variable I would say it is falsifiable.

The study of crowd behavior needs to construct statements or systems of statements sometimes called "theories". Those theories may or may not be falsifiable. If one can come up with a conceivable observation that would falsify the theory then the theory is falsifiable.

(3) Could ethical concerns convert a question from being falsifiable into being non-falsifiable? Once we operationalize our variable, there is another "obstacle". Ethical concerns do not allow us to conduct a study that could arise for example panic. So sources to test our hypothesis are limited.

It is not necessary to be able with current technology, resources or other limitations such as ethical concerns to actually observe what one could conceivably observe for the statement or system of statements to be falsifiable.

(4) Could an evaluated non-falsifiable problem evolve with time and become falsifiable? (e.g., Freudian vision to cognitive vision)

Once a conceivable observation is constructed that would falsify a statement or system of statements then those statements or system of statements are falsifiable based on Popper’s 1962 description of falsifiability.


References used in this answer:

Hansson, Sven Ove, "Science and Pseudo-Science", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/pseudo-science/

Chang, Hasok, "Operationalism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2009/entries/operationalism/

  • This is complete and well referenced, thanks a lot :) – ranell Jun 16 '18 at 6:49

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