So I was just wondering, we know that Popper said critical perspectives towards the scientific method is important and empirical falsification.

But I was just wondering, is there ever a real world example where the critical method approached by Popper, or just being critically rational about the natural sciences ever hinder their advancement or progress in producing further knowledge in the sciences?

Also can an example such as Newton's Principia be a prime example of how science which has been built upon one foundational knowledge set a particular paradigm in the subject matter?

  • Science is tenuous thing. A process.. a philosophy. As a child I couldn't envisage the modern world in which empiricism itself was called into question. But it's clear to me now that before 'the enlightenment' we weren't enlightened. And that state can easily be achieved again.
    – Richard
    Sep 14 '18 at 23:06

Popper said critical perspectives towards the scientific method is important and empirical falsification.

But I was just wondering, is there ever a real-world example .....

I recently leafed through a real-world experience- supporting critical examination of 'application' of science on humans-

how concentrations of power influence the "truth". Russell Barkley, (the ADHD expert, not the philospher) has stated that

"No scientific undertakings or hypotheses are completely divorced from the social values of their time and place."

All I am suggesting is that doctors and patients recognize that "science" exists within a context so that when Nassir might cite some study to prove a biochemical point I know a priori that the study's most basic assumptions on diagnosis and treatment are also the most challengeable.

That doesn't mean that I can't utilize the information from the study but I remain aware of the possible biases introduced in any science.

Mary Bateson, daughter of Gregory Bateson, and a committed relativist, once said, "If a tree falls in the forest I don't say 'I experienced a tree falling'. I say 'A tree fell in the forest.' I am aware that there may be multiple factors involved in my experience so that you and I could agree or disagree about that tree, but for practical and semantic ease I say 'The tree fell in the forest.'"

I have no problem with a lithium level being too high at 4.0 mcg and recognizing that appropriate actions need to be taken clinically at that moment. But I remain semi-aware of an entire ideological structure that has set up my experience of that patient's behavior so that I even bother to prescribe lithium and obtain a blood level to monitor it.

I suspect Nassir and I agree clinically on many things but philosophically I worry that his ideas of "truth" and realism have been the instruments of power and exploitation more than my ideas of relativism and post-modern thinking.

The latter philosophies do not preclude a moral and legal system -- yet maintain that the moral system is also based upon relativist and power-based agreements. I do not see this as nihilism.

I worry about strict constructionists. I've had the opportunity to try to instruct Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court justice on the difficulties of drawing a line between extremes of normal and the abnormal (we were on an ethics panel together). He just couldn't get it. "Either it's a disorder or it's normal," he insisted. I'm not sure I'll do any better with Nassir.

Popper’s final position is that he acknowledges that it is impossible to discriminate science from non-science on the basis of the falsifiability of the scientific statements alone; he recognizes that scientific theories are predictive, and consequently prohibitive, only when taken in conjunction with auxiliary hypotheses, and he also recognizes that readjustment or modification of the latter is an integral part of scientific practice.

Hence his final concern is to outline conditions which indicate when such modification is genuinely scientific, and when it is merely ad hoc.

In the view of many social scientists, the more probable a theory is, the better it is, and if we have to choose between two theories which are equally strong in terms of their explanatory power, and differ only in that one is probable and the other is improbable, then we should choose the former.

Popper rejects this.

Science, or to be precise, the working scientist, is interested, in Popper’s view, in theories with a high informative content, because such theories possess a high predictive power and are consequently highly testable. But if this is true, Popper argues, then, paradoxical as it may sound, the more improbable a theory is the better it is scientifically, because the probability and informative content of a theory vary inversely—the higher the informative content of a theory the lower will be its probability, for the more information a statement contains, the greater will be the number of ways in which it may turn out to be false.

For Popper, all scientific criticism must be piecemeal, i.e., he holds that it is not possible to question every aspect of a theory at once. More precisely, while attempting to resolve a particular problem a scientist of necessity accepts all kinds of things as unproblematic.

These things constitute what Popper terms the ‘background knowledge’. However, he stresses that the background knowledge is not knowledge in the sense of being conclusively established; it may be challenged at any time, especially if it is suspected that its uncritical acceptance may be responsible for difficulties

which are subsequently encountered. Nevertheless, it is clearly not possible to question both the theory and the background knowledge at the same time (e.g., in conducting an experiment the scientist of necessity assumes that the apparatus used is in working order).

Most of the problems being faced today with large state funded science/technology projects and applications of science in daily life of humanfolk which are usually corporate sponsored establishments including health and agricultural sector- the Karl Popper's approach of "critical examination' of scientific content is not being followed as an excuse for slowing the pace of development. However , the questions being raised in the agriculture sector on 'genetically modified 'seeds or in food sector on "Junk-food" , 'Baby milk"..building of large dams..fossil fuel overexploitation and malnutrion of large number of people- raises genuine doubts about the way "Technology applications" are being done in real-world.

Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., M.P.H., is Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University and Lecturer in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

In Print: On Depression: Drugs, Diagnosis, and Despair in the Modern World


The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Volume 2, and his Realism and the Aim of Science, edited by W.W. Bartley III.)


In contemporary academic philosophy of science, one relevant discussion concerns "epistemically detrimental dissent"; a standard case is climate skepticism. Anna Leuschner and Justin Biddle have one account that's received some attention. Kristen Intemann and Inmaculada de Melo-Martín have a new book on the topic.

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