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Raining carrots: Falsifiability does not, by itself, make for good science

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Lost in Math

Sabine Hossenfelder, author of Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, looks at the role of falsification in science:

Now, a scientific prediction must be falsifiable, all right. But falsifiability alone is not sufficient to make a prediction scientific. (And, no, Popper never said so.) Example: Tomorrow it will rain carrots. Totally falsifiable. Totally not scientific.

In particular, she addresses the question of why the ability of a new, larger collider to falsify previous predictions is not as important as we might think. For one thing, how good are the predictions?:

The major motivation for new particles at higher energies, therefore, has for the past 20 years been an idea called “naturalness”. The standard model of particle physics is not “natural”. If you add more particles to it, you can make it “natural” again. Problem is that now the data say that the standard model is just not natural, period. So that motivation just evaporated. With that motivation gone, particle physicists don’t know what to do. Hence all the talk about confusion and crisis and so on.

Of course physicists who come up with new models will always claim that they have a good motivation, and it can be hard to follow their explanations. But it never hurts to ask. So please do ask. And don’t take “it’s falsifiable” as an answer. Sabine Hossenfelder, “Just because it’s falsifiable doesn’t mean it’s good science.” at Back(Re)Action

In short, she is saying, the universe wasn’t supposed to be like this and that’s the basis for the current crisis in cosmology. One can always invent “falsifiable” theories but their falsifiability is not in itself a virtue; it is simply the basis for them being theories in science at all. The question of whether they should be pursued or funded is a quite different one.

Note: Quite separately, some theorists would like to get the multiverse accepted as a fact in the absence of any evidence and are thus making noises against falsifiability (a war on falsifiability, in effect).

See also: Sabine Hossenfelder: Physics Problems That Lead To Breakthroughs Arise From Inconsistencies In Data, Not Beautiful Math

Theoretical Physicist Takes On Panpsychism. Bam! Pow!


Why the multiverse has become more important than falsifiability.

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