STANDARD CRITICISMS and ERRORS
1. The falsifiability criterion is about meaning.
2. “Falsification cannot be decisive”.
3. Failure to draw the distinction between falsifiability (a matter of logic and the form of statements) and falsification (a practical matter).
4. “Scientists don’t practice falsification”.
5. “Falsificationism is refuted by the history of science”.
6. Popper was subjected to effective criticism by Lakatos/Kuhn/Feyerabend.
7. The failure of Popper’s theory of verisimilitude casts doubt on his whole program.
8. “There is no getting away from induction/justificationism”.
9. From Habermas: “Popperism is a form of positivism, it is analytical and provides no dialectic or effective theory of criticism”. In addition Popper’s dualism facts and values, is/ought or propositions and proposals, provides no leverage for criticism of the status quo.
Some of the above are really in the category of “schoolboy howlers” especially the first, and it is disconcerting to find them recycled by scholars of high repute, such as A C Grayling who wrote that statements falling foul of Popper’s demarcation are “vacuous”.
On 2 and 3, Popper pointed out that falsification cannot be decisive (p 49-50 of LSD) so it is hardly a criticism to raise this. Confusion on this point arises from (3), the failure to separate the logic of the situation from the practical problems and procedures of scientists at work. Quine endorsed the logic of the demarcation criterion (1974, x) and acceptance of this would have saved the positivists and logical empiricists from two or three decades of wasted effort on their verification criterion. Back in the real world, Popper made the turn to the critical appraisal of the conventions or “rules of the game” that are required to address the practical problems of testing theories.
4. “Scientists don’t practice falsification”, meaning they don’t want to subject their theories to criticism and tests. Some do and some do not. Those who do are likely to be more effective researchers than those who do not. Some people do not follow the advice of their doctor, their dentist or the instructions that come with their appliances. How smart is that? Scientists who do not criticize their own ideas will most likely find that other people will do so, hence the importance of the social aspect of science that Popper described in Chapter 23 of OSE (1945).
5. The idea that Popper’s ideas are refuted by the history of science is based on the false assumption that Popper thought that a theory should be discarded at the first sign of adverse evidence. Apparent refutations, negative evidence, “disconfirmations” signal that there is a problem. More work is required, maybe for years, decades or even centuries. Popper insisted that a new theory or research program takes time to demonstrate its fertility and a highly successful theory should only be supplanted by a better one.
6. As for the criticism from Lakatos, Kuhn and Feberaband: Lakatos invented “naïve falsificationism” to successfully confuse the issues. Kuhn at one point suggested that Popper should be criticized as a naïve falsificationist even though he was not a naïve falsificationist. When he retreated from his initial (and interesting) position to a more coherent (and less interesting) stance he conceded that Popper’s approach was correct at times of crisis, meaning a serious conflict between rival theories, which for Popper was practically all the time. Feyerabend abused Popper and his wife but in terms of substance he merely repeated Popper’s dictum that there is no such thing as “scientific method”.
7. Popper’s attempt to develop a formal measure of verisimilitude (truthlikeness) did not deliver and he gave it away as soon David Miller pointed out he error. This was one of Popper’s projects that did not work. Not for nothing was he a fallibilist!
8. There are four, or maybe five or six kinds of induction which permit writers like O’Hear to appeal to induction at every stage of the scientific enterprise. Popper’s target was the so-called logic of induction which is supposed to assign valid, meaningful or helpful numerical probabilities to explanatory general theories and his arguments on this topic have not been refuted. The last resort of inductivists (apart from the program of Bayesian subjectivism) is usually the claim that we need the “inductive” assumption that there are regularities or laws or propensities and patterns in nature. Popper pointed out (1935, 1959) that this is a metaphysical theory about the world and using the label “induction” is merely a verbal strategy to defend inductivism.
The claim by Habermas and others that Popper is just a slightly deviant positivist is not sustainable in view of the full extent of Popper’s “deviance” which can be explained by the four “turns” (conjectural, objective, social and metaphysical). As for Popper’s defence of the status quo, the distinction that he drew between factual propositions and social or moral proposals was explicitly designed to give reformers a lever to change the status quo.