Falsifiable hypothesis in science extension

Module 1 of science extension pushes you to understand the core tenets of science. One of these is all scientific inquiry should be driven by a falsifiable hypothesis. Remember hypotheses are the glue to explain how all the scientific observations and laws stick together. Having a falsifiable hypothesis means we can conduct an experiment to test a proposed hypothesis.

Learning outcome:

  • Analyse the importance of falsifiability in scientific research 

What is a falsifiable hypothesis?

Falsifiability is the process through which something can be disproved, this is integral to all scientific investigations. It was first introduced by the philosopher, Karl Popper. In order for science to explain known phenomena, it must be built up on testable ideas. This inherently makes sense to us. We shouldn’t try to make what we see match what we think, rather we should observe the world around us and build scientific understanding from evidence. This way science will continue to allow us to explain the world around us and make predictions which can drive future research.

Let’s make this more concrete with an example. The hypothesis that “all frogs are green” is falsifiable since a frog can be found that isn’t green thereby disproving the hypothesis. However, saying that “All ghost frogs, which people can’t see, are green” is a non-falsifiable hypothesis. This is because no scientific enquiry can be conducted to disprove this hypothesis. Trying to test this in the lab is not possible because any frog we find is not suitable for the experiment. Therefore, it is impossible to find any coloured ghost frog to test the hypothesis meaning it isn’t falsifiable. 

Pseudoscience is something which is not falsifiable. For a theory/ hypothesis to be considered scientific it must be falsifiable.

All frogs only have 2 eyes is falsifiable because if we find an example of a four eyed frog, then we have found evidence against our claim.

A falsifiable hypothesis about green frogs

Therefore, falsifiability is integral to scientific research since science can only disprove theories. Whilst evidence can be found which supports a theory, e.g. increase in reaction rate when the temperature of a system is increased supporting collision theory, we are unable to prove something as correct. Thereby making an unfalsifiable hypothesis immune to the rigour of the scientific method preventing people from disproving it.

Modern day scientific inquire should be falsifiable, testable and irrefutable.

In your research for science extension, you should consider falsifiability when you are designing your hypothesis. You should consider whether the experiment you have designed will be capable of testing your hypothesis – it should be a possibility that you will find that your hypothesis is wrong.

Science is often advanced when a hypothesis is proven wrong. This creates a paradigm shift as evidence is found which changes the way we understand the world around us. Take the classic Michelson-Morley experiment which disproved the existence of the ether.

Falsifiable hypothesis Questions.

High quality exemplar answers at the bottom.

Question 1.

Explain why scientific research has to be driven by falsifiable hypotheses.


Question 2.

Come up with your own hypothesis which is falsifiable and modify to into a non-falsifiable hypothesis


Question 3.

A biology student wishes to understand whether the size of a bacterium’s genome is proportional to it’s UV tolerance – the amount of UV light it can be exposed to before dying. The student created a hypothesis that “That for all bacteria, the larger the genome the more UV tolerant it will be”. They then tested three strains of bacteria of known genome size in order to distinguish how UV tolerant these three strains were.

Explain whether the above hypothesis and subsequent experimental approach is appropriate.

Return to:

Answers.

Question 1.

Scientific research is about discovering what is unknown and making it known. In order to understand and push the edge of what is known, we must construct hypotheses. These act to test our ideas and reach knowledge which is not yet acquired. A hypothesis is simply a prediction of what the unknown is based on what we have previously discovered. By making our hypotheses falsifiable, meaning we can run an experiment with the possibility of disproving it, we are able to drive scientific research forward. This is because we are checking whether the world works how we expect it does and if it doesn’t then we can refine our theories to match.

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References.

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