Karl Popper: Sociology can be Scientific…

Last Updated on April 24, 2019 by Karl Thompson

Popper believed that social science could be scientific, but that that social scientific knowledge has to be based on deduction and falsification (rather than induction and verification).

For Popper, sociology can be scientific if it makes precise predictions through the use of the hypothetic-deductive model.

In the hypothetic-deductive model, researchers start with a specific, testable, hypothesis, then they collect data, analyse it, and either confirm the hypothesis based on their evidence, or reject it and start the process over again. If a hypothesis is proven, then a theory may be derived which will form the basis of future research.

The principle of falsification means researchers deliberately look for evidence that could disprove their hypothesis.

In the above model, ‘grand theories’ such as those put forwards by Marxism are not specific enough to be tested.

The implications are that if sociology wants to be regarded as a science it must limit itself to research questions which can be turned into clear hypotheses and tested by others.

Unlike Durkheim, Popper believed that we can never verify laws of human behaviour because it’s always possible to find future evidence which could falsify existing social theories.

Comparison of Popper and Durkheim

Durkheim argued that science, and social science should be inductive and based on verification.

Popper argued that science and thus social science were based on deduction and falsification.

Key Terms

Induction = looking at the evidence and developing a theory from that evidence

Deduction = starting with a theory and testing it by working out what evidence would verify or falsify it.

Source/ disclaimer

I have summarised this from Chapman 2015, which in turn is obviously summarised from Haralambos edition 8.

2 thoughts on “Karl Popper: Sociology can be Scientific…”

  1. Karl Popper is why I know climate change is a myth. To quote Popper,

    The evolution of life on earth, or of a human society, is a unique historical process. Such a process, we may assume, proceeds in accordance with all kinds of causal laws, for example, the laws of mechanics, of chemistry, of heredity and segregation, of natural selection, etc. Its description, however, is not a law, but only a single historical statement. Universal laws make assertions concerning some unvarying order[…] and although there is no reason why the observation of one single instance should not incite us to formulate a universal law, nor why, if we are lucky, we should not even hit upon the truth, it is clear that any law, formulated in this or in any other way, must be tested by new instances before it can be taken seriously by science. But we cannot hope to test a universal hypothesis nor to find a natural law acceptable to science if we are ever confined to the observation of one unique process. Nor can the observation of one unique process help us to foresee its future development. The most careful observation of one developing caterpillar will to help us to predict its transformation into a butterfly.

    Climate alarmists claim that there is a universal law connecting CO2 emissions to temperature. But planets and their ecosystems are massive and complex, if we just compare CO2 emissions in a lab, that doesn’t account for the complexity of the whole global ecosystem. We can’t test with other ecosystems, either, such as, we cannot take a whole planet and remove and add CO2 to it in real time.

    All we can do is instead record historical records, and make inductive interpretations from observing the past historical records. We can go to the Antarctic and dig up ice and see the CO2 trends with temperature, and in a purely inductive fashion, draw the conclusion of this universal law.

    But even the CO2 trends they draw are not a 100% correlation, there are times when they don’t exactly line up. But they give post-hoc explanations for this, saying it’s due to ecosystem variables unaccounted for, and try to revise the theory to include these variables. That’s the exact ad-hoc thing Marxists do.

    Saying CO2 emissions cause temperature rise, and especially something as complex as climate change, is not science, but historicism. It’s Marxism. More people should read Popper.

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