The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense

By Michael Shermer | Go to book overview
Save to active project


Carl Saganand the Difference
Between Orthodoxy and Heresy
in Science

IN HIS CLASSIC 1959 WORK The Logic of Scientific Discovery, the philosopher of science Karl Popper identified what he called “the problem of demarcation,” that is “the problem of finding a criterion which would enable us to distinguish between the empirical sciences on the one hand, and mathematics and logic as well as ‘metaphysical’ systems on the other.” Most scientists and philosophers use induction as the criterion of demarcation—if one reasons from particular observations or singular statements to universal theories or general conclusions, then one is doing empirical science. Popper's thesis, presumably not derived through induction, is that induction does not actually provide empirical proof (“no matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white”) and that, de facto, scientists actually reason deductively—from the universal and general to the singular and particular. 1 But in rejecting induction as the preferred (by others) criterion of demarcation between science and nonscience, Popper was concerned that his emphasis on deduction would lead to an inevitable fuzziness of the boundary line. If a scientific theory can never actually be proven, then is science no different from other disciplines of knowledge?

Popper's ultimate solution to the problem of demarcation was the criterion of falsifiability. Theories are “never empirically verifiable,” but if they are falsifiable then they belong in the domain of empirical science. “In other words: I shall not require of a scientific system that it shall be capable of being singled out, once and for all, in a positive sense; but I shall require that its logical form


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 360

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?