So, I’m starting to read “A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing” by Rudolf G. Wagner, and I come across these passages:

A serious scholarly debate can only be based on translations that are in this sense falsifiable

Falsifiable translations? I have heard of this but I decided I must be able to understand “falsifiable” as a research tool, restate its definition in my own words and explain it to others. In this endeavor, my first stop, the WhatIs website by TechTarget, who say:

  • Falsifiability is the capacity for some proposition, statement, theory or hypothesis to be proven wrong.
  • That capacity is an essential component of the scientific method and hypothesis testing.
  • In a scientific context, falsifiability is sometimes considered synonymous with testability.

Huh, still not there yet!

Reading further… In hypothesis testing, the null hypothesis usually states the contrary of the experimental or alternative hypothesis The requirement of falsifiability means that conclusions cannot be drawn from simple observation of a particular phenomenon.

Ok, do I have enough to start to define, in my own words, falsifiability? I need three things:

  1. a hypothesis
  2. null hypothesis
  3. conclusion

Each of which must be filled in with details.

An example of falsifiable theories or hypothesis, can be a statement such as:

Tigers roar louder than Lions. That is a falsifiable statement as we can verify it empirically and determine which animal is louder than the other. The theory hypothesis might be wrong and therefore lions might roar louder than tigers.

On the other hand, a non-falsifiable theory defines a hypothesis that cannot be proven wrong.

For example, to state that God exists. This is non-falsifiable due to the fact that we cannot prove nor disprove that God actually exists. It is not possible to test it empirically[1]

This entry from Wikipedia helps:

Informally, a statement is falsifiable if some observation might show it to be false. For example,

 “All swans are white” is falsifiable because “Here is a black swan” shows it to be false.

The apparent contradictionseen in the case of a true but falsifiable statement disappears once we know the technical definition.

This from the METHODS website:

… falsifiability refers to the notion that a theory or statement can be found to be false; for instance, as the result of an empirical test.

So, without fully covering the subject of falsifiability, my simple understanding now is that:

Falsifiability means that a specified research project is falsifiable if through observation of the research material, any of the research conclusions can be proven false.

To be continued…


[1] Empirically: by means of observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.