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5 Falsifiability

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Inquiry-based Activity: Popular media and falsifiability


Introduction: Falsifiability, or the ability for a statement/theory to be shown to be false, was noted by Karl Popper to be the clearest way to distinguish science from pseudoscience. While incredibly important to scientific inquiry, it is also important for students to understand how this criterion can be applied to the news and information they interact with in their day-to-day lives. In this activity, students will apply the logic of falsifiability to rumors and news they have heard of in the popular media, demonstrating the applicability of scientific thinking to the world beyond the classroom.


Question to pose to students: Think about the latest celebrity rumor you have heard about in the news or through social media. If you cannot think of one, some examples might include, “the CIA killed Marilyn Monroe” and “Tupac is alive.” Have students get into groups, discuss their rumors, and select one to work with.

Note to instructors: Please modify/update these examples if needed to work for the students in your course. Snopes is a good source for recent examples.


Students form a hypothesis: Thinking about that rumor, decide what evidence would be necessary to prove that it was correct. That is, imagine you were a skeptic and automatically did not believe the rumor – what would someone need to tell or show you to convince you that it was true?


Students test their hypotheses: Each group (A) should then pair up with one other group (B) and try to convince them their rumor is true, providing them with the evidence from above. Members of group B should then come up with any reasons they can think of why the rumor may still be false. For example – if “Tupac is alive” is the rumor and “show the death certificate” is a piece of evidence provided by group A, group B could posit that the death certificate was forged by whoever kidnapped Tupac. Once group B has evaluated all of group A’s evidence, have the groups switch such that group B is now trying to convince group A about their rumor.


Do the students’ hypotheses hold up?: Together, have the groups work out whether the rumors they discussed are falsifiable. That is, can it be “proven?” Remember, a claim is non-falsifiable if there can always be an explanation for the absence of evidence and/or an exhaustive search for evidence would be required. Depending on the length of your class, students can repeat the previous step with multiple groups.


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Falsifiability by Amy T. Nusbaum and Dee Posey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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