Are theories judged on the basis of empirical tests of their predictions, as proposed by Karl Popper and others, or are new theories adopted by younger scientists while old theories fade away when their advocates die, as Max Planck suggested? A famous historical episode, the rejection of steady state cosmology and the revival of the big bang cosmology following the 1965 discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, is examined to determine whether the scientific community followed Popper’s or Planck’s principle. It is found that by 1975 almost all supporters of the steady state had either switched to the big bang or stopped publishing on cosmology (although a few of them later tried to revive the steady state). This case therefore seems to exemplify Popper’s principle, although it should be noted that two of the founders of steady state cosmology had strongly proclaimed their adherence to that principle. The case does not support the Popperian claim that successful novel predictions provide better evidence for a theory than deductions of known facts.
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December 01 1993
Prediction and Theory Evaluation: Cosmic Microwaves and the Revival of the Big Bang
Stephen G. Brush
University of Maryland at College Park
Online ISSN: 1530-9274
Print ISSN: 1063-6145
©1993 The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
Perspectives on Science (1993) 1 (4): 565–602.
Stephen G. Brush; Prediction and Theory Evaluation: Cosmic Microwaves and the Revival of the Big Bang. Perspectives on Science 1993; 1 (4): 565–602. doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/posc_a_00447
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