Tag Archive: corroboration

The soft corroboration of psychology

Isn’t the social scientist’s use of the null hypothesis simply the application of Popperian (or Bayesian) thinking in con­texts in which probability plays such a big role? No, it is not. One reason it is not is that the usual use of null hypothesis testing in soft psychology as a means of “corroborating” substantive theories does not subject the theory to grave risk of refutation modus tollens, but only to a rather feeble danger. The kinds of theories and the kinds of theoretical risks to which we put them in soft psychology when we use significance testing as our method are not like testing Meehl’s theory of weather by seeing how well it forecasts the number of inches it will rain on certain days. Instead, they are depressingly close to testing the theory by seeing whether it rains in April at all, or rains several days in April, or rains in April more than in May. [821-2]

The corroboration of facts

While no evidence can be conclusive, we seem to be inclined to accept something (whose existence has been conjec­tured) as actually existing if its existence is corroborated; for example, by the discovery of effects that we would expect to find if it did exist. However, we may say that this corroboration indicates first, that something is there; at least the fact of this corroboration will have to be explained by any future theory. Secondly, the corroboration indicates that the theory that involves the conjectured real entities may be true, or that it may be near to the truth (that it has a good degree of verisimilitude). [10]

Corroboration and timeless truth

In the logic of science here outlined it is possible to avoid using the concepts ‘true’ and ‘false’. …

Whilst we assume that the properties of physical objects (of ‘genidentical’ objects in Lewin’s sense) change with the passage of time, we decide to use these logical predicates in such a way that the logical properties of statements become timeless: if a statement is a tautology, then it is a tautology once and for all. This same timelessness we also attach to the concepts ‘true’ and ‘false’, in agreement with common usage. It is not common usage to say of a statement that it was perfectly true yesterday but has become false today. If yesterday we appraised a statement as true which to­day we appraise as false, then we implicitly assert today that ; that the statement was false even yesterday—timelessly false—but that we erroneously ‘took it for true’.

Here one can see very clearly the difference between truth and corroboration. The appraisal of a statement as corrobo­rated or as not corroborated is also a logical appraisal and therefore also timeless; for it asserts that a certain logical relation holds between a theoretical system and some system of accepted basic statements. But we can never simply say of a statement that it is as such, or in itself, ‘corroborated’ (in the way in which we may say that it is ‘true’). We can only say that it is corroborated with respect to some system of basic statements—a system accepted up to a particular point in time. ‘The corroboration which a theory has received up to yesterday’ is logically not identical with ‘the corro­boration which a theory has received up to today’. Thus we must attach a subscript, as it were, to every appraisal of cor­roboration—a subscript characterizing the system of basic statements to which the corroboration relates (for example, by the date of its acceptance).

Corroboration is therefore not a ‘truth value’; that is, it cannot be placed on a par with the concepts ‘true’ and ‘false’ (which are free from temporal subscripts); for to one and the same statement there may be any number of different cor­roboration values, of which indeed all can be ‘correct’ or ‘true’ at the same time. For they are values which are logically derivable from the theory and the various sets of basic statements accepted at various times.

The above remarks may also help to elucidate the contrast between my views and those of the pragmatists who pro­pose to define ‘truth’ in terms of the success of a theory—and thus of its usefulness, or of its confirmation or of its corro­boration. If their intention is merely to assert that a logical appraisal of the success of a theory can be no more than an appraisal of its corroboration, I can agree. But I think that it would be far from ‘useful’ to identify the concept of corrobo­ration with that of truth.* [273-5]

* Thus if we were to define ‘true’ as ‘useful’ (as suggested by some pragmatists), or else as ‘successful’ or ‘confirmed’ or ‘corroborated’, we should only have to introduce a new ‘absolute’ and ‘timeless’ concept to play the role of ‘truth’.

Step-by-step approximations to truth

The degree of corroboration of two statements may not be comparable in all cases, any more than the degree of falsi­fiability: we cannot define a numerically calculable degree of corroboration, but can speak only roughly in terms of positive degree of corroboration, negative degrees of corroboration, and so forth. Yet we can lay down various rules; for instance the rule that we shall not continue to accord a positive degree of corroboration to a theory which has been falsified by an inter-subjectively testable experiment based upon a falsifying hypothesis. (We may, however, under cer­tain circumstances accord a positive degree of corroboration to another theory, even though it follows a kindred line of thought. An example is Einstein’s photon theory, with its kinship to Newton’s corpuscular theory of light.) In general we regard an inter-subjectively testable falsification as final (provided it is well tested): this is the way in which the asymme­try between verification and falsification of theories makes itself felt. Each of these methodological points contributes in its own peculiar way to the historical development of science as a process of step by step approximations. [266-7]