Science & Education

, Volume 28, Issue 1–2, pp 5–23 | Cite as

The Value of False Theories in Science Education

  • Sindhuja BhakthavatsalamEmail author


Teaching false theories goes against the general pedagogical and philosophical belief that we must only teach and learn what is true. In general, the goal of pedagogy is taken to be epistemic: to gain knowledge and avoid ignorance. In this article, I argue that for realists and antirealists alike, epistemological and pedagogical goals have to come apart. I argue that the falsity of a theory does not automatically make it unfit for being taught. There are several good reasons for teaching false theories in school science. These are (a) false theories can bring about genuine (non-factive) understanding of the world; (b) teaching some false theories from the history of science that line up with children’s ideas can provide students “intellectual empathy” and also aid in better grasp of concepts; (c) teaching false theories from the history of science can sharpen students’ understanding of the nature of science; (d) scientists routinely use false theories and models in their practice and it is good sense for science education to mirror scientific practice; and (e) learning about patently non-scientific and antiscientific ideas will prepare students to face and respond to them. In making arguments for the foregoing five points, I draw upon the work of a variety of philosophers and historians of science, cognitive scientists, science education scholars, and scientists. My goal here is not only to justify theories considered false already being taught, but also to actively endorse the teaching of some theories considered false that are by and large not currently taught.


Scientific realism Science teaching History of science Philosophy of science Science learning 


Funding Information

This work was supported by the CSUN College of Humanities’ Faculty Fellowship (Fall 2016) and by the CSUN Faculty Development’s Probationary Faculty Support Award (Spring 2017).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (PDF 481 kb)
11191_2019_28_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (319 kb)
ESM 2 (PDF 319 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Liberal Studies ProgramCalifornia State UniversityNorthridgeUSA

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