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MOND and Methodology

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Karl Popper's Science and Philosophy

Abstract

In Logik der Forschung (1934) and later works, Karl Popper proposed a set of methodological rules for scientists. Among these were requirements that theories should evolve in the direction of increasing content, and that new theories should only be accepted if some of their novel predictions are experimentally confirmed. There are currently two, viable theories of cosmology: the standard cosmological model, and a theory due to Mordehai Milgrom called MOND. Both theories can point to successes and failures, but only MOND has repeatedly made novel predictions that were subsequently found to be correct. Standard-model cosmologists, by contrast, have almost always responded to new observations in a post-hoc manner, adjusting or augmenting their theory as needed to obtain correspondence with the facts. I argue that these methodological differences render a comparison of the two theories in terms of their ‘truthlikeness’ or ‘verisimilitude’ essentially impossible since the two groups of scientists achieve correspondence with the facts in fundamentally different ways, and I suggest that a better guide to the theories’ progress toward the truth might be the methodologies themselves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Throughout this chapter I use the term ‘prediction’ in the same way that Popper does, to describe a statement that follows logically (deductively) from a theory (see e.g. item 28 in Table 1); it comprises ‘retrodiction’ and ‘explanation’ (e.g. Popper (1957, p. 133)).

  2. 2.

    Both Johansson (1975) and Jarvie (2001) note that the wording of the first part of rule no. 13 is confusing. Johansson (p. 58) suggests that Popper meant to write “Inter-subjectively testable theories”; Jarvie (p. 59) suggests that “What is plainly intended is a presumption that inter-subjectively testable experimental work be accepted.” I find Jarvie’s suggestion to be the more convincing.

  3. 3.

    Philosophers who reject some or all of these premises will sometimes nevertheless embrace the conclusions that Popper derived from them. For instance, Psillos (1999), who makes no secret of his inductivist leanings, or of his admiration for Carnap, writes (pp. 105 and 173) “we should not accept a hypothesis merely on the basis that it entails the evidence, if that hypothesis is the product of an ad hoc manoeuvre ...The notion of empirical success that realists are happy with is such that it includes the generation of novel predictions which are in principle testable.” Those sentences could just as easily have been written by Popper (cf. rules no. 7, 9 and 19 from Table 1). Niiniluoto (2018, p. 117) similarly suggests as an “acceptance rule” for an inductive inference that it “should be independently testable, i.e. it should either explain some old evidence or be successful in serious new tests ...the best hypothesis is one with both explanatory and predictive power.”.

  4. 4.

    Miller (1994, p. 106): “Sitting around complacently with a well-meant resolve to accept any refutations that happen to arise is a caricature of genuine falsificationism.”.

  5. 5.

    Worrall (1985, p. 313) argues further “that when one theory has accounted for a set of facts by parameter-adjustment, while a rival accounts for the same facts directly and without contrivance, then the rival does, but the first does not, derive support from those facts.” Interpreted broadly, Worrall’s argument would imply that no standard-model explanation of any fact correctly predicted by Milgrom’s theory counts in favor of the standard model, since standard-model explanations of such facts always invoke a multitude of adjustable parameters or auxiliary hypotheses not required by Milgrom’s theory; some examples are discussed below.

  6. 6.

    An example occurred in studies of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), but the response of standard-model cosmologists was simply to add more parameters. Early studies of the CMB (e.g. Jaffe et al. 2001) assumed a value \(n=1\) for the power-law index of the spectrum of initial density perturbations, but as the amount and quality of data increased, this value n began to be treated as a free parameter (e.g. Netterfield 2002) and later as a ‘running index’ (e.g. Spergel et al. 2007). In this way the model was “immunized” (Popper’s expression) from falsification. I am aware of only one attempt to confront the CMB data with a testable prediction; the theory was Milgrom’s and the prediction (McGaugh 1999) was confirmed (de Bernardis et al. 2002).

  7. 7.

    Standard-model cosmologists often use ‘baryonic matter’ to mean ‘normal [i.e. non-dark] matter’. Milgromian researchers sometimes follow suit, even though, from their perspective, there is no need to distinguish between two sorts of matter.

  8. 8.

    That rather baroque name is due to standard-model cosmologists; see e.g. Merritt (2020, Chap. 4) for the relevant history. Milgrom refers to his predicted relation by the much more apt name ‘mass–asymptotic speed relation.’.

  9. 9.

    Few cosmology textbooks acknowledge that the existence of dark matter is a postulate. Standard-model cosmologists take it for granted, apparently, that the existence of dark matter has been verified by rotation curve studies; e.g. Schneider (2015, p. 77): “The rotation curves of spiral galaxies are flat up to the maximum radius at which they can be measured; spiral galaxies contain dark matter” (italics his). Milgrom deserves credit for emphasizing that the existence of ‘dark matter’ is a postulate of the standard model and not a confirmed fact.

  10. 10.

    Although Bahcall never claimed to be testing a standard-model prediction, he did note (Bahcall 1987) that the data were explainable via Milgrom’s theory.

  11. 11.

    0.30 GeV cm\(^{-3} \approx 0.008 M_\odot \) pc\(^{-3}\).

  12. 12.

    When Elena Aprile was asked to estimate a cost for her XENONnT dark matter experiment at the Italian Gran Sasso National Laboratory, the New York Times reports that she “was reluctant to put a price on the project. An earlier version of the experiment with 3.3 tons of xenon cost $30 million. But that didn’t include the people, she said. A big part of the cost is xenon itself, which costs around $2 million per ton, she added. Her new detector will have 8.5 tons” (Overbye 2020). There are about a half-dozen such experiments currently underway (as reviewed by Kisslinger and Das 2019). Given that the hypothesis being tested by the direct-detection experiments (that dark particles are passing through the laboratory) is not refutable, it is reasonable to ask what will have been accomplished by those experiments assuming the continued absence of a detection.

  13. 13.

    A striking example is the standard-model response to the remarkably correlated distribution of satellite galaxies around the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy, observations that have no, even remotely, plausible explanation under that model. Kroupa (2016, p. 557) documents the variety of ‘conventionalist stratagems’ adopted by standard-model cosmologists in response to those observations and concludes, “The [standard-model] community appears to have developed an unhealthy sense of simply ignoring or burying previously obtained results if these are highly inconsistent with the standard model of cosmology.” While MOND does not make a clear prediction here, the observed correlations do not constitute a prima facie problem for Milgrom’s theory (Pawlowski 2018).

  14. 14.

    On the other hand, one could reasonably take the point of view that postulate SCM1 comprises a very large number of independent postulates, since the specification of the dark matter distribution around any single galaxy requires a 3d function, and furthermore a function that is different for every galaxy.

  15. 15.

    Interestingly, both of these instances can be seen as failed tests of Einstein’s theory in the low-acceleration regime.

  16. 16.

    Terminology like this should be of interest to social epistemologists: it suggests that standard-model cosmologists, when conceptualizing the physical world, privilege their simulations over the actual data. The name that Milgromian researchers attach to this standard-model failure is the ‘dwarf over-prediction problem.’ Milgromian researchers postulate a different origin for the satellite galaxies—see Kroupa (2012) – and the small number of satellites observed around the Milky Way constitutes no problem for them.

  17. 17.

    This difference reflects the enormous disparity in number of scientists working in the two research programs, as well as the disinclination of government agencies to fund Milgromian researchers, among other possible factors.

  18. 18.

    The difficulty discussed in this paragraph exists for any criterion of success that is essentially empirical or instrumentalist, e.g. Carnap’s (1950) ‘qualified instance confirmation,’ Laudan’s (1978) ‘problem-solving efficiency,’ van Fraassen’s (1980) ‘constructive empiricism’ etc.

  19. 19.

    Quoted by Merritt (2020, p. 75) who gives the source. “Sub-grid models” refers to algorithms that are meant to represent, in some approximate manner, physical processes that occur on scales of time or space that are far too small to be simulated directly, e.g. turbulence, stellar winds etc.

  20. 20.

    Niiniluoto’s “implicit indoctrination” calls to mind Tolstoy’s (1906) invocation of “epidemic suggestions” to explain the (to him) unfathomable popularity of Shakespeare’s plays.

  21. 21.

    Quoted by Jammer (1966, p. 86). Jammer gives the original German in his note 107 as “da muß etwas dahinter sein; ich glaube nicht, daß die Rydbergkonstante durch Zufall in absoluten Werten ausgedrückt richtig herauskommt.”.

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Merritt, D. (2021). MOND and Methodology. In: Parusniková, Z., Merritt, D. (eds) Karl Popper's Science and Philosophy. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-67036-8_5

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