I occasionally write about tricky words rather than troublesome pairs on this blog, and here’s one that always makes me feel a little uneasy. When that happens, I look it up (a large part of being a decent editor / proofreader is knowing when to look stuff up), and I find I have had to look this one up a few times.
The most common meaning for “to falsify”, in my opinion, is the one around making something become false. You might change something to mislead “We falsified the results to make it look like smoking is good for you”. You are effectively changing something, a document or some results, in order to deceive people. Falsification is the noun for the action of falsifying, and a falsifier does it.
But the other meaning is to prove to be false, or to disprove. In this case, it’s the opposite of verify, and is used in, for example, social sciences and economics texts (which is where I tend to find it). It looks odd to me when I read, “We falsified the results”, but here the writer is using it in this second meaning: “We proved the results to be false”.
To be honest, I’d rather move away from possible misinterpretation and use “we proved the results to be false” or “we verified that the hypothesis could not be proved” rather than “we falsified the results” or “we falsified the hypothesis”. However, my editing policy is to tread lightly, and it is an acceptable term, found in all the major dictionaries, so it’s not something I would change lightly (although I might make a note for the author if the text was going into general rather than academic circulation).
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