How do we decide that we have the right solution? (I) Accepting scientific hypotheses.

Graduate: 3/3
Undergrad: 3/4


Graduate students

Instead of “Inductive Risk…” read Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal, focus on Chapters 3-5.

Further Readings


Once we have determined which problem we are trying to solve, framed our hypothesis about how to solve it, and gathered our evidence, we face a further decision about how to evaluate our solution in light of the evidence. Traditional models of science tell us that scientific inference is a matter of the logic of induction or falsification, and in such matters, values play no role. We may guide our decisions about what questions to ask, what answers to pose, and how to gather evidence with our ethical and social values, but when it comes to determining how well our answer fits the evidence, it would be pure wishful thinking to let such values guide our decisions about whether the evidence confirms or refutes a hypothesis. Likewise, determining whether a particular technology works is not a matter of whether it suits our values.

Unfortunately, the matter is significantly more complicated than the traditional view presupposes. There is no decision procedure in science, for confirmation or refutation, that determines whether we should accept or reject a hypothesis. Thus, there is always some degree of choice in that decision. The need for choice is partly a result of two related phenomena termed “underdetermination” and “inductive risk.” Because our inferences are uncertain, because the evidence fails to uniquely determine the inference to be made, we must make choices. The choices we make generally have consequences for things that we value, and potentially quite hazardous consequences if we should choose in error. Thus we are obligated to consider those consequences and other values in making those decisions.

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