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Post-empirical assessment for the pragmatic scientist: An interview with Anthony Aguirre

15 Feb 2016, 11:23 UTC
Post-empirical assessment for the pragmatic scientist: An interview with Anthony Aguirre
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That science works merely by testing hypotheses has never been less true than today. As data have become more precise and theories have become more successful, scientists have become increasingly careful in selecting hypotheses before even putting them to test. Commissioning an experiment for every odd idea would be an utter waste of time, not to mention money. But what makes an idea worthy?Pre-selection of hypotheses is especially important in fields where internal consistency and agreement with existing data are very strong constraints already, and it therefore plays an essential role in the foundation of physics. In this area, most new hypotheses are born dead or die very quickly, and researchers would rather not waste time devising experimental tests for ill-fated non-starters. During their career, physicists must thus constantly decide whether a new ideas justifies spending years of research on it. Next to personal interest, their decision criteria are often based on experience and community norms – past-oriented guidelines that reinforce academic inertia.Philosopher Richard Dawid coined the word “post-empirical assessment” for the practice of hypotheses pre-selection, and described it as a non-disclosed Bayesian probability estimate. But philosophy is one thing, doing research another thing. For the practicing scientist, the relevant ...

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