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Scientific Reasoning

Chapter 2

Scientists often tell us things about

the world that we would not
otherwise have believed:

exactly is the nature of

scientific reasoning?
How much confidence should we
place in the inferences scientists

Deductive reasoning a type of
reasoning in which the existence of an
appropriate relation between premises and
conclusion, namely that if the premises
are true, the conclusion must be true too:
Premise 1: All NCU teachers are
Premise 2: Jonathan is a NCU teacher
Conclusion: Therefore, Jonathan is a
Whether that premises are actually true is
a different matter, which doesnt affect the

Inductive reasoning we move from premises
about objects we have examined to conclusions
about objects we havent examined.
The first five eggs in the box were rotten
All the eggs have the same best-before date
stamped on them
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Therefore, the sixth egg will be rotten
It is quite conceivable that the sixth egg (which
we havent examined) will be perfectly good.
In other words, it is logically possible for the

When we reason deductively, we can be certain

that if we start with true premises, we will end up
with a true conclusion.
On the contrary, inductive reasoning is quite
capable of taking us from true premises to a
false conclusion.
Other examples of inductive reasoning:
When you turn the steering wheel of your car
anticlockwise, you assume the car will go to the
left not the right.
Newtons principle of universal gravitation
every body in the universe exerts a gravitational
attraction on every other body. Newton did not
arrive at this principle by examining every single
body in the whole universe he couldnt possibly

How do we misuse inductive reasoning?

You might read a newspaper report that says that
scientists have found experimental proof that
genetically modified maize is safe for humans.
What this means is that the scientists have
tested the maize on a large number of humans,
and none of them have come to any harm.
This does not prove that the maize is safe (not
in the strictest sense)
The newspaper report should really have said
that scientists have found extremely good
evidence that the maize is safe for humans.
The word proof should strictly only be used
when we are dealing with deductive inferences.
Scientific hypotheses can rarely, if ever, be
proved true by the data.

Karl Popper
Poppers basic argument was that it is not
possible to prove that a scientific theory is true
from a limited data sample, it is possible to prove
that a theory is false.
There is at least one metal that does not conduct
electricity this counterexample may be used to
disprove a theory that states that all metals
conduct electricity.
The major problem with Poppers argument is
that a scientist is also interested in proving
his/her own theory to be true setting up the use
of inductive inference.

Humes Problem
Hume argued that the use of induction cannot be
rationally justified at all. Hume argued that we
use induction all the time in everyday life and in
science, but he insists this was just a matter of
brute animal habit. If challenged to provide a
good reason for using induction, we can give no
satisfactory answer.
Uniformity of nature (UN) The assumption
that objects we havent examined will be similar,
in the relevant respects, to objects of the same
sort that we have examined:
The fact that the sun has risen every day up
until now may not prove that it will rise
tomorrow, but surely it gives us very good reason
to think it will.
What has happened in the past will happen in

Humes Problem
Hume points out that our inductive inferences
rest on the UN assumption.
Hume concludes that our confidence in
induction is just blind faith it admits of no
rational justification whatever.
Science relies on induction, and Humes
argument seems to show that induction cannot
be justified. If Hume is right, the foundations on
which science is built do not look as solid as we
might have hoped (Humes problem).
Some people believe that the key to solving
Humes problem lies in the concept of probability.
It is natural to think that although the premises
of an inductive inference do not guarantee the
truth of the conclusion, they do make it quite

Inference to the best explanation (IBE)

The cheese in the pantry has disappeared, apart
from a few crumbs
Scratching noises were heard coming from the
pantry last night.
Therefore, the cheese was eaten by a mouse.
This inference is non-deductive the premises
do not entail the conclusion.
The cheese could have been stolen by the maid,
who cleverly left a few crumbs to make it look
like the handiwork of a mouse.
The mouse hypothesis and the maid hypothesis
can both account for the missing cheese. Why
do we regard the mouse hypothesis as a better
explanation of the data?
Inductive inference is reserved for inferences

Probability and induction

Frequency interpretation equates
probabilities with proportions, or frequencies.
1/10;1 in 4; 1 out of every 100 students at NCU is
Subjective interpretation takes the
probability to be a measure of the strength of our
personal opinions. It implies that there are no
objective facts about probability, independently
of what people believe. Example: I am very
confident that Brazil will win the World Cup; I am
extremely confident that Jesus is coming again;
There is a low probability that a global
environmental disaster can be averted.
Logical interpretation holds that a statement
such as the probability of life on mars is high is
objectively true or false, relative to the specified
body of evidence. A statements probability is

Philosophers of science are interested in

probability for two main reasons:
In many branches of science, especially physics
and biology, we find laws and theories that are
formulated using the notion of probability.
(Mendelian Genetics)
The hope that it might shed some light on
inductive inference, in particular on Humes
problem. At the root of Humes problem is the
fact that the premises of an inductive inference
do not guarantee the truth of its conclusion.
On the frequency interpretation, to say it is
highly probable that all objects obey Newtons
law is to say it is highly probable that all objects
obey the law. But there is no way we can know
that, unless we use induction! For we have only
examined a tiny fraction of all the objects in the

The logical interpretation suggests that the

premises of an inductive inference cab make
the conclusion highly probable, even if they
cannot guarantee its truth.

Weighing the latest facts on seafood safety, health

We've learned that some varieties of fish are low in fat
and contain oils that keep the heart healthy. But recent
reports about contaminants such as mercury and
polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, have prompted some
health experts to rethink their advice about seafood.
Lots of varieties of fish are safe, but some types of
seafood can be risky for certain groups of people.
For Seattle cardiologist Florence Sheehan, M.D., it isn't
just her patients she worries about. It's her family, too. "Ours
has a history of high cholesterol," Sheehan says. "So I eat
fish frequently to keep my cholesterol down."
Lately, she finds herself scanning medical journals and
government advisories to stay abreast of fish safety issues.
She says that untangling the facts behind the latest seafood
scares isn't as complicated as it seems. "The key is to place
the benefits and risks into perspective," Sheehan says.
"Lots of varieties of fish are safe. It's just that some
types of seafood can be risky for certain groups of
people." Here's a look at which fish pose risks, and which

Since exposure to high levels of mercury can cause

neurological damage in a growing fetus, the Food
and Drug Administration continues to issue related
seafood safety advisories to pregnant women and
young children. In March of 2004, the FDA updated
that advice with stricter, more specific rules:
Pregnant women, or women who plan to
become pregnant, should avoid eating four fish
with high levels of mercury: swordfish, shark,
tilefish, and king mackerel. While fresh and
canned tuna didn't make the FDA's list, many experts
say pregnant women may be better off limiting fresh
tuna steaks and canned albacore, or "white," tuna to
one meal per week or less, since these large fish
can harbor mercury levels close to the one part
per million threshold the FDA deems safe.
(Canned light tuna is considered safe since it is made
with smaller skipjack fish that are low in mercury.)

Being aware of mercury is also a good idea for those

who aren't pregnant. When internal medicine specialist
Jane M. Hightower, M.D., performed a yearlong study of
123 of her patients, she found that a steady diet of
high-mercury fish caused serious symptoms such
as headaches, hair loss, problems with concentration,
and high blood levels of mercury. Fortunately, once
these patients switched to eating low-mercury
varieties, symptoms began to disappear, and blood
Santerre, Ph.D.,
levels seafood
to a
safe level.

thinks the key to minimizing health risks for any food is to aim
for variety. "If you ate swordfish or shark or king
mackerel every day, you could experience mercury
toxicity," Santerre says. "But if you eat them once a month
[and trade off with] some other low-mercury fish, it shouldn't
be a problem." However, the "sensitive population," including
pregnant and nursing women, should always avoid swordfish,
shark, tilefish, and king mackerel, Santerre says. On his list of
safe, low-mercury options: shrimp, salmon, pollock, farmraised catfish, tilapia, flatfish (flounder, sole, plaice),
scallops, haddock, farm-raised trout, herring, crawfish,

If fish can harbor toxins, it seems plausible

that the oils extracted from fish to make
supplements might be contaminated, but
that's not the case. "Fish oils are pure,"
says Connor. One recent study tested 16
fish oil supplements sold in warehouse
clubs, pharmacies, and supermarkets, and
none contained significant amounts of
mercury, PCBs, or the pollutant dioxin.
Currently, the American Heart Association
recommends 1,000 milligrams of fish oil
supplements per week for people with heart
disease. According to Connor, supplements
are a great way for nonfish lovers to tap into