Explanation, prediction, description, and information theory

Synthese 20 (3):308 - 334 (1969)
Abstract
The distinction between explanation and prediction has received much attention in recent literature, but the equally important distinction between explanation and description (or between prediction and description) remains blurred. This latter distinction is particularly important in the social sciences, where probabilistic models (or theories) often play dual roles as explanatory and descriptive devices. The distinction between explanation (or prediction) and description is explicated in the present paper in terms of information theory. The explanatory (or predictive) power of a probabilistic model is identified with information taken from (or transmitted by) the environment (e.g., the independent, experimentally manipulated variables), while the descriptive power of a model reflects additional information taken from (or transmitted by) the data. Although information is usually transmitted by the data in the process of estimating parameters, it turns out that the number of free parameters is not a reliable index of transmitted information. Thus, the common practice of treating parameters as degrees-of-freedom in testing probabilistic models is questionable. Finally, this information-theoretic analysis of explanation, prediction, and description suggests ways of resolving some recent controversies surrounding the pragmatic aspects of explanation and the so-called structural identity thesis.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Options
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
 
Download options
PhilPapers Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 11,817
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

View all 7 references

Citations of this work BETA
Similar books and articles
Analytics

Monthly downloads

Added to index

2009-01-28

Total downloads

80 ( #17,873 of 1,099,863 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

4 ( #90,276 of 1,099,863 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature


Discussion
Start a new thread
Order:
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.