The notion of a severe test has played an important methodological role in the history of science. But it has not until recently been analyzed in any detail. We develop a generally Bayesian analysis of the notion, compare it with Deborah Mayo’s error-statistical approach by way of sample diagnostic tests in the medical sciences, and consider various objections to both. At the core of our analysis is a distinction between evidence and confirmation or belief. These notions must be kept separate (...) if mistakes are to be avoided; combined in the right way, they provide an adequate understanding of severity. Those who think that the weight of the evidence always enables you to choose between hypotheses “ignore one of the factors (the prior probability) altogether, and treat the other (the likelihood) as though it ...meant something other than it actually does. This is the same mistake as is made by someone who has scruples about measuring the arms of a balance (having only a tape measure at his disposal ...), but is willing to assert that the heavier load will always tilt the balance (thereby implicitly assuming, although without admitting it, that the arms are of equal length!). (Bruno de Finetti, Theory of Probability)2. (shrink)
Despite the fact that they are in most respects environmentally benign, electricity-generating wind turbines frequently encounter a great deal of resistance. Much of this resistance is aesthetic in character; wind turbines somehow do not "fit" in the landscape. On one (classical) view, landscapes are beautiful to the extent that they are "scenic," well-balanced compositions. But wind turbines introduce a discordant note, they are out of "scale." On another (ecological) view, landscapes are beautiful if their various elements form a stable and (...) integrated organic whole. But wind turbines are difficult to integrate into the biotic community; at least in certain respects, they are like "weeds." Moreover, there is a reason why the 100-meter, three bladed wind turbines now favored by the industry cannot very well be accommodated to any landscape view. They are, as Albert Borgmann would put it, characteristic of contemporary technology, distanced "devices" for the production of a commodity rather than "things" with which one can engage. It follows that the only way in which the aesthetic resistance to wind turbines can be overcome is to make them more "thing-like." One such "thing-like" turbine is discussed. (shrink)
Traditional accounts stress certain features of theoretical objects such as their alleged imperceptibility, that are taken to raise epistemological difficulties. But these accounts do not show how theoretical objects, rightly understood, either differ in kind from more ordinary sorts of objects or make science possible. I sketch a new account that focuses on the underdetermination and similarity of theoretical objects, features closely connected to the explanatory roles they play, and construes them on an algebraic model.