Acceptibility, Evidence, and Severity

Synthese 148 (2):259-293 (2006)
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Abstract

  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

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