Bayesian = Science?

A few weeks back, Bilbo wrote the following at Telic Thoughts:

Contrasted with this is Mike Gene’s own approach, which he labels Inductive Gradualism. Here, one may begin by only suspecting that a certain thing is designed, and then look for further evidence that may strengthen the suspicion, eventually making that suspicion plausible, then probable, and perhaps finally near certain.

A critic/scientist with the handle Raevmo replied:

How is that different from normal scientific practice? Sounds almost Bayesian to me: update the prior with new evidence to adjust the plausibility of the hypothesis (or “suspicion”).

One problem. Just because my approach is Bayesian does not mean it is science. Let me easily demonstrate this.

Yonatan Fishman, from the Department of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, wrote a paper entitled, “Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews? (Science & Education 2007). Fishman, like Raevmo, apparently equate a Bayesian approach with science. Yet ironically, Fishman notes something early on in his article that completely undercuts this position:

These considerations (to be discussed further below) are naturally captured within the framework of Bayesian confirmation theory, which is widely considered to be a good description of how scientists (and indeed ordinary people under mundane circumstances, such as in a court of law) update or revise their degree of confidence in a hypothesis, starting with a given prior probability, on the basis of new evidence. (emphasis added)

Clearly, the Bayesian approach is used outside of science.

Thus, both Fishman and Raevmo build on a logical fallacy – just because science uses the Bayesian approach does not mean that any inquiry or analysis that uses the Bayesian approach is science.

If ordinary people under mundane circumstances can use the Bayesian approach, then so to can investigators who seek out the Rabbit.

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4 responses to “Bayesian = Science?

  1. Good point. Either that or I am a practicing scientist 😉

  2. I’m not buying this, Mike. What we call “evolution” is really a theory about something that happened in the past, in other words, about history. Most people do not consider history to be science, therefore evolution shouldn’t really be called science. It is an attempt to understand the past in terms of naturally occurring events of today. But design is a naturally occurring event of today, and we have ways of often recognizing it. To rule out design, a priori is a philosophical move, not a scientific move.

    I keep thinking of a scence in a movie, where a woman (played by Jeanine Garafalo) explains how her father died: “The police say he fell down a mineshaft and landed on 6 bullets.” Well, yes, that would be a scientific explanation, if we knew that there were no agents involved.

  3. I didn’t say that Bayesian = science. Indeed, Bayesian reasoning is quite generally the optimal use of information in making inferences. There’s evidence that the brain works this way.

    http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v9/n11/abs/nn1790.html

    I simply asked the question in what ways your method deviates from science, since the description I read sounds like Bayesian analysis which is also used in science.

    Let’s put it this way: say science uses methods {A,B} and your approach uses {B,C}. If your description focuses on B, then it’s hard to tell it apart from science without more information.

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