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Statistical Explanation

Hitchcock, Christopher Read and Salmon, Wesley C. (2000) Statistical Explanation. In: A Companion to the Philosophy of Science. Blackwell companions to philosophy. No.18. Wiley-Blackwell , Malden, MA, pp. 470-479. ISBN 978-0-631-17024-2.

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[Introduction] Generally speaking, scientific explanation has been a topic of lively discussion in twentieth-century philosophy of science; philosophers of science have endeavored to characterize rigorously a number of different types of explanation to be found in the various fields of scientific research. Given the indispensability of statistical concepts and techniques in virtually every branch of modern science, it is natural to ask whether some scientific explanations are essentially statistical or probabilistic in character. The answer would seem to be yes. For example, we can explain why atoms of carbon 14 have a 1/4 probability of surviving for 11,460 years because the half-life of that species is 5,730 years. As we shall see, explanations of this type are not especially problematic. As another example, we might explain why a particular weed withered by citing the fact that it received a dose of a herbicide, even though we know that the herbicide is not invariably effective. This means that the withering is related probabilistically to the herbicide treatment but is not necessitated by it. Explanations of this kind, by contrast, lead to severe difficulties.

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Additional Information:© 2000 Wiley-Blackwell.
Series Name:Blackwell companions to philosophy
Issue or Number:18
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20140408-135027125
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:44778
Deposited On:29 Apr 2014 17:44
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 06:22

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