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University of Chicago Press

Philosophy of Science Association

Science and Decision Making
Author(s): C. West Churchman
Source: Philosophy of Science, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Jul., 1956), pp. 247-249
Published by: University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Philosophy of Science Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/185419
Accessed: 26-10-2015 16:05 UTC

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depend (I think) on the ultimate aims of scientific activity. etc. which Jeffrey finds so objectionable. and to seek answers within the framework of decision theory. July. Now the decision criteria become very much more compli- cated. When this is done. the conceptual framework.117. what "model" to use as a framework for observations. they depend on the relative values of these aims. More specifically. C. DISCUSSION SCIENCE AND DECISION MAKING* C. and if the collection of observa- tions-and his continued existence-are his only aims. Whether such a chap is really a scientist is not so important to discuss here. WEST CHURCHMAN It does seem to me to be both sensible and fruitful to apply modern decision theory to the activities of the scientist as well as to the activities of the business executive. 247 This content downloaded from 134. one may feel moti- vated-in the manner of Karl Pearson-to reduce his observations to a simple and convenient form. it is quite natural to ask where scientific decision making stops.200 on Mon. 1956. Vol. "Decision theory" has been ably characterized by Jeffrey. and to observe in such a way that all others would agree with his results if they were to observe the same things. If he has sufficient funds. For on what else could the criteria be grounded? Thus the answer to the question posed at the outset is that the scientist may stop his decision making at any number of places. He may decide only to observe. But to philosophers of science. how many observations ought to be made. it does seem sensible to raise these questions about the justification of scientific decisions. No. the criteria of optimal decisions for the type and number of observations. Scientists decide what makes a relevant observation. essentially it is an attempt to find criteria for selecting "optimal" decisions among a set of alterna- tive actions-where optimality is based-as Jeffrey suggests-on some measure of the values of various outcomes that may result from selecting each of the actions. unless one is willing to accept naive notions of simplicity and convenience * A reply to R. How can one justify these decisions which the scientist makes? Those of us who have raised this question have not meant to imply that every scientist must be able to justify every decision he makes. 3. Such an implication would be tanta- mount to stifling activity. Philosophy of Science. Jeffrey. and so on. As applied to science. 26 Oct 2015 16:05:03 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . "Valuation and Acceptance of Scientific Hypotheses.10. For example. then perhaps his decison criteria would not be too difficult to develop. since it often seems to be a good working rule that the justification of a decision takes ten times as long as the implementation of the decision itself. he has no worry about the limits on the number of observations." this issue. 22. or visitor to Monte Carlo. for it is clear that scientists make many decisions in addition to the "ultimate" decision to accept or reject an hypothesis. what controls should be applied in taking observations.. there are certainly other chaps who want to do more than this who are scientists. military general.

or to try a new experiment today which is based on yesterday's findings. But Jeffrey seems to feel that the situation gets out of hand if the scientific information is "open ended" so that no one knows what aims it will serve. Here the situation is quite similar to that which occurs in production and distribution. and if he intends to run a new experiment. I'm sure that he will have to evaluate the relative worth of (1) more observations. Our national Census Bureau-which does not enjoy the luxury of gathering any information that its chiefs feel curious to collect-must make decisions about the quality. 243. without in many instances knowing how the information is to be used. 26 Oct 2015 16:05:03 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and (3) consumer education. very confusing. (2) specification of hypotheses in terms of these demands. and (3) consumer education. (5) accuracy of the probability assignment. Such a scientist. whether or not he thinks of himself as "accepting" hypotheses. I can't help feeling that the analogy holds: the only adequate answer for the problem of open ended information seems to be (1) a "market" survey of the demands for information. (4) precision of language. he "rejects" the hypothesis that yesterday's results have a certain degree of accuracy. It does seem to me that hypotheses are signs of intended behavior-so that "X accepts hy- pothesis H" means "X intends to adopt action A. is a decision maker with multiple aims. we don't have a recognized "philosophy of production" in the same sense in which we have a "philosophy of science"-possibly because the material expression of ideas is somehow less worthy of contemplation than the intellectual. In this This content downloaded from 134. Of course. and wants to "assign probabilities" to hypotheses. The only answer seems to be (1) a "market" survey of the demand for products. But production and distribution have had to face the problem of the "open ended product. p. WEST CHURCHMAN that won't meet the test of agreement. I gather that Jeffrey wants to go no further than this-because this much is already terribly difficult to work out. I find the quote of De Finetti." (In this respect." scientists do accept hypotheses. None of these "answers" is by any means simple to give.200 on Mon." There is no such thing as a "good" rope: the best rope for anchoring a boat may be very poor rope indeed for hanging clothes-or men. (3) simplicity.248 C. And if one goes even further. For example. and here I cannot necessarily speak for the other authors he cites.117. (2) greater scope of his conceptual model. he accepts the hypothesis. a scientist woniderswhether to repeat an experiment he did yesterday. (2) specification of product lines in terms of the most important of these demands.10. type and amount of information. I would certainly agree with him that few if any scientists "simply" accept hypotheses-for acceptance of hypotheses is an activity rarely to be undertaken with a complete freedom from risk. This situation can be given the form of "hypothesis testing. and the criteria of optimal decision making depend on the values of these aims. There is no denying that this is a critical question-and not an abstract one either.) In this sense of "acceptance." and it is sensible to say that if the scientist intends to repeat the experiment. Much of the issue that Jeffrey raises depends on what one thinks "acceptance" means. although there is considerable research activity going on with respect to each one of them.

then I would strongly urge that the research be conducted by scientists.117. 26 Oct 2015 16:05:03 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . But if hy- pothesis testing does imply the kind of approach mentioned above.10.200 on Mon. provided the information has a number of different uses. Indeed. logicians and statisticans both have scarcely scratched the surface in considering this complex problem. I would therefore agree that information use does pose quite a problem for the theory of hypothesis testing. it is certainly meaningless to talk of the acceptance of the hypothesis about the freedom of a vaccine from active polio virus. Indeed. Case Institute of Technology This content downloaded from 134. Even within one business organization one can readily point out that the many uses of information imply many different criteria for the "acceptance" or "rejection" of hypotheses. DISCUSSION SCIENCE AND DECISION MAKING 249 sense. the growing awareness of the problem of data processing and utilization in governmental and industrial organizations brings some encouragement to those who don't want science to stop just before it gives an answer.