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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 19, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 26
'War on Induction' Conference Set For This Week at Homewood

Sir Isaac Newton stated that inductive reasoning, from observed instances of a law to the truth of that law, was the basis for science. And he showed how to derive his universal law of gravity by means of such reasoning.

Many scientists and methodologists since the time of Newton have rejected this form of reasoning, claiming that it is invalid, or that scientists don't use such reasoning or that, when they do, the mode of reasoning is much more complex than Newton and other "inductivists" ever imagined.

For two days this week, the Johns Hopkins Center for History and Philosophy of Science will host a conference called the War on Induction to examine various arguments that have been raised against inductive generalization by contemporary and historical figures in philosophy and the sciences. The event was designed to be of interest not only to philosophers and historians of science but also to those interested in foundational questions about reasoning in the social and natural sciences, as well as in mathematical statistics.

Peter Achinstein, the conference organizer, will defend Newton's ideas about induction against attacks in the 19th and 20th centuries. John Norton, of the University of Pittsburgh, will discuss how induction works without the use of probabilities. Frank Arntzenius, of Rutgers, will examine the notorious "grue" paradox that is raised against inductive reasoning. Deborah Mayo, of Virginia Tech, will examine three different approaches to inductive reasoning in statistics. And Gilbert Harman, of Princeton, will discuss philosophical morals about induction from statistical learning theory.

The commentators for the presentations include Michael Williams, of Johns Hopkins; Michael Weisberg, of the University of Pennsylvania; John Roberts, of the University of North Carolina; and three philosophers of science who received their PhD's from Johns Hopkins with Achinstein: Richard Richards, of the University of Alabama; Fred Kronz, of the University of Texas; and Kent Staley, of St. Louis University.

The conference will take place from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 23, and continue on Saturday morning. It will be held in the auditorium of the Space Telescope Institute on the Homewood campus.

For more information, contact Victor Di Fate at or Peter Achinstein at


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