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Value Judgments in Scientific Research Essay

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Updated: Jul 10th, 2021

The distinction between epistemic and non-epistemic values is critical to scientific studies because it helps scholars to perform research. Epistemic values have long been considered to be the foundation of scientific inquiry since they reflect the importance of research in terms of knowledge. Nevertheless, Douglas argues that non-epistemic values, which include political, social, and ethical values, are also important in research studies where there is a risk of non-epistemic consequences (559). This is because the inductive risk, or the risk of error in rejecting or confirming a scientific hypothesis, forces scientists to make value judgments.

In the article, Douglas focuses on the connection between philosophy and science, showing how philosophers and scholars at different times viewed the role of values in scientific inquiry (561). The author shows that, according to Hempel’s reasoning, values play an essential role in the rules of acceptance of a scientific hypothesis. Rules of acceptance, according to Douglas, must consider the consequences of both success and failure in accepting a hypothesis (561). Cases where a hypothesis was ruled as accurate but is, in fact, false and vice versa represent the inductive risk associated with scientific inquiry (Douglas 562). Inductive risk is thus connected with non-epistemic consequences that stem from a hypothesis being wrongfully accepted or rejected. For example, if a scholar confirms the hypothesis that a particular drug is the most effective option for treating diabetes, and this hypothesis turns out to be false, people who have taken the drug for their condition might suffer from health consequences. Hence, the problem of inductive risk forces scientists to use value judgments by applying non-epistemic values to assess the possible outcomes of accepting or rejecting a hypothesis.

Different ethical theories can help to address the problem of inductive risk, thus assisting scholars in identifying the correct decision to make in various cases. For instance, the utilitarian ethical theory focuses on the utility of acts and choices. This theory posits that a moral action is the one that brings the most happiness to the most significant number of persons and causes little to no harm. Using this framework, it is possible for researchers to make decisions that involve inductive risk by evaluating the consequences of each option. Kantian ethics offers a different approach to decision-making in cases involving inductive risk. According to this ethical theory, scientists should act in accordance with their duty to people. Since the primary mission of scientists is to generate knowledge, they should spread truthful knowledge that would advance their scientific area. This means that when faced by decisions involving inductive risk, scientists should choose the option based on evidence rather than consequences. However, scientists working in health, medicine, and related fields are also required to take into account the ethical implications of a hypothesis because they have a duty to people. Hence, depending on the ethical theory chosen and the field of scientific inquiry considered, both utilitarianism and Kantian ethics can be used to approach inductive risk

All in all, the article shows that scientists are often required to make value judgments in research. Douglas argues that this is because are many cases when inductive risk is associated with non-epistemological consequences, and thus scientists need to evaluate all of the options available to them (561). Ethical theories, including utilitarianism and Kantian ethics, can help scientists to decide whether to accept or reject a hypothesis.

Work Cited

Douglas, Heather. “Inductive Risk and Values in Science.” Philosophy of Science, vol. 67, no. 4, 2000, pp. 559-579.

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