Francis Bacon, Karl Popper, Michael Polanyi, and Modern Experimental Biology

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Abstract

Francis Bacon, widely appreciated as the father of the experimental method in science, proposed that science is inductive. Popper put critical testing of hypotheses against empirical evidence at the center of his epistemology, thereby excluding the act of conceiving or inventing a hypothesis or theory from his logical analysis of science. Michael Polanyi considered science as a social system based on epistemic authority and apprenticeship, stressing the informal and personal aspects of science. Using cases from genetics, embryology, molecular biology, and genomics, this essay (i) shows that induction, scientific authority and critical theory testing have been integral parts of scientific practice in the history of modern biology since the nineteenth century. This is despite the fact that a rigid adherence to Popper’s principle of falsifiability is irreconcilable with scientific practice. (ii) analyzes the change of epistemology within recent developments in biology, particularly big data genomics. In these induction plays a major role while Polanyi’s notions of epistemic authority and apprenticeship as well as Popper’s principles of hypothesis, prediction and experimental testing are largely marginalized. The consequences of their disregard are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBoston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science
PublisherSpringer Nature
Pages129-142
Number of pages14
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

Publication series

NameBoston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science
Volume325
ISSN (Print)0068-0346
ISSN (Electronic)2214-7942

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