Symposium 8

The Shifting Values of Prediction

Theodore Arabatzis

The concept of prediction has been a cornerstone of science and the subject of numerous philosophical studies. Nevertheless, few of those studies have discussed the dynamic role of prediction in scientific practice and its shifting value across different contexts. The main goal of this symposium is to historicize prediction, by looking at four historical cases: Classical physics: We will discuss how 19th century British physicists legitimized prediction, which had been tainted by its association with prophecy. We will focus on Lord Rayleigh and his use of the method of dimensions to derive predictions of novel phenomena. High Energy Physics: We will sketch the discovery of weak neutral currents, the discovery of the W and Z bosons, and the planning stage of the Large Hadron Collider. Our aim will be to elucidate the role of predictions in the discovery process and in the construction of HEP infrastructures. Quantum Chemistry: We will argue that the changing role of predictions from the 1960s to the 1980s went hand in hand with the expanding use of electronic computers. We will show that the relative epistemic weight of explanations and predictions became a subject of controversies, the upshot of which was that computational chemistry challenged the monopoly of experiment in chemistry. Seismology: We will examine earthquake prediction and its role in decision-making from the 1980s onwards. We will suggest that, because of the uncertainties involved in earthquake prediction, evidence was not a sufficient guide to action and values entered decision-making processes.