How much evidence should one collect?

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Philosophical Studies, ISSN: 0031-8116, Vol: 172, Issue: 9, Page: 2299-2313

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Remco Heesen
Springer Nature, Springer
Arts and Humanities
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A number of philosophers of science and statisticians have attempted to justify conclusions drawn from a finite sequence of evidence by appealing to results about what happens if the length of that sequence tends to infinity. If their justifications are to be successful, they need to rely on the finite sequence being either indefinitely increasing or of a large size. These assumptions are often not met in practice. This paper analyzes a simple model of collecting evidence and finds that the practice of collecting only very small sets of evidence before taking a question to be settled is rationally justified. This shows that the appeal to long run results can be used neither to explain the success of actual scientific practice nor to give a rational reconstruction of that practice.

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