Model selection and the multiplicity of patterns in empirical data

Philosophy of Science 74 (5):884-894 (2007)
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Several quantitative techniques for choosing among data models are available. Among these are techniques based on algorithmic information theory, minimum description length theory, and the Akaike information criterion. All these techniques are designed to identify a single model of a data set as being the closest to the truth. I argue, using examples, that many data sets in science show multiple patterns, providing evidence for multiple phenomena. For any such data set, there is more than one data model that must be considered close to the truth. I conclude that, since the established techniques for choosing among data models are unequipped to handle these cases, they cannot be regarded as adequate. ‡I presented a previous version of this paper at the 20th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Vancouver, November 2006. I am grateful to the audience for constructive discussion. I thank Leiden University students Marjolein Eysink Smeets and Lenneke Schrier for suggesting the cortisol example, and Remko van der Geest for comments on a draft. †To contact the author, please write to: Faculty of Philosophy, University of Leiden, P.O. Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands; e-mail: [email protected].



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James McAllister
Leiden University

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