The blog “It’s Chancy” (Corey Yanofsky) has a post today about “two severities” which warrants clarification. Two distinctions are being blurred: between formal and informal severity assessments, and between a statistical philosophy (something Corey says he’s interested in) and its relevance to philosophy of science (which he isn’t). I call the latter an error statistical philosophy of science. The former requires both formal, semi-formal and informal severity assessments. Here’s his post:
In the comments to my first post on severity, Professor Mayo noted some apparent and some actual misstatements of her views.To avert misunderstandings, she directed readers to two of her articles, one of which opens by making this distinction:
“Error statistics refers to a standpoint regarding both (1) a general philosophy of science and the roles probability plays in inductive inference, and (2) a cluster of statistical tools, their interpretation, and their justiﬁcation.”
In Mayo’s writings I see two interrelated notions of severity corresponding to the two items listed in the quote: (1) an informal severity notion that Mayo uses when discussing philosophy of science and specific scientific investigations, and (2) Mayo’s formalization of severity at the data analysis level.
One of my besetting flaws is a tendency to take a narrow conceptual focus to the detriment of the wider context. In the case of Severity, part one, I think I ended up making claims about severity that were wrong. I was narrowly focused on severity in sense (2) — in fact, on one specific equation within (2) — but used a mish-mash of ideas and terminology drawn from all of my readings of Mayo’s work. When read through a philosophy-of-science lens, the result is a distorted and misstated version of severity in sense (1) .
As a philosopher of science, I’m a rank amateur; I’m not equipped to add anything to the conversation about severity as a philosophy of science. My topic is statistics, not philosophy, and so I want to warn readers against interpreting Severity, part one as a description of Mayo’s philosophy of science; it’s more of a wordy introduction to the formal definition of severity in sense (2).[It’s Chancy, Jan 11, 2014)
A needed clarification may be found in a post of mine which begins:
Error statistics: (1) There is a “statistical philosophy” and a philosophy of science. (a) An error-statistical philosophy alludes to the methodological principles and foundations associated with frequentist error-statistical methods. (b) An error-statistical philosophy of science, on the other hand, involves using the error-statistical methods, formally or informally, to deal with problems of philosophy of science: to model scientific inference (actual or rational), to scrutinize principles of inference, and to address philosophical problems about evidence and inference (the problem of induction, underdetermination, warranting evidence, theory testing, etc.).
I assume the interest here* is on the former, (a). I have stated it in numerous ways, but the basic position is that inductive inference—i.e., data-transcending inference—calls for methods of controlling and evaluating error probabilities (even if only approximate). An inductive inference, in this conception, takes the form of inferring hypotheses or claims to the extent that they have been well tested. It also requires reporting claims that have not passed severely, or have passed with low severity. In the “severe testing” philosophy of induction, the quantitative assessment offered by error probabilities tells us not “how probable” but, rather, “how well probed” hypotheses are. The local canonical hypotheses of formal tests and estimation methods need not be the ones we entertain post data; but they give us a place to start without having to go “the designer-clothes” route.
The post-data interpretations might be formal, semi-formal, or informal.
See also: Staley’s review of Error and Inference (Mayo and Spanos eds.)