Inductive risk: does it really refute value-freedom?



Published 30-06-2022
Markus Dressel


The argument from inductive risk is considered to be one of the strongest challenges for value-free science. A great part of its appeal lies in the idea that even an ideal epistemic agent—the “perfect scientist” or “scientist qua scientist”—cannot escape inductive risk. In this paper, I scrutinize this ambition by stipulating an idealized Bayesian decision setting. I argue that inductive risk does not show that the “perfect scientist” must, descriptively speaking, make non-epistemic value-judgements, at least not in a way that undermines the value-free ideal. However, the argument is more successful in showing that there are cases where the “perfect scientist” should, normatively speaking, use non-epistemic values. I also show that this is possible without creating problems of illegitimate prescription and wishful thinking. Thus, while inductive risk does not refute value-freedom completely, it still represents a powerful critique of value-free science.

How to Cite

Dressel, M. (2022). Inductive risk: does it really refute value-freedom?. THEORIA, 37(2), 181–207.
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Inductive risk, value-free ideal, wishful thinking, prescription, scientist qua scientist, Bayesianism