Harper (2011)

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Harper, William. (2011) Isaac Newton's Scientific Method: Turning Data into Evidence. Oxford University Press.

Title Isaac Newton's Scientific Method: Turning Data into Evidence
Resource Type book
Author(s) William Harper
Year 2011
Publisher Oxford University Press
ISBN 9780199570409
DOI 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199570409.001.0001


This book examines Newton’s argument for universal gravity and his application of it to resolve the problem of deciding between geocentric and heliocentric world systems by measuring masses of the sun and planets. Newton’s inferences from phenomena realize an ideal of empirical success that is richer than prediction. To achieve this rich sort of empirical success a theory needs, not only to accurately predict the phenomena it purports to explain, but also, to have those phenomena accurately measure the parameters which explain them. Newton’s method aims to turn theoretical questions into ones which can be empirically answered by measurement from phenomena. Newton employs theory-mediated measurements to turn data into far more informative evidence than can be achieved by confirmation from prediction alone. Propositions inferred from phenomena are provisionally accepted as guides to further research. This methodology, guided by its rich ideal of empirical success, supports a conception of scientific progress that does not require construing it as progress toward Laplace’s ideal limit of a final theory of everything and is not threatened by the classic argument against convergent realism. Newton’s method endorses the radical theoretical transformation from his theory to Einstein’s. It is strikingly realized in the development and application of testing frameworks for relativistic theories of gravity. In addition, it is very much at work in cosmology today.