Title and Abstract

“The Perils and Promises of Prediction
in Science and Science Policy”


In the realm of public policy, decisions rely heavily on the ability to predict future events. Since scientific knowledge is the primary tool for making predictions, scientists often take upon themselves the role of advisor to politicians, policymakers, and the wider public as well.

Prediction, however, is not a concept with a fixed meaning. Rather, it has a historical character and has evolved over time. Moreover, the meaning of ‘prediction’ varies across different scientific fields. Although the role of prediction in the sciences has been a subject of considerable historiographical and philosophical debate, the historicity of prediction has not been systematically addressed. Furthermore, few studies have delved into the ways scientists derive and use predictions or into the particularities of predictions in different scientific fields and their role in policymaking.

The aim of this symposium is to address these neglected issues historically. It is part of a project on the perils of prediction in the physical sciences, whose aim is to investigate the many faces of prediction in scientific practice and public policy, to explore its significance in different fields, and to historicize its character and epistemic value. The questions addressed by the contributors include the following:

• How is prediction defined/understood in different scientific fields and in different historical periods?
• What counts as an adequate/successful prediction in different sciences? How are criteria set for evaluating the quality of a prediction?
• How does prediction bear upon policy making? What happens when different scientific communities make competing claims of exclusive expertise on the prediction of a phenomenon?

These questions will be addressed through historical case studies of prediction in meteorology, volcanology, ecology, and seismology.