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Strong inference: Rationale or inspiration?


John Platt's article "Strong Inference" (1964) suggested a general and effective method of scientific investigation. It describes a disciplined strategy of falsification of multiple, clearly formulated hypotheses that is used more regularly in some scientific fields than in others. Platt urged that strong inference be more widely and more systematically applied, particularly in slower-moving fields of science. The article has influenced integrative biological fields since its publication, ranging from ecology to psychology, and has had a substantial following in some of the social sciences. It has also evoked severe criticism for its idealization of certain fields as exemplars and for its imperfections in historiography and philosophy of science. I argue here that the article was more an inspirational tract than the development of a formal scientific methodology. Although both Platt's critics and his adherents appeared to take the article far too seriously, its influence has transcended its limitations. © 2006 by The Johns Hopkins University Press.

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