Inductive predictions in biology

Is biology able to formulate general laws and develop inductive predictions as in physics or chemistry?

The possibility of using prediction in biology as an inductive method is hampered by the lack of fundamental laws that can be formulated mathematically. As a consequence, biological induction is based mainly on generalization after hypothesis testing, an approach that has also been called accommodation.

Contrastingly, inductive predictions, as used in physics or chemistry, are formulated before the desired empirical evidence, which is actually the target of the prediction, is available. Physicochemical laws are viewed as immutable rules, and knowledge advances by finding the evidence needed to fulfill these laws.

There is nothing intrinsically good or bad in inductive prediction and accommodating generalization per se, and different scientific disciplines may have diverse procedures, depending on the nature of the part of the world they study.

It could be asked why biologists need to imitate conceptual methodologies of other scientific disciplines such as physics, chemistry, or mathematics and compulsively seek fundamental laws.

The advances in biological knowledge using these accommodating procedures are plentiful and evident. What if, after all, fundamental laws only work for submolecular and astronomical worlds and life is a disturbing anomaly in between?

Read the full discussion in:

Rull, V. 2022. On predictions and laws in biological evolution. EMBO Reports, 23: e54392.

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Posted in My publications, Science, Society

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