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What is Pessimistic Induction?

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Pessimistic induction is an argument that points to the history of science and the tendency for accepted ideas to change with time. This is typically used as an argument against scientific realism. For example, a scientific realist might say that a pesticide isn't a health concern because it was studied and deemed reasonably safe by a government study. Pessimistic induction could be used to point out that a particular government has a history of approving chemicals as safe that were revealed to cause health issues decades later.

Half-Life of Knowledge

Every subject, profession and industry goes through a process of knowledge discovery that results in a turnover of ideas known as the half-life of knowledge. Some ideas accepted today will become obsolete or be disproven with time.
Pessimistic induction points to the fact that historically speaking, decisions based on well-accepted knowledge would often be wrong. If you made all of your decisions based on complete faith in science in the year 1900, some of your decisions would be off.

Practical Considerations

It is impractical to distrust all knowledge on the assumption that the future will disprove it. As such, pessimistic induction isn't typically considered a strong or insightful argument. Nevertheless, it may have some value in supporting ideas such as the precautionary principle.
Overview: Pessimistic Induction
An argument that points to the history of accepted ideas being disproven with time.
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An overview of pessimistic induction.

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