Inductive reasoning is a common part scientific decision making.
DEFINITION: Inductive reasoning constructs arguments that are "knowledge expanding." Knowledge expanding means that conclusions of arguments exceed the sphere of the premises (Okasha, 2016). In experimental science, inductive reasoning typically involves generalizing based on a set of observations (although other forms of induction are possible; Moore and Parker, 2017).
Inductive reasoning has long been a part of scientific inquiry (Bacon, 1620). However, critics have questioned whether inductive reasoning should be used to defend scientific conclusions (Popper, 1959). Inductive reasoning is not truth preserving, and inductive arguments cannot be "valid" or "sound." Therefore, inductive reasoning cannot lead to definitive conclusions like valid deductive arguments can.
Nevertheless, inductive reasoning continues to be used widely in science (Okasha, 2016). Inductive reasoning is important for several reasons. First, scientists, engineers, policy-makers and others often must make evidence-based decisions based on existing information. It may not be possible for decision-makers to wait for critical experiments to reject alternative hypotheses and deductively converge on strongly-supported models. Second, it may simply not be possible to enumerate and clearly test all necessary alternative hypotheses (O'Donohue and Buchanan, 2001). Scientists may not have the required conceptual or experimental frameworks or capability to perform experiments that can discriminate between alternatives. Third, science may benefit from a diversity of approaches (O'Donohue and Buchanan, 2001). Scientific discoveries may sometimes emerge from departures from the hypothetico-deductive system exemplified by Strong Inference.
Inductive reasoning can also help to clarify the logic and presentation of individual studies. Three specific uses for Inductive reasoning are to:
1) Generate General Hypotheses to test deductively.
2) Resolve conflicts among data and weigh evidence to defend results.
3) Support General Hypotheses that no single experiment can test.
The Introduction and Discussion sections will explain each of the three specific uses for inductive reasoning in more detail. In both the Introduction and the Discussion, using specific frameworks can help to structure inductive reasoning.