ON THE ROLE OF METAPHYSICS AND MATHEMATICS IN THE REPLICATION CRISIS
The replicability of measurements plays a foundational role in scientific enterprise, as it is usually regarded as one of the criteria demarcating science from pseudo-science. It is hard to overestimate its value: it ensures reliable, objective science, it allows transparent communication, enables collaboration across scientific communities and fosters rapid scientific progress.
In recent years, however, we have witnessed an increasing preoccupation of the scientific community with the weakening role of replicability in science. According to a survey in Nature (Baker 2016), 90% of the 1500 respondents declared that they are significantly or slightly concerned about the replicability of measurements presented in the scientific literature. This worry is well motivated by other results of the same survey, in which 70% of the respondents declared that they failed to replicate at least one scientific experiment presented in the literature and 50% of them even admitted to having failed to replicate at least one of their own experiments. This progressive heedlessness toward replicability and the apparent spawning of non-replicable measurements have led to the belief that science is now facing a replication crisis (Baker 2016).
The replication crisis is a complex problem that features different components, such as a lack of transparency of scientific reports on measurements that makes it is impossible to replicate them, the aforementioned absence of replication studies that confirm previous measurements and the increase in questionable, unrepeatable ‘scientific’ practices.
The urge to write a philosophical project on the replication crisis stems from the P.I.’s realization that whilst there is a growing awareness of this problem, such that it has become the subject of persistent sociological analyses and has gained popularity within each scientific discipline, this topic surprisingly has not yet become a consolidated stream of research in the philosophical community.
Exceptions of course are there to be found. First of all, there are two loci where this topic has gained the attention of philosophers: in the recently-published entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia, The Reproducibilty of Scientific Results, and in a topical collection edited by Prof. Jan Sprenger and Dr. Mattia Andreoletti, which is still under preparation. Other notable works in the field of reproducibility are by Norton (2014), Leonelli (2018), Feest (2018) and Love (2019). However, their goal was to inquire into the epistemic significance of replicability as an epistemic principle. In contrast, this project, although it will start in following their steps and contributing to the stream of research they have initiated, will also provide a fresh reconstruction of the problem of replicability from a metaphysical perspective by exposing the debate to key metaphysical issues that, according to the P.I., are central to the problem of repeatability, in particular the metaphysical debates on scientific theories, measurements and models. This will shed new light upon the dependence of the concept of replicability on metaphysical issues and on the mathematical language in which scientific theories and models are formulated.