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But that is what we would expect to find if children who are prone to violence tend to enjoy and seek out cartoons more than other children, or if propensities to violence and increased cartoon viewing are both caused by some third factor (like general parental neglect or excessive consumption of Twinkies).
But it turns out that this simple and familiar predicament only scratches the surface of the various ways in which problems of underdetermination can arise in the course of scientific investigation.
The scope of the epistemic challenge arising from underdetermination is not limited only to scientific contexts, as is perhaps most readily seen in classical skeptical attacks on our knowledge more generally.
Likewise, Nelson Goodman’s (1955) “New Riddle of Induction” turns on the idea that the evidence we now have could equally well be taken to support inductive generalizations quite different from those we usually take them to support, with radically different consequences for the course of future events.
Nonetheless, underdetermination has been thought to arise in scientific contexts in a variety of distinctive and important ways that do not simply recreate such radically skeptical possibilities. Quine suggested that such challenges applied not only to the confirmation of all types of scientific theories, but to all knowledge claims whatsoever, and his incorporation and further development of these problems as part of a general account of human knowledge was one of the most significant developments of 20 Century epistemology.
For this reason, Duhem argues, when an empirical prediction turns out to be falsified, we do not know whether the fault lies with the hypothesis we originally sought to test or with one of the many other beliefs and hypotheses that were also needed and used to generate the failed prediction: A physicist decides to demonstrate the inaccuracy of a proposition; in order to deduce from this proposition the prediction of a phenomenon and institute the experiment which is to show whether this phenomenon is or is not produced, in order to interpret the results of this experiment and establish that the predicted phenomenon is not produced, he does not confine himself to making use of the proposition in question; he makes use also of a whole group of theories accepted by him as beyond dispute.
The prediction of the phenomenon, whose nonproduction is to cut off debate, does not derive from the proposition challenged if taken by itself, but from the proposition at issue joined to that whole group of theories; if the predicted phenomenon is not produced, the only thing the experiment teaches us is that among the propositions used to predict the phenomenon and to establish whether it would be produced, there is at least one error; but where this error lies is just what it does not tell us.
But in condemning this system as a whole by declaring it stained with error, the experiment does not tell us where the error lies.
Is it in the fundamental hypothesis that light consists in projectiles thrown out with great speed by luminous bodies?
A simple scientific example can be found in the rationale behind the sensible methodological adage that “correlation does not imply causation”.
If watching lots of cartoons causes children to be more violent in their playground behavior, then we should (barring complications) expect to find a correlation between levels of cartoon viewing and violent playground behavior.