Newton’s inferences from phenomena realize an ideal of
empirical success that’s richer than prediction. To realize Newton’s richer
conception of empirical success a theory needs to do more than to accurately
predict the phenomena it purports to explain: in addition it needs to have the
phenomena accurately measure parameters of the theory. Newton’s method aims to
turn theoretical questions into ones which can be empirically answered by
measurements from phenomena.
Propositions inferred from phenomena are provisionally
accepted as guides to further research.
Newton’s ideal of empirical success as agreeing
measurements from diverse phenomena is appealed to in support of the radical
inference to dark energy in cosmology today. Robert Kirshner (two of his PhDs
share one half of 2011’s Nobel Prize in physics) gave an account of the role of
cosmic microwave background measurements, to back up the supernova measurements
and measurements from galaxy clustering in supporting the transition of dark
energy from a wild hypothesis into an accepted background assumption that
guides further research in cosmology today. This illustrates a feature of
agreeing measurements from diverse phenomena that is especially important for
turning data into evidence. To the extent that the sources of systematic error
of the different measurements can be regarded as independent, their agreement
contributes additional support for counting them as accurate rather than as
mere artifacts of systematic error.