Dr. Karim Bschir

As a Branco Weiss fellow, Dr. Karim Bschir's research aims at understanding how science deals with different kinds of uncertainty. He intends to present a classification of scientific uncertainty against the background of a model of predictions in science. He will also analyze to what extent the concept of “potentiality”might be used to address certain interpretational problems in science and natural philosophy.





In his doctoral thesis, Dr. Karim Bschir defended an argument in the debate on scientific realism which claims that we are entitled to accept the existence of the numerous unobservable entities postulated in modern scientific theories to a higher degree than we are entitled to accept our theories about them as true. His analysis included a critique of the sensualist notion of experience of the empiricist tradition showing that, first, this notion does not adequately capture the experimental practice of the natural sciences, that, second, it does not provide a suitable basis for an explanation of our epistemic access to the world, and, third, that it therefore blocks any satisfactory answer to the question of scientific realism.

  • Postdoc-Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and Ethics of Science, Leibniz University Hannover, Germany
  • Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and the Natural Sciences, California State University Sacramento, United States
  • Associated Researcher, Collegium Helveticum Zurich, Switzerland
  • Visitor at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics
  • PhD in Philosophy of Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
  • Diploma in Biochemistry, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Biochemistry and Philosophy, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Major Awards

  • Fellowship for prospective researchers, Swiss National Science Foundation
  • Forschungskredit, University of Zurich

In the News

NZZ: Die Wirklichkeit der Vitamine (Article only available in German)


Society in Science Fellow Since


Research Category

Philosophy of Science

Research Location

Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences, ETH Zurich, Switzerland


Despite its great achievements, science is not always able to provide us with certain knowledge in terms of robust predictions about the future development of highly complex systems such as the global climate, flu pandemics or economic crises, to name just a few. Nevertheless policy-makers rely heavily on scientific results. Accordingly, the handling of uncertainty as well as the way in which scientific uncertainties are communicated to the public is becoming increasingly crucial. Misunderstandings regarding the limitations and fallibility of scientific results are quite often the source of misinterpretations about the nature of science in general. It is therefore of great importance to clarify what scientists mean when they sometimes admit that their results are not absolutely certain. Although the issue of uncertainty is a widely discussed topic in various scientific disciplines, a coherent and comprehensive philosophical theory of uncertainty in science is still missing.

Details of Research

Dr. Karim Bschir's project aims at a classification of different kinds of scientific uncertainties against the background of a model of predictions in science. The working hypothesis of the project holds that we can distinguish at least three genuine kinds of uncertainty in science each affecting another step within the prediction process: 1) Statistical uncertainty (due to the imprecision of data used in the prediction), 2) Theoretical uncertainty (due to fundamental errors in the theories or models underlying the prediction, and 3) Ontological uncertainty (due to the non-deterministic behavior of the system under scrutiny). To be sure, the third kind of uncertainty is the most interesting one from a philosophical point of view, since it is not clear at all whether it makes sense to speak of “non-deterministic systems”in the first place. Rather, the non-deterministic or chance-like behavior that we sometimes seem to find in nature must be seen as a feature of the theoretical descriptions that we apply in these cases. The question then becomes how to interpret non-deterministic theories. The project also analyzes role that the old philosophical concept of “potentiality”might play in this context.