An inferentialist perspective on the coordination of actions and reasons involved in making a statistical inference

Arthur Bakker, Dani Ben-Zvi, Katie Makar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To understand how statistical and other types of reasoning are coordinated with actions to reduce uncertainty, we conducted a case study in vocational education that involved statistical hypothesis testing. We analyzed an intern’s research project in a hospital laboratory in which reducing uncertainties was crucial to make a valid statistical inference. In his project, the intern, Sam, investigated whether patients’ blood could be sent through pneumatic post without influencing the measurement of particular blood components. We asked, in the process of making a statistical inference, how are reasons and actions coordinated to reduce uncertainty? For the analysis, we used the semantic theory of inferentialism, specifically, the concept of webs of reasons and actions—complexes of interconnected reasons for facts and actions; these reasons include premises and conclusions, inferential relations, implications, motives for action, and utility of tools for specific purposes in a particular context. Analysis of interviews with Sam, his supervisor and teacher as well as video data of Sam in the classroom showed that many of Sam’s actions aimed to reduce variability, rule out errors, and thus reduce uncertainties so as to arrive at a valid inference. Interestingly, the decisive factor was not the outcome of a t test but of the reference change value, a clinical chemical measure of analytic and biological variability. With insights from this case study, we expect that students can be better supported in connecting statistics with context and in dealing with uncertainty.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)455-470
Number of pages16
JournalMathematics Education Research Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Inferentialism
  • Laboratory education
  • Statistical inference
  • Uncertainty
  • Vocational education
  • Webs of reasons and actions

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • General Mathematics


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