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Theory-laden experimentation

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  • Experimentation
  • History Of Philosophy Of Science
  • History Of Science Case Studies
  • Theory/Observation
  • Philosophy


The thesis of theory-ladenness of observations, in its various guises, is widely considered as either ill-conceived or harmless to the rationality of science. The latter view rests partly on the work of the proponents of New Experimentalism who have argued, among other things, that experimental practices are efficient in guarding against any epistemological threat posed by theory-ladenness. In this paper I show that one can generate a thesis of theory-ladenness for experimental practices from an influential New Experimentalist account. The notion I introduce for this purpose is the concept of ‘theory-driven data reliability judgments’ (TDR), according to which theories which are sought to be tested with a particular set of data guide reliability judgments about those very same data. I provide various prominent historical examples (among others, the confirmation of Einstein’s prediction of star light bending in 1919) to show that TDRs are used by scientists to resolve data conflicts. I argue that the rationality of the practices which employ TDRs can be saved if the independent support of the theories driving TDRs is construed in a particular way.

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