In defense of experimental data in a relativistic milieu

(1995)
Abstract
The objectivity and utility of experimental data as evidential support for knowledge-claims may be found suspect when it is shown that (a) the interpretation of experimental data is inevitably complicated by social factors like experimenter effects, subject effects and demand characteristics, (b) social factors which affect experimental data are themselves sensitive to societal conventions or cultural values, (c) all observations (including experimental observations) are necessarily theory-dependent, and (d) experimental data have limited generality because they are collected in artificial settings. These critiques of experimental data are answered by showing that (i) not all empirical studies are experiments, (ii) experimental methodology is developed to exclude alternate interpretations of data (including explanations in terms of social influences), (iii) theoretical disputes and their settlement take place in the context of a particular frame of reference, and (iv) objectivity can be achieved with observations neutral to the to-be-corroborated theory despite theory-dependent observations if distinctions are made (a) between prior observation and evidential observation and (b) between a to-be-corroborated theory and the theory underlying the identity of evidential response.
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