Bogen and Woodward's data-phenomena distinction, forms of theory-ladenness, and the reliability of data

Synthese 182 (1):39-55 (2011)
Abstract
Some twenty years ago, Bogen and Woodward challenged one of the fundamental assumptions of the received view, namely the theory-observation dichotomy and argued for the introduction of the further category of scientific phenomena. The latter, Bogen and Woodward stressed, are usually unobservable and inferred from what is indeed observable, namely scientific data. Crucially, Bogen and Woodward claimed that theories predict and explain phenomena, but not data. But then, of course, the thesis of theory-ladenness, which has it that our observations are influenced by the theories we hold, cannot apply. On the basis of two case studies, I want to show that this consequence of Bogen and Woodward’s account is rather unrealistic. More importantly, I also object against Bogen and Woodward’s view that the reliability of data, which constitutes the precondition for data-to-phenomena inferences, can be secured without the theory one seeks to test. The case studies I revisit have figured heavily in the publications of Bogen and Woodward and others: the discovery of weak neutral currents and the discovery of the zebra pattern of magnetic anomalies. I show that, in the latter case, data can be ignored if they appear to be irrelevant from a particular theoretical perspective (TLI) and that, in the former case, the tested theory can be critical for the assessment of the reliability of the data (TLA). I argue that both TLI and TLA are much stronger senses of theory-ladenness than the classical thesis and that neither TLI nor TLA can be accommodated within Bogen and Woodward’s account
Keywords Data  Phenomena  Bogen and Woodward  Reliability  Theory-ladenness
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