Data meet theories: Up close and personal

Jim Bogen and James Woodward’s ‘Saving the Phenomena’, published only twenty years ago, has become a modern classic. Their centrepiece idea is a distinction between data and phenomena. According to them, data are typically the kind of things that are observable or measurable like “bubble chamber photographs, patterns of discharge in electronic particle detectors and records of reaction times and error rates in various psychological experiments” (p. 306). Phenomena are physical processes that are typically unobservable. Examples of the latter category include “weak neutral currents, the decay of the proton, and chunking and recency effects in human memory” (ibid.). Theories, in Bogen and Woodward’s view, are utilised to systematically explain and predict phenomena, not data (pp. 305-306). The relationship between theories and data is rather indirect. Data count as evidence for phenomena and the latter in turn count as evidence for theories. This view has been further elaborated in subsequent papers (see Bogen and Woodward 1992, 2005 and Woodward 1989) and is becoming increasingly influential (e.g. Prajit K. Basu 2003, Stathis Psillos 2004 and Mauricio Suárez 2005). In this paper I argue that in various significant and well-known cases theories accompanied with suitable auxiliary hypotheses are more proximal to observations than Bogen and Woodward would have us believe. This is especially true of cases involving novel predictions.
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