Incommensurability and theory comparison in experimental biology

Biology and Philosophy 17 (2):155-169 (2002)
Abstract
Incommensurability of scientific theories, as conceived by Thomas Kuhnand Paul Feyerabend, is thought to be a major or even insurmountable obstacletothe empirical comparison of these theories. I examine this problem in light ofaconcrete case from the history of experimental biology, namely the oxidativephosphorylation controversy in biochemistry (ca. 1961-1977). After a briefhistorical exposition, I show that the two main competing theories which werethe subject of the ox-phos controversy instantiate some of the characteristicfeatures of incommensurable theories, namely translation failure,non-corresponding predictions, and different claims about what kinds ofentitiesexist in the world. By examining how the controversy was eventually resolved, Ithen show that at least this pair of incommensurable theories couldneverthelessbe empirically compared.
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