Theory-ladenness of evidence: A case study from history of chemistry

This paper attempts to argue for the theory-ladenness of evidence. It does so by employing and analysing an episode from the history of eighteenth century chemistry. It delineates attempts by Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier to construct entirely different kinds of evidence for and against a particular hypothesis from a set of agreed upon observations or (raw) data. Based on an augmented version of a distinction, drawn by J. Bogen and J. Woodward, between data and phenomena it is shown that the role of theoretical auxiliary assumptions is very important in constructing evidence for (or against) a theory from observation or (raw) data. In revolutionary situations, rival groups hold radically different theories and theoretical auxiliary assumptions. These are employed to construct very different evidence from the agreed upon set of observations or (raw) data. Hence, theory resolution becomes difficult. It is argued that evidence construction is a multi-layered exercise and can be disputed at any level. What counts as unproblematic observation or (raw) data at one level may become problematic at another level. The contingency of these constructions and the (un)problematic nature of evidence are shown to be partially dependent upon the scientific knowledge that the scientific community possesses.
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