Incommensurability and theory comparison in experimental biology

Biology and Philosophy 17 (2):155-169 (2002)
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.
Keywords Philosophy   Philosophy of Biology   Evolutionary Biology
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DOI 10.1023/A:1015286709491
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Maureen A. O'Malley & Yan Boucher (2005). Paradigm Change in Evolutionary Microbiology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 36 (1):183-208.
Maureen A. O’Malley & Yan Boucher (2005). Paradigm Change in Evolutionary Microbiology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (1):183-208.

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