Speaker: Nora Boyd (Pittsburgh University)
Title: Evidence Enriched
Abstract: Good scientific theories should be consistent with all of the available evidence. Unfortunately, standard accounts of evidence fail to accommodate this prescription. Philosophers of science often represent evidence as detached from the manner in which it was produced. However, bare results are conditioned on myriad presuppositions introduced in data collection, processing, and interpretation. The conditioned nature of empirical results needs to be adequately represented in philosophical accounts of science in practice. I suggest that concerns about the theory-ladenness and incommensurability are symptoms of detached views of evidence. If theory-laden results were used to constrain theories for which they were mal-adapted, then scientists would risk mistaken adjudications of the empirical viability of those theories. If results unshakably calcify the commitments of the paradigm in which they were generated, then they are doomed to perish with it. This loss of evidence would pose an epistemic risk also insofar as any abandoned evidence haunts subsequent theories as an un-checked liability. I argue that these concerns can be dissolved by adopting a non-detached view of empirical evidence. Enriching our conception of evidence to include auxiliary information about the manner in which results are produced makes sense of how results can be repurposed across diverse theoretical contexts. I illustrate this conception of evidence with an example from astrophysics: the observations of the Hulse-Taylor pulsar in the 1980s that were interpreted as the first indirect evidence for gravitational radiation. Evidence, in the purposed sense, is both riddled with theory and genuinely cumulative.
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