Philosophy Science

Remember “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”?

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Always used to attack any traditional assumption, never used to attack nonsense, no matter how scofffable, talked in Darwin’s name.

Western Michigan University philosopher Tim McGrew offers some thoughts on evidence, forthcoming in an anthology from Routledge:

In the case of scientific evidence, it is important to remember that inference is almost always accompanied by a certain amount of interpretation. The case of Boyle’s Law illustrates this well. By pouring measured amounts of mercury into a J shaped tube, Boyle was able to obtain data on the compression of the air trapped in the short end. From his data, he concluded that the pressure and the volume vary inversely, that is to say, that P and 1/V are in a linear relationship. But Boyle’s data points, if plotted with P and 1/V for axes, do not fall on this line: a dot-to-dot connection of the points looks a bit like the Mississippi River. Boyle was aware of this and dismissed the variations between his measurements and the theoretical values as the product of error. Today, using regression analysis, we can vindicate his judgment (within bounds – when the pressure is great enough to liquefy the air, the relationship between P and 1/V ceases to be even approximately linear); but the fact remains that the data do not quite speak for themselves. This point tells against a naive form of falsificationism according to which even the slightest mismatch between theory and evidence suffices to overturn a theory. But it is a grave exaggeration to claim, as some social constructivists have done, that the existence of an interpretive dimension to scientific inference undermines the objectivity of science. (Bloor and Edge 1998)

More here.

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