Archive for December 2nd, 2011

December 2, 2011

Is data theory laden?

by Neil Rickert

To say that data is theory laden is to say that what is observed (what data is acquired) is influenced by the scientific theory being assumed while making those observations.  There is a discussion of theory ladeness of data in the SEP article on observation, and in a web page on N. Hanson and his ideas on the issue.  It is also mentioned in the Wikipedia page on philosophy of science.

To me, it seems obvious that much scientific data is theory laden.  However, it turns out that the idea of theory ladeness of data is controversial.  When I look at the web page that I linked above, I can see why it is considered controversial.  Apparently, philosophers tend to look at theory ladeness of data as an example of cognitive bias that might cast doubt on the science.  I see that as a mistaken way of looking at it.  In this post, I plan to discuss why theory ladeness is to be expected, based on the way that science works.

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