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The Strong and Weak Senses of Theory-Ladenness of Experimentation: Theory-Driven versus Exploratory Experiments in the History of High-Energy Particle Physics

Karaca, Koray (2012) The Strong and Weak Senses of Theory-Ladenness of Experimentation: Theory-Driven versus Exploratory Experiments in the History of High-Energy Particle Physics. [Preprint]

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    Abstract

    In the theory-dominated view of scientific experimentation, all relations of theory and experiment are taken on a par; namely, that experiments are performed solely to ascertain the conclusions of scientific theories. As a result, different aspects of experimentation and of the relation of theory to experiment remain undifferentiated. This in turn fosters a notion of theory-ladenness of experimentation (TLE) that is too coarse-grained to accurately describe the relations of theory and experiment in scientific practice. By contrast, in this article, I suggest that TLE should be understood as an umbrella concept that has different senses. To this end, I introduce a three-fold distinction among the theories of high-energy particle physics (HEP) as background theories, model theories and phenomenological models. Drawing on this categorization, I contrast two types of experimentation, namely, “theory-driven” and “exploratory” experiments, and I distinguish between the “weak” and “strong” senses of TLE in the context of scattering experiments from the history of HEP. This distinction enables to identify the exploratory character of the deep-inelastic electron-proton scattering experiments—performed at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) between the years 1967 and 1973—thereby shedding light on a crucial phase of the history of HEP, namely, the discovery of “scaling”, which was the decisive step towards the construction of quantum chromo-dynamics (QCD) as a gauge theory of strong interactions.


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    Item Type: Preprint
    Additional Information: Accepted for publication in Science in Context
    Keywords: scientific experimentation; theory-ladenness; exploratory experimentation; SLAC deep-inelastic scattering experiments; particle physics; quantum field theory; S-matrix theory; Regge theory; Bjorken's scaling hypothesis; Feynman's parton model; quarks; QCD.
    Subjects: General Issues > Experimentation
    Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
    General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
    General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
    Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
    General Issues > Structure of Theories
    Specific Sciences > Physics > Symmetries/Invariances
    General Issues > Theory Change
    General Issues > Theory/Observation
    Depositing User: Koray Karaca
    Date Deposited: 28 Jul 2012 12:26
    Last Modified: 28 Jul 2012 12:26
    Item ID: 9251
    URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/9251

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