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Brad Wray publishes "Discarded Theories: The role of changing interests"

Synthese, vol. 196, issue 2 (February 2019)

2019.03.14 | Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen

Abstract

I take another look at the history of science and offer some fresh insights into why the history of science is filled with discarded theories. I argue that the history of science is just as we should expect it to be, given the following two facts about science: (i) theories are always only partial representations of the world, and (ii) almost inevitably scientists will be led to investigate phenomena that the accepted theory is not fit to account for. Together these facts suggest that most scientific theories are apt to be discarded sometime, superseded by new theories that better serve scientists’ new research interests. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect that many of the theories we currently accept, despite their many impressive successes, will be discarded sometime in the future. But I also argue that discarded theories are not always aptly characterized as a sign of failure or as a sign of some sort of shortcoming with science. Theories are discarded because scientists are making advances in their pursuit of knowledge. Thus, discarded theories are often a sign of the good health of science. Scientists are responding to their changing research interests.

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