Results, Conclusions, and Underdetermination
I was reading Longino’s “The Fate of Knowledge” today, and I finally think that I have a good grasp on how to use the term “underdetermination”. It was being used in a comparison between sociologists and philosophers of science. The idea that many people in the SSK field have is that the conclusions scientists draw are underdetermined by the results, meaning that the results alone do not lead towards the conclusions drawn. This is a deceptively controversial statement, I guess, because it opens the door for the number of social factors which sociologists declare affect the conclusions of scientists. If there is any underdetermination at all, then other factors must enter into the equation which produces a conclusion.
This doesn’t seem like a very good term. The problem with “underdetermination” is that it introduces a normative element to its subject. If conclusions are underdetermined by results, it is implied that results should be the only factor involved in the drawing of a conclusion. That doesn’t seem right to me; the results of a given study need a context in order for any conclusion to be drawn. Otherwise, the average scientific paper could skip the “conclusion” or “discussion” or whatever and leave off at the “results” section. The idea behind the word “underdetermination” is sound, but I wish the word had a better frame.