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As a scientist and philosopher, I've increasingly noticed a failure in my learnings related to how data may be qualified as evidence in support of a theory. It appears that in any effort to qualify data that has been experimentally collected as evidence in order to support or refute a scientific theory, there is the possibility that the qualification could be erroneous. As I have personally mulled over the problem of the criterion, I have concluded that the validity of any evaluation of data as evidence becomes dependent on what would be used as a criterion to qualify the data as evidence. It seems that there is never support for arguing one theory to be plausible in comparison to any other theory because of the inability to provide definitive evidential support for a theory.

But, I've never seen any philosophers ever discuss these matters in the philosophy of science. I'm interested if any philosopher of science has.

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    The underdetermination of a theory by evidence, the theory-ladenness of observation, and the (in)commensurability of scientific theories are the closest subtopics to the one you've brought up, as far as I know. Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 17:21

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You say:

It appears that in any effort to qualify data that has been experimentally collected as evidence in order to support or refute a scientific theory, there is the possibility that the qualification could be erroneous.

Yes. A modern understanding of evidentialism doesn't deviate from a fallibilistic interpretation of epistemological truths. In fact, the take away from the post-positivist effort to completely objectify observation is that empirical data, a form of observation is theory laden. From WP:

Semantic theory-ladenness refers to the impact of theoretical assumptions on the meaning of observational terms while perceptual theory-ladenness refers to their impact on the perceptual experience itself. Theory-ladenness is also relevant for measurement outcomes: the data thus acquired may be said to be theory-laden since it is meaningless by itself unless interpreted as the outcome of the measurement processes involved.

Therefore, theory-ladenness goes beyond the mere potential of the introduction of error; fundamentally, all qualification and quantification is inherently normative and must be understood in the great context of the theories it is employed in, which brings us to the Duhem-Quine thesis. From WP:

In philosophy of science, the Duhem–Quine thesis, also called the Duhem–Quine problem, posits that it is impossible to experimentally test a scientific hypothesis in isolation, because an empirical test of the hypothesis requires one or more background assumptions (also called auxiliary assumptions or auxiliary hypotheses): the thesis says that unambiguous scientific falsifications are impossible.

You say:

It seems that there is never support for arguing one theory to be plausible in comparison to any other theory because of the inability to provide definitive evidential support for a theory.

This of course is the underdetermination thesis. From WP:

[U]nderdetermination or the underdetermination of theory by data (sometimes abbreviated UTD) is the idea that evidence available to us at a given time may be insufficient to determine what beliefs we should hold in response to it. The underdetermination thesis says that all evidence necessarily underdetermines any scientific theory.

So, what seems to be the modern stance in philosophy of science is the idea that human beings fallibly introduce normativity into observations, both linguistic and through measurement, by choosing what and how to describe and measure. When done well, peer review helps to minimize and shape the nature of errors and choices, but even when done highly competently, the theoretical paradigm in which a science conducts its business helps to determine the results of the research by providing a bundle of hypotheses and theories in which the work must be evaluated. Of course, Popper famously argued that neither verification nor confirmation settles the matter with demonstrative logic (deductively valid), but rather in a coherentist spirit, scientific research is falsified. From WP:

Popper contrasted falsifiability to the intuitively similar concept of verifiability that was then current in logical positivism. His argument goes that the only way to verify a claim such as "All swans are white" would be if one could theoretically observe all swans, which is not possible. Instead, falsifiability searches for the anomalous instance, such that observing a single black swan is theoretically reasonable and sufficient to logically falsify the claim. On the other hand, the Duhem–Quine thesis says that definitive experimental falsifications are impossible and that no scientific hypothesis is by itself capable of making predictions, because an empirical test of the hypothesis requires one or more background assumptions.

So the sciences suffer from a tension between the probabilistic and inductive methods of math and logic which attempts to confirm, and the certain and deductive methods of math and logic which attempts to disconfirm. And all of this happens in a broader linguistic and social framework as later Kuhn argues reasonably in his Structures of Scientific Revolutions where primacy is necessarily afforded to defeasible (SEP) and parsimonious inference to best explanation.

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Theories are all approximations that explain evidence, not the other way around. And theories are often just math (math is exact, science isn't). A hypothesis is an expectation of evidence that can thus be disproven by evidence. What constitutes useful evidence is just that, being useful and reproducible, just like theories, useful enough approximations. Science is all about being good enough for now, and is rarely disproven. All science ever says is, 'based on the limited evidence we have now, this how much we understand at the moment'. You can't prove that wrong, that is how much they understood based on evidence they had. Being disproven just happens when parts of a field are dishonest (historically, like due to racism). For the most part, it's the only field where honesty is enforced, through peer review. When new evidence is found, the theories change, and the approximations become more precise, that's all.

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