Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 981–1004 | Cite as

Evidence in biology and the conditions of success

  • Jacob Stegenga


I describe two traditions of philosophical accounts of evidence: one characterizes the notion in terms of signs of success, the other characterizes the notion in terms of conditions of success. The best examples of the former rely on the probability calculus, and have the virtues of generality and theoretical simplicity. The best examples of the latter describe the features of evidence which scientists appeal to in practice, which include general features of methods, such as quality and relevance, and general features of evidence, such as patterns in data, concordance with other evidence, and believability of the evidence. Two infamous episodes from biomedical research help to illustrate these features. Philosophical characterization of these latter features—conditions of success—has the virtue of potential relevance to, and descriptive accuracy of, practices of experimental scientists.


Evidence Experiment Confirmation Error Robustness Avery Water memory Benveniste Methodology 



Financial support was provided by the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships Program administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I am grateful for commentary from Nancy Cartwright, Eran Tal, Boaz Miller, Deborah Mayo, and two anonymous reviewers, and for discussion with audiences at the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science, the University of California San Diego, and the University of Pittsburgh.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, Victoria CollegeUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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