Robustness of Results and Robustness of Derivations: The Internal Architecture of a Solid Experimental Proof

  • Léna SolerEmail author
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 292)


According to Wimsatt’s definition, the robustness of a result is due to its being derivable from multiple, partially independent methods, and increases with the number of such methods. In the case of the experimental sciences, the multiple methods will amount to different types of experiments. But clearly, this holds only if the convergent derivations involved are genuine arguments, that is, if each of them can be considered as sufficiently reliable or solid. Thus, the issue of the robustness of results inevitably leads to a reflection on the solidity of methods. What is, then, that makes a method, and in particular an experimental procedure solid? Despite the possible worries of circularity, part of the answer lies, without doubt, in a sort of reversed formulation of Wimsatt’s definition: the solidity of a method will increase with the number of independent results, previously established as robust, that it will enable to be derived. But this seems to be only a part of the answer. Intuitively at least, it is expected that the solidity of a method could also be linked to specific properties of this method, to features that are more ‘intrinsic’ than the results it allows to derive. In this chapter, I try to probe into the nature of these ‘intrinsic’ characters, through a discussion of an example connected to the discovery of weak neutral currents in particle physics. More precisely, the method that will be investigated is an experimental procedure developed at the beginning of the 1970s, which uses a giant bubble chamber named Gargamelle, and which is commonly believed to have contributed to establishing the existence of weak neutral currents. I analyze the content of the Gargamelle experimental ‘proof’ and bring to light its internal architecture. Then I examine the relations between this architecture and the wimsattian scheme of invariance under multiple determinations. Thereafter, I specify this scheme, and draw some general conclusions about the solidity of methods and results. Finally, some implications with respect to the issues of scientific realism and the contingency of scientific results are sketched.


Visible Track Elementary Scheme Bubble Chamber Modular Unit Visual Argument 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am especially indebted to Emiliano Trizio for multiple helpful feedbacks and extended discussions about the claims of this chapter. I am also grateful to Cathy Dufour, Thomas Nickles and Jacob Stegenga for their useful comments. Finally, many thanks to T. Nickles, J. Stegenga and E. Trizio for their corrections and suggestions of improvement concerning the English language. The end result is, of course, my own responsibility!


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archives H. Poincaré, Laboratoire d’Histoire des Sciences et de PhilosophieUMR 7117 CNRSNancyFrance

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