A Case Study in Experimental Exploration: Exploratory Data Selection at the Large Hadron Collider
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In this paper, I propose an account that accommodates the possibility of experimentation’s being exploratory in cases where the procedures necessary to plan and perform an experiment are dependent on the theoretical accounts of the phenomena under investigation. The present account suggests that experimental exploration requires the implementation of an exploratory procedure that serves to extend the range of possible outcomes of an experiment, thereby enabling it to pursue its objectives. Furthermore, I argue that the present account subsumes the notion of exploratory experimentation, which is often attributed in the relevant literature to the works of Friedrich Steinle and Richard Burian, as a particular type of experimental exploration carried out in the special cases where no well-formed theoretical framework of the phenomena under investigation (yet) exists. I illustrate the present account in the context of the ATLAS experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, where the long-sought Higgs boson has been discovered in 2012. I argue that the data selection procedure carried out in the ATLAS experiment illustrates an exploratory procedure in the sense suggested by the present account. I point out that this particular data selection procedure is theory-laden in that its implementation is crucially dependent on the theoretical models of high energy particle physics which the ATLAS experiment is aimed to test. However, I argue that the foregoing procedure is not driven by the above-mentioned theoretical models, but rather by a particular data selection strategy. I conclude that the ATLAS experiment illustrates that, contrary to what previous studies have suggested, there are cases of experimentation in which exploration serves to test theoretical predictions and that theory-ladenness plays an essential role in experimentation’s being exploratory.