Lessons from the Large Hadron Collider for model-based experimentation: The concept of a model of data acquisition and the scope of the hierarchy of models
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According to the hierarchy of models (HoM) account of scientific experimentation developed by Patrick Suppes and elaborated by Deborah Mayo, theoretical considerations about the phenomena of interest are involved in an experiment through theoretical models that in turn relate to experimental data through data models, via the linkage of experimental models. In this paper, I dispute the HoM account in the context of present-day high-energy physics (HEP) experiments. I argue that even though the HoM account aims to characterize experimentation as a model-based activity, it does not involve a modeling concept for the process of data acquisition and thus fails to provide a model-based characterization of the theory-experiment relationship underlying this process. In order to characterize the foregoing relationship, I propose the concept of a model of data acquisition and illustrate it in the case of the ATLAS experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, where the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012. I show that the process of data acquisition in the ATLAS experiment is performed according to a model of data acquisition that specifies and organizes the experimental procedures necessary to select the data according to a predetermined set of selection criteria. I also point out that this data acquisition model is theory-laden, in the sense that the underlying data selection criteria are determined in accordance with the testable predictions of the theoretical models that the ATLAS experiment is aimed to test. I take the foregoing theory-ladenness to indicate that the relationship between the procedures of the ATLAS experiment and the theoretical models of the phenomena of interest is first established, prior to the formation of data models, through the data acquisition model of the experiment, thus not requiring the intermediary of other types of models as suggested by the HoM account. I therefore conclude that in the context of HEP experiments, the HoM account does not consistently extend to the process of data acquisition so as to include models of data acquisition.