The Crux of Crucial Experiments: Confirmation in Molecular Biology

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Weber, Marcel
conference paper description
I defend the view that single experiments can provide a sufficient reason for preferring one among a group of hypotheses against the widely held belief that “crucial experiments” are impossible. My argument is based on the examination of a historical case from molecular biology, namely the Meselson-Stahl experiment. “The most beautiful experiment in biology”, as it is known, provided the first experimental evidence for the operation of a semi-conservative mechanism of DNA replication, as predicted by Watson and Crick in 1953. I use a mechanistic account of explanation to show that this case is best construed as an inference to the best explanation (IBE). Furthermore, I show how such an account can deal with Duhem's well-known arguments against crucial experiments as well as Van Fraassen's “bad lot” argument against IBE.