Why experiments matter*

Adrian Currie, Arnon Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Experimentation is traditionally considered a privileged means of confirmation. However, why and how experiments form a better confirmatory source relative to other strategies is unclear, and recent discussions have identified experiments with various modeling strategies on the one hand, and with ‘natural’ experiments on the other hand. We argue that experiments aiming to test theories are best understood as controlled investigations of specimens. ‘Control’ involves repeated, fine-grained causal manipulation of focal properties. This capacity generates rich knowledge of the object investigated. ‘Specimenhood’ involves possessing relevant properties given the investigative target and the hypothesis in question. Specimens are thus representative members of a class of systems, to which a hypothesis refers. It is in virtue of both control and specimenhood that experiments provide powerful confirmatory evidence. This explains the distinctive power of experiments: although modelers exert extensive control, they do not exert this control over specimens; although natural experiments utilize specimens, control is diminished.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1066-1090
Number of pages25
JournalInquiry (United Kingdom)
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - 26 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Experiments
  • confirmation
  • modeling
  • natural experiments
  • specimens


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