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Here is the sentence

... let us call the relevant, overall sets of scientific belief ‘theories’; different, conflicting theories are consistent with the data; the data exhaust the evidence for belief; therefore, there is no evidential reason to believe one of these theories as opposed to another.

What is the meaning of this (should I say subsentence?) 'the data exhaust the evidence for belief'?

Should that have been 'the data exhausts the evidence for belief'? If so, I think what it means is that the existent data is completely fulfilling, or sufficient enough only for our belief. But then, it doesn't seem to fit the context of the argument as a whole. Maybe I'm missing something!

Here's the link from where the sentence is snipped - http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-realism/#UndTheDat

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The data is/data are issue (covered before on ELU) makes no different to the meaning here, which depends solely on the specific usage of to exhaust - defined by OED as...

To draw out all that is essential or interesting in (an object of investigation or exposition); to treat or study (a subject) so as to leave nothing further to be explained or discovered.

That's to say, the writer claims that where the available data is consistent with multiple conflicting theories, we can't use it to discover "truth" (i.e. - to decide which theory to believe).

  • Ah right! I got confused with 'data'. Well, thanks for the additional commentary! – aksci Dec 10 '13 at 18:02
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In this sense "exhausted" means "used up" or "depleted", there is no further evidence offered.

The reason that it is confusing is that in this article, data is being used in it's plural form. It is like saying "the miners exhaust the seam of gold" but because we usually treat data as though it means a single thing, this particular usage is superficially strange.

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