Biological Theory

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 200–211 | Cite as

Sensory Measurements: Coordination and Standardization

  • Ann-Sophie BarwichEmail author
  • Hasok Chang
Thematic Issue Article: Quality & Quantity


Do sensory measurements deserve the label of “measurement”? We argue that they do. They fit with an epistemological view of measurement held in current philosophy of science, and they face the same kinds of epistemological challenges as physical measurements do: the problem of coordination and the problem of standardization. These problems are addressed through the process of “epistemic iteration,” for all measurements. We also argue for distinguishing the problem of standardization from the problem of coordination. To exemplify our claims, we draw on olfactory performance tests, especially studies linking olfactory decline to neurodegenerative disorders.


Circularity Coordination Epistemic iteration Measurement Olfaction Psychophysics Reliability Sensory perception Standardization 



This paper has benefitted greatly from comments on previous versions by Olivier Morin, Ingvar Johansson, John Dupré, Stuart Firestein, and two reviewers for the journal. Andreas Keller kindly answered our questions about recent developments in olfactory psychophysics. The work was made possible by funding from the KLI Institute. Special gratitude belongs to Werner Callebaut (†), a dearly missed cartographer of knowledge.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Science and SocietyColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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