Public Talk: 1 Mar 2012, 2-4pm, AS7 Executive Seminar Room; Speaker: Dr. Grant Fisher, Associate Professor of Philosophy of Science and Affiliate Professor in the Graduate School of Science and Technology Policy at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Daejeon, South Korea.
In this talk I investigate the interplay of models and approximation methods amid scientific controversy in the recent history of physical organic chemistry. In the mid-1960’s, qualitative orbital symmetry models rationalised a number of previously unrelated organic reactions and provided crucial resources to predict their outcomes. The models and the quantitative approximations that were later able to reproduce the model predictions become a focus of controversies that raged in physical organic chemistry in the late twentieth century. These controversies were pitched both at the level of models and methods of approximation to fundamental physical theory. I argue that while qualitative orbital symmetry models were in dispute, they offered a unique perspective for the independent criticism of theoreticians’ approximation methods. Qualitative models were independent of any procedure of quantitative approximation and performed a “mediating” function by determining standards of approximation legitimacy. I use this case to probe some of the problems of model assessment within the models as mediators account. The case of orbital symmetry models seems to suggest a degree of scientific and meta-scientific convergence on the issue of understanding. I argue we should regard scientific understanding as a legitimate epistemic criterion for the assessment of models.
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