Diagrams can serve as representational models in scientific research, yet important questions remain about how they do so. I address some of these questions with a historical case study, in which diagrams were modified extensively in order to elaborate an early hypothesis of protein synthesis. The diagrams’ modelling role relied mainly on two features: diagrams were modified according to syntactic rules, which temporarily replaced physico-chemical reasoning, and diagram-to-target inferences were based on semantic interpretations. I then explore the lessons for the relative roles of syntax, semantics, external marks, and mental images, for justifying diagram-to-target inferences, and for the “artefactual approach” to scientific models.
Bibliographical noteAn earlier version of this paper was presented at two workshops in 2016 (“Many Methods, One Biology?”, Munich, and “Representing Scientific Results”, Kassel). I thank participants for stimulating discussions. Special thanks to Christian Joas, Tilmann Massey, Robert Meunier, Kärin Nickelsen, and Raphael Scholl. I would also like to acknowledge the helpful comments by three anonymous reviewers. Springer/Nature and Elsevier granted permissions to reproduce copyrighted material.
Data Availability StatementThe online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-
019-02239-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
- Representational models
- Mental images
- Physical models
- Syntactic symbol manipulation
- George Gamow
- Francis Crick
- Protein synthesis
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