Data, Theory, and Scientific Belief in Early Molecular Biology

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Motivated by the contradictory arguments about the relationship between data and theory in science, such as the holistic, data relativizing Duhem/ Quine thesis of the underdetermination of theory by data, and a new empiricism, according to which the availability of large amounts of data is a sufficient basis for objective science, I analyze, both historically and conceptually, the generation of two highly important conflicting theories in early molecular biology: Linus Pauling’s structural and Francis Crick’s informational theory of biological specificity and protein synthesis. My goals are: (1) To explore the relationship between experimental data, knowledge, and theory in Pauling’s and Crick’s theories. (2) To show that both Pauling and Crick based their views on only a few, and almost the same, experimental data, evaluating them, however, from the different perspectives of structural chemistry and informational biology. (3) To argue that despite the apparent equivalence of data, the theories themselves were not equivalent, scientific theory choice was possible on the basis of knowledge beyond the direct experimental data, and that in general data does not speak for itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-46
Number of pages22
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • protein synthesis
  • sequence hypothesis
  • subjectivity
  • template theories
  • underdetermination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)
  • Philosophy


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