, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 275-284
Date: 26 Jul 2012

A critique of Weisberg’s view on the periodic table and some speculations on the nature of classifications

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Abstract

This article carefully analyzes a recent paper by Weisberg in which it is claimed that when Mendeleev discovered the periodic table he was not working as a modeler but instead as a theorist. I argue that Weisberg is mistaken in several respects and that the periodic table should be regarded as a classification, not as a theory. In the second part of the article an attempt is made to elevate the status of classifications by suggesting that they provide a form of ‘side-ways explanation’.

This article is being reprinted from a previously published version with a different title. It originally appeared as “Who is a Theorist?”, in the journal Eureka sobre Enseñanza y Divulgación de las Ciencias, 8(3), 231–239, 2011. I am grateful to the editor of the journal, José María Oliva Martinez, for granting me permission to reprint it here. The first oral version of the paper was given at the Oxford Conference which forms the basis of this special issue.