Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 155–180

Must scientific diagrams be eliminable? The case of path analysis

  • James R. Griesemer


Scientists use a variety of modes of representation in their work, but philosophers have studied mainly sentences expressing propositions. I ask whether diagrams are mere conveniences in expressing propositions or whether they are a distinct, ineliminable mode of representation in scientific texts. The case of path analysis, a statistical method for quantitatively assessing the relative degree of causal determination of variation as expressed in a causal path diagram, is discussed. Path analysis presents a worst case for arguments against eliminability since path diagrams are usually presumed to be mathematically or logically “equivalent” in an important sense to sets of linear path equations. I argue that path diagrams are strongly generative, i.e., that they add analytical power to path analysis beyond what is supplied by linear equations, and therefore that they are ineliminable in a strong scientific sense.

Key words

Path analysis regression scientific diagrams Sewall Wright statistics in biology 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • James R. Griesemer
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyProgram in History and Philosophy of ScienceDavisUSA
  2. 2.Center for Population BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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