The recently claimed observation of atomic orbitals and some related philosophical issues

The main thrust of the paper involves a theoretical and philosophical analysis of the claim made in September 1999 that atomic orbitals have been directly imaged for the first time. After a brief account of the recent claims the paper reviews the development of the orbit and later orbital concepts and analyzes the theoretical status of atomic orbitals. The conclusion is that contrary to these claims, atomic orbitals have not in fact been observed. The non-referring nature of modern atomic orbitals is discussed in the context of Laudan's writings on realism, the success of theories, and whether or not scientific terms refer. I conclude that the failure to observe orbitals is a good prima facie case for divorcing the success of theories from the question of whether their central terms refer. The added relevance of this case is that it concerns a current and highly successful theory. Finally, the relevance of this 'floating model' to contemporary discussions on scientific models is briefly considered
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Peter Mulder (2010). On the Alleged Non-Existence of Orbitals. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 41 (2):178-182.
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