and experimental reproduction
Scientific lab as ethnographic site
In the 1970s and 1980s, STS scholars began conducting ethnographies in scientific labs.
If scientific knowledge has a social component, scholars should focus on the process of knowledge creation.
(Consider Bloor's causal tenet)
Study the formulation of facts in a lab just as you would study any social process—field work, ethnography, conversation analysis, interviews, …
Transferring knowledge (Collins 1975)
Replication in science involves transmitting knowledge about a phenomenon of interest
How should we understand this process?
The only way to tell whether knowledge has been transferred is to see if the recipient’s experiment ‘works’
In the 1970s, scientists had not yet settled on what a credible experiment to detect gravitational waves should look like. There was no agreement on what would qualify as “working”
Detecting gravitational waves was part of the normal science of confirming Einstein’s general relativity.
In negotiating what constituted a “competent” experiment in gravitational waves, the scientists were actually negotiating the relevant characteristics of gravitational waves.
If gravitational waves were purely theoretical (in 1975), then to negotiate their characteristics was to negotiate gravitational waves themselves
Joseph Weber (“O”) working on a resonant-mass gravitational wave antenna, or “Weber bar” (c. 1965)
It may not be long before the scientific community decides that the claims of the originator are completely spurious, or on the other hand, revolutionary. When that happens, and a new natural element in the scientific world has been constructed, the following section of my paper will look quaint. That is what is particularly interesting about writing it now before the solid existence of the facts clouds the look of contingency about their origins. (Collins 1975, 209)
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Screen captures from Rick and Morty (2013)
Photo from University of Maryland libraries via Forbes
Photo via APS physics
Collins is porting ideas from sociology of culture to sociology of science
e.g. cultural categories used to explain the world: race, political roles, family roles, etc
Why pseudonyms in article?
- We know what a ‘competent’ measurement in heat is because we know what characteristics heat has.
-Collins is flipping that by showing that negotiations of the characteristics of gravitational waves are reducible to negotiations of what constitutes a competent measurement
40 years later…
Beams are 3km long
“650 members, representing 119 institutions in 14 different countries”
14 August 2017 detected two black holes colliding
“The design of detectors like Virgo and LIGO thus requires a detailed inventory of all noise sources which could impact the measurement, allowing a strong and continuing effort to reduce them as much as possible”