This fascinating study in the sociology of science explores the way scientists conduct, and draw conclusions from, their experiments. The book is organized around three case studies: replication of the TEA-laser, detecting gravitational rotation, and some experiments in the paranormal.
"In his superb book, Collins shows why the quest for certainty is disappointed. He shows that standards of replication are, of course, social, and that there is consequently no outside standard, no Archimedean point beyond society from which we can lever the intellects of our fellows."—Donald M. McCloskey, Journal of Economic Psychology
"Collins is one of the genuine innovators of the sociology of scientific knowledge. . . . Changing Order is a rich and entertaining book."—Isis
"The book gives a vivid sense of the contingent nature of research and is generally a good read."—Augustine Brannigan, Nature
"This provocative book is a review of [Collins's] work, and an attempt to explain how scientists fit experimental results into pictures of the world. . . . A promising start for new explorations of our image of science, too often presented as infallibly authoritative."—Jon Turney, New Scientist
A creature of Jewish mythology, a golem is an animated being made by man from clay and water who knows neither his own strength nor the extent of his ignorance. Like science and technology, the subjects of Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch's previous volumes, medicine is also a golem, and this Dr. Golem should not be blamed for its mistakes—they are, after all, our mistakes. The problem lies in its well-meaning clumsiness.
Dr. Golem explores some of the mysteries and complexities of medicine while untangling the inherent conundrums of scientific research and highlighting its vagaries. Driven by the question of what to do in the face of the fallibility of medicine, Dr. Golem encourages a more inquisitive attitude toward the explanations and accounts offered by medical science. In eight chapters devoted to case studies of modern medicine, Collins and Pinch consider the prevalence of tonsillectomies, the placebo effect and randomized control trials, bogus doctors, CPR, the efficacy of Vitamin C in fighting cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, AIDS cures, and vaccination. They also examine the tension between the conflicting faces of medicine: medicine as science versus medicine as a source of succor; the interests of an individual versus the interests of a group; and the benefits in the short term versus success rates in the long term. Throughout, Collins and Pinch remind readers that medical science is an economic as well as a social consideration, encapsulated for the authors in the timeless struggle to balance the good health of the many—with vaccinations, for instance—with the good health of a few—those who have adverse reactions to the vaccine.
In an age when the deaths of research subjects, the early termination of clinical trials, and the research guidelines for stem cells are front-page news, Dr. Golem is a timely analysis of the limitations of medicine that never loses sight of its strengths.
Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog brings to life science’s efforts to detect cosmic gravitational waves. These ripples in space-time are predicted by general relativity, and their discovery will not only demonstrate the truth of Einstein’s theories but also transform astronomy. Although no gravitational wave has ever been directly detected, the previous five years have been an especially exciting period in the field. Here sociologist Harry Collins offers readers an unprecedented view of gravitational wave research and explains what it means for an analyst to do work of this kind.
Collins was embedded with the gravitational wave physicists as they confronted two possible discoveries—“Big Dog,” fully analyzed in this volume for the first time, and the “Equinox Event,” which was first chronicled by Collins in Gravity’s Ghost. Collins records the agonizing arguments that arose as the scientists worked out what they had seen and how to present it to the world, along the way demonstrating how even the most statistical of sciences rest on social and philosophical choices. Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog draws on nearly fifty years of fieldwork observing scientists at the American Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory and elsewhere around the world to offer an inspired commentary on the place of science in society today.
In theory, at least, gravitational waves do exist. We are constantly bathed in gravitational radiation, which is generated when stars explode or collide and a portion of their mass becomes energy that ripples out like a disturbance on the surface of a serene pond. But unfortunately no gravitational wave has ever been directly detected even though the search has lasted more than forty years.
As the leading chronicler of the search for gravitational waves, Harry Collins has been right there with the scientists since the start. The result of his unprecedented access to the front lines of physical science is Gravity’s Ghost, a thrilling chronicle of high-stakes research and cutting-edge discovery. Here, Collins reveals that scientific discovery and nondiscovery can turn on scientific traditions and rivalries, that ideal statistical analysis rests on impossible procedures and unattainable knowledge, and that fact in one place is baseless assumption in another. He also argues that sciences like gravitational wave detection, in exemplifying how the intractable is to be handled, can offer scientific leadership a moral beacon for the twenty-first century. In the end, Gravity’s Ghost shows that discoveries are the denouements of dramatic scientific mysteries.
According to the theory of relativity, we are constantly bathed in gravitational radiation. When stars explode or collide, a portion of their mass becomes energy that disturbs the very fabric of the space-time continuum like ripples in a pond. But proving the existence of these waves has been difficult; the cosmic shudders are so weak that only the most sensitive instruments can be expected to observe them directly. Fifteen times during the last thirty years scientists have claimed to have detected gravitational waves, but so far none of those claims have survived the scrutiny of the scientific community. Gravity's Shadow chronicles the forty-year effort to detect gravitational waves, while exploring the meaning of scientific knowledge and the nature of expertise.
Gravitational wave detection involves recording the collisions, explosions, and trembling of stars and black holes by evaluating the smallest changes ever measured. Because gravitational waves are so faint, their detection will come not in an exuberant moment of discovery but through a chain of inference; for forty years, scientists have debated whether there is anything to detect and whether it has yet been detected. Sociologist Harry Collins has been tracking the progress of this research since 1972, interviewing key scientists and delineating the social process of the science of gravitational waves.
Engagingly written and authoritatively comprehensive, Gravity's Shadow explores the people, institutions, and government organizations involved in the detection of gravitational waves. This sociological history will prove essential not only to sociologists and historians of science but to scientists themselves.
So far the "Science Wars" have generated far more heat than light. Combatants from one or the other of what C. P. Snow famously called "the two cultures" (science versus the arts and humanities) have launched bitter attacks but have seldom engaged in constructive dialogue about the central issues. In The One Culture?, Jay A. Labinger and Harry Collins have gathered together some of the world's foremost scientists and sociologists of science to exchange opinions and ideas rather than insults. The contributors find surprising areas of broad agreement in a genuine conversation about science, its legitimacy and authority as a means of understanding the world, and whether science studies undermines the practice and findings of science and scientists.
The One Culture? is organized into three parts. The first consists of position papers written by scientists and sociologists of science, which were distributed to all the participants. The second presents commentaries on these papers, drawing out and discussing their central themes and arguments. In the third section, participants respond to these critiques, offering defenses, clarifications, and modifications of their positions.
Who can legitimately speak about science? What is the proper role of scientific knowledge? How should scientists interact with the rest of society in decision making? Because science occupies such a central position in the world today, such questions are vitally important. Although there are no simple solutions, The One Culture? does show the reader exactly what is at stake in the Science Wars, and provides a valuable framework for how to go about seeking the answers we so urgently need.
Constance K. Barsky, Jean Bricmont, Harry Collins, Peter Dear, Jane
Gregory, Jay A. Labinger, Michael Lynch, N. David Mermin, Steve
Miller, Trevor Pinch, Peter R. Saulson, Steven Shapin, Alan Sokal,
Steven Weinberg, Kenneth G. Wilson
Harry Collins and Robert Evans University of Chicago Press, 2007 Library of Congress HM651.C64 2007 | Dewey Decimal 306.45
What does it mean to be an expert? In Rethinking Expertise, Harry Collins and Robert Evans offer a radical new perspective on the role of expertise in the practice of science and the public evaluation of technology.
Collins and Evans present a Periodic Table of Expertises based on the idea of tacit knowledge—knowledge that we have but cannot explain. They then look at how some expertises are used to judge others, how laypeople judge between experts, and how credentials are used to evaluate them. Throughout, Collins and Evans ask an important question: how can the public make use of science and technology before there is consensus in the scientific community? This book has wide implications for public policy and for those who seek to understand science and benefit from it.
“Starts to lay the groundwork for solving a critical problem—how to restore the force of technical scientific information in public controversies, without importing disguised political agendas.”—Nature
“A rich and detailed ‘periodic table’ of expertise . . . full of case studies, anecdotes and intriguing experiments.”—Times Higher Education Supplement (UK)
Much of what humans know we cannot say. And much of what we do we cannot describe. For example, how do we know how to ride a bike when we can’t explain how we do it? Abilities like this were called “tacit knowledge” by physical chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi, but here Harry Collins analyzes the term, and the behavior, in much greater detail, often departing from Polanyi’s treatment.
In Tacit and Explicit Knowledge, Collins develops a common conceptual language to bridge the concept’s disparate domains by explaining explicit knowledge and classifying tacit knowledge. Collins then teases apart the three very different meanings, which, until now, all fell under the umbrella of Polanyi’s term: relational tacit knowledge (things we could describe in principle if someone put effort into describing them), somatic tacit knowledge (things our bodies can do but we cannot describe how, like balancing on a bike), and collective tacit knowledge (knowledge we draw that is the property of society, such as the rules for language). Thus, bicycle riding consists of some somatic tacit knowledge and some collective tacit knowledge, such as the knowledge that allows us to navigate in traffic. The intermixing of the three kinds of tacit knowledge has led to confusion in the past; Collins’s book will at last unravel the complexities of the idea.
Tacit knowledge drives everything from language, science, education, and management to sport, bicycle riding, art, and our interaction with technology. In Collins’s able hands, it also functions at last as a framework for understanding human behavior in a range of disciplines.