The search for the hematopoietic stem cell: social interaction and epistemic success in immunology

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 38 (1):217-237 (2007)
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Epistemology of science is currently polarized. Descriptive accounts of the social aspects of science coexist uneasily with normative accounts of scientific knowledge. This tension leads students of science to privilege one of these important aspects over the other. I use an episode of recent immunology research to develop an integrative account of scientific inquiry that resolves the tension between sociality and epistemic success. The search for the hematopoietic stem cell by members of Irving Weissman’s laboratory at Stanford University Medical Center exhibits both the goal-oriented character of contemporary immunology and the importance of social interactions in successful achievement of those goals. This episode includes three kinds of epistemic success: characterization of HSC, formation of new interdisciplinary interfaces, and reconciliation of apparently incompatible models. All three depend on coordinating the work of diverse participants via social interactions. Together, they reveal the crucial role of social interactions within and between research groups in producing epistemic success. These features of the search for the HSC generalize to immunology as a whole, and plausibly to other disciplines. This account thus resolves the polarizing tension in epistemology of science, and complements individualistic accounts of scientific knowledge and rationality



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Melinda Bonnie Fagan
University of Utah

References found in this work

Genesis and development of a scientific fact.Ludwik Fleck - 1979 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edited by T. J. Trenn & R. K. Merton.
Strategies for discovering mechanisms: Schema instantiation, modular subassembly, forward/backward chaining.Lindley Darden - 2002 - Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2002 (3):S354-S365.

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