Collaboration in scientific practice—-A social epistemology of research groups

Dissertation, Aarhus University (2014)

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This monograph investigates the collaborative creation of scientific knowledge in research groups. To do so, I combine philosophical analysis with a first-hand comparative case study of two research groups in experimental science. Qualitative data are gained through observation and interviews, and I combine empirical insights with existing approaches to knowledge creation in philosophy of science and social epistemology. On the basis of my empirically-grounded analysis I make several conceptual contributions. I study scientific collaboration as the interaction of scientists within research groups. Thereby, I argue that research groups and their role in scientific practice deserve more philosophical attention than they have hitherto received. In contemporary natural science, research groups are key to the formulation and corroboration of scientific knowledge claims prior to their publication. Specifically, I suggest epistemic difference and the porosity of social structure as two conceptual leitmotifs in the study of group collaboration. With epistemic difference, I emphasize the value of socio-cognitive heterogeneity in group collaboration. With porosity, I underline the fact that a research group as social structure does not entirely contain the inter-individual efforts necessary to formulate and corroborate knowledge claims. In my analysis of research groups, I focus on the division of epistemic labor among group members. Through their complementary collaborative efforts single scientists engage in relations of mutual epistemic dependence. To deepen philosophy’s understanding of scientific practice in its diversity, a distinction should be made between opaque and translucent epistemic dependence. While opaque epistemic dependence involves asymmetries in expertise, translucent epistemic dependence does not. As epistemic dependence is facilitated by trust, I investigate the dynamics of epistemic trust in group collaboration. Trust among collaborating scientists is inherently incomplete, and I show that scientists make use of diverse strategies to increase and to supplement personal trust. Based on my reflections on trust and dependence, I give an account of the relation between individual knowing and collaboratively created knowledge in research groups. Together these investigations contribute to the discussion of philosophical methodology in the study of scientific practice and promote the use of empirical methods.
Keywords epistemic trust  interdisciplinarity  epistemic dependence  research groups  scientific practice  empirical methods
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