, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 461-488
Date: 20 Nov 2011

Cognitive and Social Structure of the Elite Collaboration Network of Astrophysics: A Case Study on Shifting Network Structures

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Abstract

Scientific collaboration can only be understood along the epistemic and cognitive grounding of scientific disciplines. New scientific discoveries in astrophysics led to a major restructuring of the elite network of astrophysics. To study the interplay of the epistemic grounding and the social network structure of a discipline, a mixed-methods approach is necessary. It combines scientometrics, quantitative network analysis and visualization tools with a qualitative network analysis approach. The centre of the international collaboration network of astrophysics is demarcated by identifying the 225 most productive astrophysicists. For the years 1998–1999 and 2001–2006 four co-authorship networks are constructed comprehending each a two year period. A visualization of the longitudinal network data gives first hints on the structural development of the network. The network of 2005–2006 is analyzed in depth. Based on cohesion analysis tools for network analysis, two main cores and three smaller ones are identified. Scientists in each core and additionally in structurally interesting positions are identified and 17 qualitative expert interviews are conducted with them. The visualization of the network of 2005–2006 is used in the interviews as a stimulus for the interviewees. An analysis of the three most often used keywords of the 225 astrophysicists is included and combined with the other data. The triangulation of these approaches shows that major epistemic changes in astrophysics, e.g. the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe, together with technical and organizational innovations, leads to a restructuring of the network of the discipline. The importance of a combination of qualitative and quantitative network analysis tools for the understanding of the interplay of cognitive and social structure in the sociology of science is substantiated.