Advertisement

Synthese

, Volume 191, Issue 1, pp 17–35 | Cite as

Is a bird in the hand worth two in the bush? Or, whether scientists should publish intermediate results

  • Thomas BoyerEmail author
Article

Abstract

A part of the scientific literature consists of intermediate results within a longer project. Scientists often publish a first result in the course of their work, while aware that they should soon achieve a more advanced result from this preliminary result. Should they follow the proverb “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”, and publish any intermediate result they get? This is the normative question addressed in this paper. My aim is to clarify, to refine, and to assess informal arguments about the choice whether to publish intermediate results. To this end, I adopt a rational decision framework, supposing some utility or preferences, and I propose a formal model. The best publishing strategy turns out to depend on the research situation. In some simple circumstances, even selfish and short-minded scientists should publish their intermediate results, and should thus behave like their altruistic peers, i. e. like society would like them to behave. In other research situations, with inhomogeneous reward or difficulty profiles, the best strategy is opposite. These results suggest qualified philosophical morals.

Keywords

Social epistemology Intermediate results Publication Formal model 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Anouk Barberousse, Conor Mayo-Wilson, Jan Sprenger, Mikael Cozic, Philip Kitcher, Michael Strevens and an anonymous referee for their critical remarks and encouragements, which helped much improve this paper. Thanks also to participants in the EPSA conference in October 2011 in Athens (Greece), in the “Collective Dimension of Science” conference in December 2011 in Nancy (France), and in the “Progress of Science” conference in April 2012 in Tilburg (The Netherlands), for their remarks. The paper has been written while at the IHPST (UMR 8590, CNRS, Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, ENS), at Columbia University (NY, USA), at the Archives Henri Poincaré (UMR 7117 CNRS, Université de Lorraine) and at Savoirs, Textes, Langage (UMR 8163 CNRS, Université Lille 1, Université Lille 3). A special financial support is acknowledged from the Université de Paris 1.

References

  1. Aspect, A. (1976). Proposed experiment to test the nonseparability of quantum mechanics. Physical Review D, 14(8), 1944–1951.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aspect, A., Dalibard, J., & Roger, G. (1982a). Experimental test of Bell’s inequalities using time-varying analysers. Physical Review Letters, 49(25), 1804–1807.Google Scholar
  3. Aspect, A., Grangier, P., & Roger, G. (1981). Experimental test of realistic local theories via Bell’s theorem. Physical Review Letters, 47(7), 460–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aspect, A., Grangier, P., & Roger, G. (1982b). Experimental realization of Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen–Bohm Gedanken experiment: A new violation of Bell’s inequalities. Physical Review Letters, 49(2), 91–94.Google Scholar
  5. Bromberg, J. L. (1991). The laser in America 1950–1970. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Collins, H. M. (1974). The TEA set: Tacit knowledge and scientific networks. Science Studies, 4(2), 165–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dasgupta, P., & David, P. (1994). Toward a new economics of science. Research Policy, XXIII, 487–521.Google Scholar
  8. De Langhe, R., & Greiff, M. (2009). Standards and the distribution of cognitive labour: A model of the dynamics of scientific activity. Logic Journal of the IGPL, 18(2), 278–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Goldman, A. (2009). Systems-oriented social epistemology. In T. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Oxford studies in epistemology (Vol. 3, pp. 189–214). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Kitcher, P. (1990). The division of cognitive labor. Journal of Philosophy, 87(1), 5–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kitcher, P. (1993). The advancement of science: science without legend, objectivity without illusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hacking, I. (1999). The social construction of what?. London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Pais, A. (1982). Subtle is the lord: The science and the life of Albert Einstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Strevens, M. (2003). The role of the priority rule in science. Journal of Philosophy, 100, 55–79.Google Scholar
  15. Strevens, M. (2006). The role of the Matthew effect in science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 37, 159–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Weisberg, M., & Muldoon, R. (2009). Epistemic landscapes and the division of cognitive labor. Philosophy of Science, 76, 225–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Zollman, K. J. S. (2007). The communication structure of epistemic communities. Philosophy of Science, 74(5), 574–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Zollman, K. J. S. (2009). Optimal publishing strategies. Episteme: A Journal of Social Epistemology, 6(2), 185–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Zollman, K. J. S. (2010a). Social structure and the effects of conformity. Synthese, 172(3), 317–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Zollman, K. J. S. (2010b). The epistemic benefit of transient diversity. Erkenntnis, 72(1), 17–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Savoirs, Textes, Langage (UMR 8163 CNRS, Université Lille 1, Université Lille 3) Villeneuve d’AscqFrance
  2. 2.Archives Henri Poincaré (UMR 7117 CNRS, Université de Lorraine) NancyFrance

Personalised recommendations