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Finding the History and Philosophy of Science

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History of science and philosophy of science have experienced a somewhat turbulent relationship over the last century. At times it has been said that philosophy needs history, or that history needs philosophy. Very occasionally, something entirely new is said to need them both. Often, however, their relationship is seen as little more than a marriage of convenience. This article explores that marriage by analyzing the citations of over 7,000 historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science. The data reveal that a small but tightly-knit bridge does exist between the disciplines, and raises suggestions about how to understand that bridge in a more nuanced fashion.

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  1. Take for example Feigl’s (1970) suggestion. “Permit me to mention just one episode in the history of recent science that seems to me worthy of the (collaborative!) attention and investigation by scientifically well-informed historians and philosophers of science: the peculiarly late (and hardly justifiable) opposition to the atomic theory by Enrst Mach and especially Wilhelm Ostwald, and the critical counterattacks by Ludwig Boltzmann and Max Planck.” The problem is valid, but it is not unreasonable to imagine a historian or philosopher of science scratching their head as to why it would be useful.

  2. The concept is straightforward: if 90 % of the citations of two articles overlap, the odds are that the topic being discussed in both articles are closely related. At the scale of hundreds of thousands of articles, one can imagine the formation a fairly detailed landscape, where article A is related to articles B and C; article B to articles A, C, and D; and so forth until each article is situated in its proper relation to all the others, some very near and others very distant. Operationally, if two articles share 15 references, there is a link of strength 15 between them; if they share zero references, there is no link between them.

  3. In a co-citation network, if no bibliographies include both article A and Article B, they are not linked. If one paper’s bibliography references both article A and article B, they are connected with a strength of 1; if articles A and B appear together in 15 different bibliographies, they are connected with a strength of 15.

  4. The journals I included were an English language subset of those listed in ISI’s History & Philosophy of Science category. They were: British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Journal of Philosophy, Synthese, Philosophy of Science, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Annals of Science, Archive for History of Exact Sciences, British Journal for the History of Science, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, History of Science, Isis, Journal for the History of Astronomy, Osiris, Social Studies of Science, Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, and Technology and Culture. I chose only English language journals to prevent community separation or connection due to language effects, and I chose this particular subset based on discussions with the HPS faculty at Indiana University. Based on these discussions, I removed extremely specialized journals and journals which did not seem applicable to the study at hand. While this is not the ideal dataset for the study at hand, it is, apparently, good enough to show a bridge between history and philosophy of science.

  5. The data collection step consisted of downloading every article listed in one of the 15 journals directly from Web of Science, 500 records at a time. The data were then joined by hand using Notepad++, removing headers and footers, so all data could be analyzed in a single step.

  6. All figures include network visualizations whose nodes (either journals or authors) are arranged in a force-directed layout, meaning their specific xy coordinates have an element of randomness. Journals or authors are related by lines drawn between them, rather than by spatial proximity, although spatial proximity can usually be used as a good heuristic for relatedness.

  7. I constrained the network to only include authors from these 15 journals because, by authoring in one of these journals, they have implicitly self-selected themselves as historians, philosophers, or sociologists of science. This constraint makes for a much more manageable and legible network.

  8. Highlighted names were chosen based on their recognizability and citation count within the dataset.


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This research was funded in part by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. I would like to thank Katy Börner, Jutta Schickore, Vincent Larivière, K. Brad Wray, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Scott B. Weingart.

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Weingart, S.B. Finding the History and Philosophy of Science. Erkenn 80, 201–213 (2015).

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