Unconceived alternatives and conservatism in science: the impact of professionalization, peer-review, and Big Science
- 230 Downloads
Scientific realists have suggested that changes in our scientific communities over the course of their history have rendered those communities progressively less vulnerable to the problem of unconcieved alternatives over time. I argue in response not only that the most fundamental historical transformations of the scientific enterprise have generated steadily mounting obstacles to revolutionary, transformative, or unorthodox scientific theorizing, but also that we have substantial independent evidence that the institutional apparatus of contemporary scientific inquiry fosters an exceedingly and increasingly theoretically conservative form of that inquiry. I conclude that contemporary scientific communities are actually more vulnerable to the problem of unconceived alternatives than their historical predecessors, and I briefly suggest how we might seek to pursue scientific inquiry in a less theoretically conservative way.
KeywordsScientific Realism Instrumentalism Professionalization Peer-review Theoretical Conservatism Transformative research
I would like to acknowledge useful discussions concerning the material in this paper with Kevin Zollman, Penelope Maddy, Jeff Barrett, Pat Forber, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Steve Shapin, Fred Kronz, John Norton, Michael Weisberg, Jane Maienschein, Julia Bursten, Carole Lee, and Arash Pessian, and two anonymous referees for this journal, as well as audiences at the Durham University Conference on Unconceived Alternatives and Scientific Realism, the University of Vienna’s (Un)Conceived Alternatives Symposium, the University of Pittsburgh’s Conference on Choosing the Future of Science, Lingnan University’s ‘Science: The Real Thing?’ Conference, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Cambridge University, the University of Vienna, the University of Pennsylvania, UC San Diego, the University of Washington, the University of Western Ontario, the Pittsburgh Center for the Philosophy of Science, Washington University in St. Louis, Bloomsburg University, Indiana University, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and the Australian National University. Parts of this paper were written while I was the Senior Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for the Philosophy of Science and while I was a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University, and I gratefully acknowledge the support of both institutions.
- Alvarez, L. W. (1987). Alvarez: The adventure of a physicist. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Bement, A. L., Jr. (2007). Important Notice 130: Transformative Research, National Science Foundation, Office of the Director, published Sept. 24. Available from http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2007/in130/in130.jsp. Accessed 16 July 2010.
- Braben, D. W. (2004). Pioneering research: A risk worth taking. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Interscience.Google Scholar
- Bush, V. (1945). Science: The Endless Frontier: A Report to the President on a Program for Postwar Scientific Research, 1960 reprint. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, National Science Foundation.Google Scholar
- Chubin, D. E., & Hackett, E. J. (1990). Peerless science: Peer review and U.S. science policy. New York: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
- Committee on Bridges to Independence: Identifying Opportunities for and Challenges to Fostering the Independence of Young Investigators in the Life Sciences, National Research Council (2005). Bridges to independence: Fostering the independence of new investigators in biomedical research. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
- Daniels, George H. (1976). The process of professionalization in American science. In N. Reingold (Ed.), Science in America since 1820 (pp. 63–78). New York: Science History Publications.Google Scholar
- De Solla Price, D. (1963). Little science, big science. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
- Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. (2013). The lurie prize in the biomedical sciences. Available from http://www.fnih.org/content/lurie-prize-biomedical-sciences. Accessed 19 Dec 2013.
- Galison, P., & Hevly, B. (1992). Big science: The growth of large-scale research. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Hirsh, A. E. (2009). ‘Guest column: A new kind of big science’, New York Times (Opinionator: Exclusive Online Commentary from the Times), published Jan 13. Available from opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/guest-column-a-new-kind-of-big-science/. Accessed 16 July 2010.Google Scholar
- Kolata, G. (2009). ‘Playing it Safe in Cancer Research’, New York Times (Late Edition—Final ed.), published June 28. Retrieved July 16, 2010, from NewsBank on-line database (Access World News).Google Scholar
- Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions (3d ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Love, S. (2007). ‘To Break the Disease, Break the Mold’, New York Times (Late Edition—Final ed.), published April 1. Retrieved July 16, 2010, from NewsBank on-line database (Access World News).Google Scholar
- Mobley, A., Linder, S. K., Braeuer, R., Ellis, L. M., & Zwelling, L. (2013). A survey on data reproducibility in cancer research provides insights into our limited ability to translate findings from the laboratory to the clinic. PLOS One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063221.
- Nathan, O., & Norden, H. (Eds.). (1960). Einstein on peace. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
- Resch, K. I., Ernst, E., & Garrow, J. (2000). A randomized controlled study of reviewer bias against an unconventional therapy. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 93, 164–7.Google Scholar
- Shatz, D. (2004). Peer review: A critical inquiry. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
- Stanford, P. K. (2001). Refusing the devil’s bargain: What kind of under determination should we take seriously? Philosophy of Science, 68, S1–S12.Google Scholar
- Stanford, P. K. (2015). Catastrophist vs. uniformitarian realism and a scientific realism debate that makes a difference. Philosophy of Science (forthcoming).Google Scholar
- Wiener, N. (1948). A rebellious scientist after two years. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 4, 338–339.Google Scholar
- Wiener, N. (1956). I am a mathematician: The later life of a prodigy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.Google Scholar