Unconceived alternatives and conservatism in science: the impact of professionalization, peer-review, and Big Science
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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.
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