Today’s natural science has become a highly collaborative endeavor. To create scientific knowledge, scientists with specialized expertise observe systematically, analyze data and interpret combined experimental evidence to formulate a scientific knowledge claim. In so doing, most scientists depend deeply and immediately on their peers. Experiments have typically become too time-consuming and resource-intensive to be carried out by any one single scientist. Only in research groups can scientists accumulate the necessary expertise, labor, financial means and physical infrastructure to carry out cutting-edge research. For this reason, this book analyzes the collaborative creation of scientific knowledge in research groups, thereby addressing two questions that are continuously troubling philosophy: What is scientific knowledge—is it genuinely collective? And how can it be created, particularly under the conditions of actual experimental scientific practice?
When answering these questions, I seek to add two factors—one thematic, one methodological—to reflections upon collaborative knowledge creation. Thematically, I examine research groups. This examination proceeds “from within" research groups, studying the collaborative practices
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 S. Wagenknecht, A Social Epistemology of Research Groups, New Directions in the Philosophy of Science,
that constitute such groups and inquiring of research group members about their experiences with research group collaboration. Methodologically, I probe a way in which first-hand empirical insight, gained through qualitative methods, can inform philosophical reflections. My methodological approach reflects the difficulty that comes with my thematic focus. When collaborative scientific practice in research groups is the object of philosophical inquiry, then philosophers cannot solely rely upon intuition and imagination.
Drawing upon comprehensive empirical insight, I investigate different configurations of the within-group division of labor and the forms of epistemic dependence that they entail. I study how practicing scientists deal with epistemic dependence, how they come to trust one another, and how they individually relate to the scientific knowledge claim that they collaboratively create. To do this, the book is based on a comparative case study, drawing upon observations and interviews that have been carried out in two research groups, a small interdisciplinary group in planetary research and a larger molecular biology laboratory. The book is, hence, also about interdisciplinarity and the question of how interdisciplinary research collaboration compares to mono-disciplinary collaboration.
Based on these investigations, I argue for an inter-individual account of research group collaboration—an account that recognizes the role of individual knowing for scientific practice, but acknowledges the collective character of some of the scientific knowledge that research groups create collaboratively. With this account, I seek to make a contribution to two specialized fields of philosophical inquiry: social epistemology and philosophy of science. In particular, the book contributes to a “philosophy of science in practice" (Ankeny, Chang, Boumans, & Boon, 2011; Soler, Zwart, Lynch, & Israel-Jost, 2014).
For a philosopher to inquire about “science in practice" means to inquire about the practices in which scientific norms are interpreted, scientific methods applied and scientific knowledge made. It means to inquire about knowledge in-the-making, knowledge as it is created in processes of collaboration under contingent material, cognitive and social conditions (Rouse, 2002). This requires philosophers to give up “minimizing and externalizing the social dimensions of scientific knowledge" (Rouse, 1996, p. 168). It also requires empirical insight into how science is actually practiced. There are several ways to acquire such insight, one of which I exemplify when I mobilize first-hand qualitative data for phil osophical reflection.