Scientists as Reflective Practitioners

In a most fundamental sense, this book is about scientists, about how they collaborate with one another, and how they come to rely upon their collaborators. This book is also about observations of scientists and interviews with them, bringing out what they think about their work, how they think it should be done, and how they reflect upon the experiences of the collaboration that they have been involved in. In this book I approach scientists as reflective practitioners, who have something to say about their work when interviewed. They are able to offer accounts of scientific knowledge creation that reflect their education and their experiences. One premise of this book, a premise concerning its empirical method, is that philosophers should take these “native" expert accounts seriously, even though they may lack the terminology, the subtlety and the argumentative structure of philosophical reasoning.

As reflective practitioners, scientists continuously reflect upon their work and measure it against the standards of scientific practice. To practice experimental science involves manual activity as much as it involves cognitive activity. Scientists reason; reasoning is part of their work. Therefore, I conceive of scientists as cognizant actors—actors who form beliefs in the light of what they know, observe and infer. These beliefs concern the epistemic significance of experimental results, but they also concern, for example, the trustworthiness of collaborators who produced these experimental results.

Addressing scientists as subjects who form beliefs and reflectively seek to justify them, I analyze empirical insights in terms of knowledge as justified belief, the predominant albeit not uncontested paradigm in epistemology (Haack, 2009; Ichikawa & Steup, 2013). Within this paradigm, knowledge is understood as attributable to an epistemic subject or a “cognizer" (cf. Longino, 2002, p. 77ff-).[1] Conventionally, the paradigm of an epistemic subject is the individual human being, a paradigm which allows us to conceive of knowledge as individually held justified belief. Though a widespread notion in epistemology, the understanding of knowledge as individually held belief has been criticized by social and feminist epistemologists (see, e.g., Bechtel, 2008; Gilbert, 2004; Nelson, 1990), and I reflect upon some of their critiques in Chap. 9.

What it takes to justify a belief as knowledge is a fundamental epistemological question to which different strands of epistemology have given different answers. For example, the long-standing debate between foundationalism and coherentism discusses what it means for beliefs to be warranted with regard to their logical structure and their logical relation to other sets of belief (see, e.g., Haack, 2009). Virtue epistemologists, in turn, focus on the epistemic agent and argue that the warrant of his or her beliefs is tied to the possession of virtuous faculties or the exercise of virtuous traits (e.g., Greco, 2001; Zagzebski, 1996). Contextualism, in turn, suggests that the warrant of beliefs is dependent upon the mobilization ofparticular standards ofjustification (e.g., S. Cohen, 1986; Pritchard, 2000; Rysiew, 2016), and parts of feminist and social epistemology argue that these standards are community-borne (e.g., Longino, 1990; Nelson, 1990). The argument that justification refers to context- dependent standards will become important in later parts of the book when I explore how far collaborators’ scientific trustworthiness can justify belief but is not equivalent to the evidence needed to justify a scientific knowledge claim (see Chaps. 7 and 9).

Proceeding from a notion of knowledge as justified belief, I am able to build upon previous epistemological analyses. Some of the issues this book addresses—relations of dependence and trust—have been discussed instructively by social epistemologists in terms of individually held knowledge and its exchange through testimony. It is important to note, however, that while the notion of knowledge as justified belief is predominant in epistemology, it is not widely shared in philosophy of science. Echoing Popper’s “third-world knowledge" (1972), philosophy of science commonly endorses a notion of (scientific) knowledge as discursive content, that is, as an inter-individually accessible body of well-corroborated scientific claims in a given peer community. “In this usage, knowledge is what piles up in books and journals in the form of verbal or two-, three-, or four-dimensional representations" (Longino, 2002, p. 82, 83). I do not attempt to tackle this divide between different strands of philosophy. Rather, I proceed from the understanding that scientific knowledge (i.e., the kind of knowledge philosophers of science are typically talking about) is the result ofcollaborative efforts to integrate individual knowing (see, e.g., Andersen & Wagenknecht, 2013).

Another concept that will appear throughout the book is expertise. Scientific expertise is what senior scientists are supposed to have acquired throughout their professional maturation and what enables them to practice science without immediate guidance (but not without help, collaboration or the feedback of their peers). I understand expertise as an individual attribute, comprising his or her declarable and tacit knowledge and skills. Even as an individual attribute, however, expertise necessarily relates to social aspects beyond that individual. What counts as expertise is constituted through the practices of a community of acknowledged experts, and the acquisition of full-blown expertise requires individuals to immerse themselves in the practices of an expert community. Only in this manner will individuals acquire the expertise necessary to contribute to the practices of a given expert community (Collins, 2013; Collins & Evans, 2007).

Conceiving of scientists as reflective practitioners means to conceive of them as actors whose expertise comprises both knowledge-that and knowledge-how, both declarable as well as tacit, that is, inarticulate resources. While scientific research creates scientific knowledge-that, the performance of experimental scientific method relies crucially on knowledge-how. And while reflection requires articulation, practices have a corporeal component that may resist articulation—for practicing scientists themselves, and in parts also for observing philosophers (Goddiksen, 2014; Polanyi, 1962; Soler, 2011). For practicing scientists, experimental practice may remain epistemically “opaque" in the sense that it may be impossible to provide an exhaustive description of experimental activity and complete justification of experimental. As Soler (2011) points out, much of this epistemic opacity is due to the fact that scientific practice requires skill or incorporated knowledge-how.[2]

Since incorporated skill is an element of scientific expertise, the latter itself becomes difficult to articulate. That, in turn, makes scientific expertise difficult to learn and difficult to observe in others. Expertise must be learned through immersion in practice. For junior experimental scientists, nothing is more valuable than lab time shared with senior scientists. And shared lab time is equally important as an opportunity to gauge the expertise of peers. In fact, being able to determine the expertise of peers is part of scientific expertise.

Yet, what is the role of scientific expertise for research collaboration? As this book will show, expertise is one important criterion in determining the trustworthiness of collaborators, that is, the scientific quality of their research contribution (cf. Hardwig, 1985). The question whether or not to trust a research colleague is closely tied to the question to which degree that colleague possesses the relevant scientific expertise in a given domain. To determine colleagues’ expertise is complicated by the fact that scientific expertise is limited in two respects. First, it is accumulated over long periods of time. Second, it can be more or less comprehensive, though rarely do scientists possess senior expertise in more than one specialized domain of scientific inquiry. Scientific expertise is tied to seniority and disciplinary background, rendering interdisciplinary collaboration, and collaboration between senior and junior scientists, particularly fragile. I will investigate how fragilities of this kind are dealt with in collaborative practice and examine how the confines of individual expertise are mended through research collaboration.

  • [1] An alternative to knowledge as justified true belief is reliabilism, which understands knowledgeas reliable belief (Goldman, 2011). Note that a reliabilist position remains within the paradigm ofknowledge as belief. For a more fundamental critique of knowledge as belief see, e.g., Vendler (1972),Craig (1990), Welbourne (2001), and Kusch (2002).
  • [2] The notion of knowledge-how, and particularly its relation to the notion of knowledge-that,i.e., propositional knowledge, is debated. Arguably, not all knowledge-how can be reduced toknowledge-that (Fantl, 2012; Ryle, 1971). This seems to be the case even in scientific practice whereknowledge-how serves the aim of producing scientific knowledge-that. More important, however,is the relation between knowledge-how and articulation. Both knowledge-that and knowledge-howcan be imagined to remain unarticulated in a given context. But insofar as knowledge-how pertainsto incorporated knowledge, it stands to reason that it poses a particular challenge for exhaustive
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