Conclusion

To conclude, let me summarize what forms of epistemic dependence are observable in the two research groups I have studied. In the planetary science group, members from different fields of expertise contribute to the joint pursuit of research questions. For this reason, relations of opaque epistemic dependence are frequent. Epistemic opacity can be handled, because scientists in the group have come to know each other’s professional qualities during a decade ofclose collaboration. Furthermore, they have acquired interactional expertise that helps them to bridge their own and foreign fields of expertise. Interactional and referred expertise can render dependence relations less opaque.

The situation is clearly different in the molecular biology laboratory with its comparatively high fluctuation rate. Here, relations of epistemic dependence have a different character. Post-docs and senior scientists, who delegate work to doctoral students and students, will usually be epistemically dependent in a translucent form. Students, in turn, may be opaquely dependent on more senior researchers, but since they perceive themselves as experts-to-be, the epistemic opacity they are confronted with may be regarded as transient. As they learn to master experimental techniques more and more independently, they gain gradually more and more expertise. Therefore, the epistemic dependence that students are involved in is mostly a gray-zone dependence—not opaque anymore, but not yet translucent either.

To conclude, I hope to have shown in this chapter how the distinction between opaque and translucent epistemic dependence helps to characterize the empirical variety of research group collaboration in scientific practice, articulating thereby how, while epistemic dependence pervades collaborative scientific practice, not all dependence runs equally deep.

 
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