Conclusion

Epistemic trust is a necessity when epistemic labor is divided. Scientists have to trust their colleagues if they want to collaborate with them. And as much as trust comes with the risk of being let down, so does scientific collaboration put the trusting scientist in a position to probe the trustworthiness of his or her collaborators. Scientists find various ways to address the epistemic challenges associated with the necessity of trusting in collaborative scientific practice. First of all, they seek to increase trust and fine-tune their expectations of it toward collaborators through dialoging practices, eliciting explanations and probing understanding. Second, they supplement personal trust with impersonal trust. Third, they reduce the personal trust relations necessary through hierarchical modes of collaboration.

Nevertheless, epistemic trust in scientific practice remains tentative. The assumption of a collaborator’s trustworthiness is a provisional hypothesis that is to be consolidated in iterative cycles of ongoing collaboration. In fact, my interview data support the notion that trust among collaborating scientists is accompanied by epistemic vigilance. In analogy to Chang’s “epistemic iteration" in experimental science (Chang, 2004), moments of socio-epistemic iteration are key to understanding and managing the uncertainties of collaborative scientific practice. The rationale that underlies this iteration is that if trust is misplaced, it will show soon enough—in experimental failure, in inconsistent results, in critical referee reports.

In the midst of scientific practice, whether or not to trust is not a question that vexes collaborating scientists. Rather, for scientists, the pressing question that they confront continuously is how to make a research collaboration a scientific success—that is, how to meet the demands of scientific scrutiny, the scrutiny of collaborators, of peer-reviewing referees, and of those communities for which the epistemic fruits of this research collaboration are scientifically relevant. Against this backdrop, a philosophically most interesting question is how collaborators’ individually held trust-based knowledge relates to collaboratively created scientific knowledge. As I elaborate in Chap. 9, scientific knowledge poses requirements that, in many instances of scientific practice, cannot be met by any one individual scientists.

 
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