Sociology of Science

''Science'' is a contested concept. There is no consensus about what it is and some maintain that the question itself is mistaken since there is no ''object,'' science. The two epistemological extremes between which sociological frameworks used in the study of ''science'' move are, first, that nature is recorded by science, provided that science is in a fit state as a social institution to do so, and, second, that science is a social construction and in this sense in principle no different than any other part of culture. If one is convinced of the first proposition one's interest will be directed towards the ''goal'' of science; the institutional norms that regulate the activity of the community of scientists; competition; and the reward structure of science operating through ''recognition'' (citation practices, Nobel prizes, peer review). If one is convinced of the second proposition one will be interested not so much in the institution and community of science but rather in scientific knowledge and the question of how scientists reach a point where it can be said to have been ''made.'' One will be interested in the ''negotiation'' (including writing practices) through which a stable order of scientific objects is arrived at.

Actor-Network Theory

Actor-network theory originated in the 1980s as a movement within the sociology of science, centered at the Paris School of Mines. Key developers were Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, Antoine Hennion, and John Law. It was sharply critical of earlier historical and sociological analyses of science, which had drawn a clear divide between the ”inside” of […]

Chance and Probability

Chance is an informal concept, sometimes meaning probability, sometimes meaning randomness. Probability is a formal mathematical concept expressed in its most simple form as dependent probability, which is a number between zero and one that represents the likelihood that, for example, a person with one property will have another property. Thus the probability of a […]

Ecology

Ecology generally refers to the scientific study of an organism or community of organisms and their relationship to each other as well as to the environment. The ecological framework is used in biological sciences, social sciences, botany, zoological sciences, and other research areas and is applied to myriad subareas including human ecology, cultural ecology, organizational […]

Eugenics

”Eugenics” derives from the Greek word eugenes meaning ”good in birth” or ”noble in heredity.” Eugenics was developed in the late nineteenth century and means ideologies and activities aiming to improve the quality of the human race by selecting the ”genetically fit.” It can entail (1) ”positive” strategies to manipulate the heredity or breeding practices […]

Experiment

An experiment is a highly controlled research scenario. It entails the intentional manipulation of one variable (the independent) in order to assess its causal impact on another variable (the dependent or outcome variable). The experiment is considered the best research design for examining cause and effect relationships. The strength of the experiment is found in […]

Fact, Theory, and Hypothesis

The terms ”theory,” ”fact,” and ”hypothesis” are sometimes treated as though they have clear meanings and clear relations with one another, but the histories and uses of these are more complex and diverse than might be expected. The usual sense of these words places them in a relationship of increasing uncertainty. A fact is usually […]

Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering (GE; often also called biotechnology) is the technique and science of intervention into the genetic mechanisms of a biological organism. For sociologists of risk (e.g. Ulrich Beck) GE it is a paradigmatic case for risk society. There are two main applications: agriculture and food production, and medical genetics; furthermore, GE is used in […]

Human Genome

Although the double helix structure of DNA was discovered in 1953 by James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin, it was not until the 1980s that powerful sequencing and information technologies were developed that enabled scientists to identify particular genes associated with hereditary diseases and to begin to map all of the genes […]

Induction and Observation in Science

One of the most persistent views of science is that in which scientists are understood to assemble observations and arrive at generalizations based upon them. Sometimes, wrongly, this simple inductiveempiricist view is laid at the door of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and dubbed ”Baconian inductivism.” In fact, Bacon’s views were considerably more complex than this, but […]

Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-96)

Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-96) made major contributions to the history and philosophy of science, especially in relation to the character and change of a discipline’s scientific paradigm. He emphasized the social construction of scientific knowledge and the defining and disciplinary force of scientific paradigms. A paradigm is a worldview, a set of implicit and explicit […]

Matthew Effect

The Matthew effect, an expression coined by Merton in overt reference to St. Matthew’s gospel, has become a milestone when referring to the cases of credit misallocation among scientists. The social mechanism that leads to this misallocation operates through the accruing of large increments of peer recognition to scientists of considerable repute for their past […]

Robert K. Merton

Robert K. Merton is one of those rare titanic figures that the discipline of sociology had the fortune to have at those crucial moments of its disciplinary break-through and expansion. Merton’s works have not only steered sociology into new territories such as sociology of knowledge and studies of social time, but also deepened our theoretical […]

Science

”Science” is a contested concept. There is no consensus about what it is and some maintain that the question itself is mistaken since there is no ”object,” science. The two epistemological extremes between which sociological frameworks used in the study of ”science” move are, first, that nature is recorded by science, provided that science is […]

Social Construction of Science

In its simplest form, the claim that science is socially constructed means that there is no direct link between nature and our ideas about nature – the products of science are not themselves natural. This claim can be taken to mean different things and a distinction is often made between strong and weak interpretations of […]

Sociology of Scientific Knowledge

In the early 1970s, the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) started to dynamically emerge from a broad church of sociological, historical and philosophical reflections upon the very nature, direction, content and truth status of scientific knowledge itself, rather than merely upon the social relations between those who happen to be scientists. Hence, even the heartland […]

Scientific Revolution

The scientific revolution was the time when a new way of studying the natural, physical world became widely accepted by a small ”community of scholars.” But the specific status of that ”new way” is hotly disputed and the precise historical steps involved in that development are extremely complex. Standard histories are those by Dampier (1966) […]

Technology, Science, and Culture

Science and technology were once commonly seen as free from cultural influences. This view was championed in the 1920s by scientists and philosophers known as the ”Vienna Circle” (Rudolf Carnap, Karl Hempel, Moritz Schlick, and others), who maintained that science produces objective, supra-cultural knowledge via direct observation and logic. The heyday of this notion was […]