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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laboratory_Life


This book served as the foundation of actor network theory. It also explains why there is so much paperwork in the lab.


Cycles of Credit

Scientists frequently explain their choice of field by referring to curves of interest and development, as in "peptide chemistry [is] tapering off ... but now ... this is the future, molecular biology, and I knew that this lab. would move faster to this new area" (191). Desire for credit appears to only be a secondary phenomenon; instead a kind of "credibility capital" seems to be the driving motive. In a case study, they show one scientist sequentially choosing a school, a field, a professor to study under, a specialty to get expertise in, and a research institution to work at, by maximizing and reinvesting this credibility (i.e. ability to do science), despite not having received much in the way of credit (e.g. awards, recognition).

Four examples: (a) X threatens to fire Ray if his assay fails, (b) a number of scientists flood into a field with theories after a successful experiment then leave when new evidence disproves their theories, (c) Y supports the results of "a big shot in his field" when others question them in order to receive invitations to meetings from the big shot where Y can meet new people, (d) K dismisses some of L's results on the grounds that "good people" won't believe them unless the level of noise is reduced (as opposed to K thinking them unreliable himself).

The credibility of a scientist and their results is largely seen as identical. "For a working scientist, the most vital question is not 'Did I repay my debt in the form of recognition because of the good paper he wrote?' but 'Is he reliable enough to be believed? Can I trust him/his claim? Is he going to provide me with hard facts?'" (202) CVs are the major way this credibility is proven and career trajectories are the story of its use. Technicians and minor leaguers, by contrast, do not accumulate capital but instead are paid a "salary" by major leaguers.



I should read this book.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
sols_light
Mar. 18th, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
I really don't recommend the Latour I've had to read.

Latour's Network theory is a concept in understanding, but its applications are already subconsciously applied to everything. The actual theory itself is important, particularly to potsmodernism and deconstructivism, but it's not a revelation.

Basically, instead of looking at things in isolation, connect those things which are connected. Now, instead of looking at a pile of connected things, also take the time to look at the connections as things themselves. Latour takes a hideously long time to explain this which isn't new to anyone who's looked at any form of ecology anywhere.

Basically it's the idea of examining connections as pieces as fundamental as what they're connecting. Useful for criticism and analysis, yes. Worthy of founding an entire paradigm shift as some people will try to sell it to you as, no.

I have some other things which I can recommend in terms of looking at forms of social capital from a different HPS Subject, which seem more relevant but I need to get those readers back off Mum. That statement says everything about research though, it's no about how good your theory is it's about whether your theory is sound and it doesn't directly contradict someone in your field.

Poor Mark and his attempts to publish a study on the fact that cutting toes of frogs was inhibiting their likelihood of recature and reducing their lifespan. He had the data and it was completely accurate and pretty well irrefutable, but the person in charge of all the major Frog-related journals in the world says it doesn't affect things and since she must be right, his theory doesn't get publication. That's the power of prestige and it's antithetical tothe way science is supposed to work, but then, science isn't a search for truth, it's the search for an acceptable, verified explanation and that's a completely different thing.

Granted, the current situation helps to tone down the pseudoscience, but it does so at the risk of isolating real science and allowing highly paid studies to be processed as fact. It's really intewresting when you find out the Food Pyramid is only supported by a single study of people in eastern Finland who needed to measure the fat content of Bear Fat in order to get their results or that there is no evidence salt causes hypertension, just correlations between what may be unrelated phenomena.
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