Logic List Mailing Archive

"Generating Experimental Knowledge"

14-16 June 2007
Wuppertal, Germany

Workshop "Generating Experimental Knowledge"

14--16 June 2007, IZWT, Bergische Universitt Wuppertal

Programme; Abstracts

supported by
Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, Cologne
Max Planck Institut for the History of Science, Berlin
Bergische Universitt Wuppertal

Generating experimental knowledge: An outline

Discussions of experiment have been around for three decades and taken
various directions. Ever since Latour and Woolgar~Rs study of Laboratory
Life (1979), with its emphasis on the ~Ssocial construction of scientific
facts~T, aspects of communication and social dynamics have formed an
important focus of studies of experiment and laboratory practice. The scope
and richness of these studies reaches from the 17th century to the present,
from the early modern air pump to particle physics, from problems of
witnessing to the emergence of local languages of experimental communities
(Shapin & Schaffer, Pickering, Galison, among others). Building on the
Edinburgh ~SStrong Programme~T, this strand of research has culminated in
the bold claim that an ~Sexperimenters~R regress~T is omnipresent and can
only be resolved socially (Collins). Cultural dimensions of experimentation
have been analyzed in great detail, ranging from the rhetoric of experiment
to its use in disseminating and promulgating research activities (Cantor,
Hochadel). The materiality of experiment and the role of instruments have
been studied from cultural, social, institutional and technological
perspectives, as well as the requirements of bodily training and material
practice, and the importance of time, space, and place (Rie, Sibum,
Heering, Staubermann, Mller). Focusing on the life sciences, the closely
knit dynamics of experimental systems has been brought to the fore
(Rheinberger). The 19th century ~Sexperimentalization of life~T has been
analyzed in its cultural, social, and institutional dimensions and its
complex relation to changing urban life (Dierig, Schmidgen, Lachmund). As a
result, we now have a rich picture of the settings and culture(s) of
experiment, of its social, institutional, and historical ramifications ~V of
the ~SMangle of practice~T (Pickering). Indeed, the picture owes much of its
richness and contours to a new attention to experimental practice, as
opposed to ready-made presentations of experimental results, and to
scientists~R own presentations of their doing.

However, one of the key features of experiment has attracted significantly
less attention: knowledge. The immensely successful turn towards ~Spractice
and culture~T has often been taken as a turn away from genuine problems of
knowledge. Issues such as the type(s) of knowledge pursued and eventually
obtained though experiments, the dynamics of experimentation and its
capacity to generate knowledge, the role of intervening and manipulating for
the validity and extension of our knowledge claims, to name but a few, have
only rarely been treated in a differentiated manner. From an epistemological
perspective, the New Experimentalism, so distinctly kindled by Hacking~Rs
and Cartwright~Rs 1983 challenges, has not been pursued very intensely. This
is not surprising, given the general development in the historiography of
science, away from an exclusive focus on knowledge and towards higher
sensitivity to context. Nevertheless, given that it is (and always has been)
the explicit aim of most experiments to provide knowledge about the object
experimented upon, the scant attention that is paid to experimental
knowledge indicates a significant deficiency in our understanding of
experiment. To be sure, the problem of experimental knowledge has never been
completely neglected, but the various existing strands of studies are much
thinner than those focusing on the broader context, and do by no means
provide a coherent account. There have been various studies from the
perspective of cognitive science and from the logic of causal reasoning
(Gooding, Nersessian, Renn, Woodward, Grahoff). Attempts have even been
made to grasp the dynamics of experimental knowledge generation with
artificial intelligence models (Simon, Gooding, Grahoff). Questions
regarding the variety and meanings of experimental error have been addressed
from both philosophical and historical perspective (Mayo, Hon, Schickore,
Allchin), and experimenters~R strategies of distinguishing ~Qreal~R results
from instrumental artifacts been listed (Franklin). Starting from hands-on
replications of experiments, the concept of ~Qpractical knowledge~R and its
possible meanings have come under scrutiny (Sibum, Sichau). A particular
historical tradition of ~Sexperimental history~T has been identified, in
contrast both to natural history and experimental philosophy (Klein).
Epistemic uses of experiment different from theory testing have been
analyzed and exhibited, and the formation of concepts and structuring tools
been emphasized (Klein, Steinle, Burian, Feest). Many of these studies bring
together historical and philosophical analysis. However, what we have is
still a rather disparate and varying picture. As recent collections readily
show (Gooding, Pinch & Schaffer 1989, Heidelberger & Steinle 1998, Radder
2002), there is no close connexion between the various argumentative and
analytic strands, and only occasional links to the cultural and social
studies of experiment. The organizers of the workshop are presently pursuing
some of the themes in the context of an international cooperation (funded by
the German-Israeli Foundation for Research and Development, GIF), and have
realized that it is now time to bring various strands of research together
and to aim for a wider view.
The aim of the workshop is to bring experimental knowledge to the limelight.
We use the expression ~Sexperimental knowledge~T as a catch phrase,
referring loosely both to the variety of knowledge and skills required to
conduct experiments and to the knowledge claims generated by experiments. It
is an underlying premise of this workshop that experimental knowledge is a
crucial element of experimentation and that without an understanding of this
element, analyses of experimentation provided by cultural, social, and
material studies will remain deficient. Through discussing, linking and
complementing various approaches, fundamental issues of our understanding of
experimental knowledge will be addressed. While historical and
epistemological considerations will be the main focus of interest, we aim to
integrate the rich results of social and cultural studies of experiment. The
workshop should make clear that the turn towards practice and culture does
not necessarily mean a turn away from knowledge.

There are several perspectives from which the problem of experimental
knowledge may be approached. One may ask, for example, what are the various
types of questions experimenters are pursuing in their work? How do these
questions shape their activities of designing, constructing, running,
evaluating, and communicating their experiments? Epistemic goals vary
widely, but how does experimental practice change relative to the aims of
establishing a law vs. testing a theory, elaborating a model vs. finding a
numeric parameter, searching for correlations (or causal relations) vs.
exploring the potentials of an instrument? Furthermore, the question arises
as to how and in what ways do the various aspects and elements of
experiments relate to experimental knowledge? Or, in the first instance,
what elements of experiments pertinent to knowledge generation should we
distinguish? For example, what kinds of (experimental) knowledge are implied
in experimental objects, in instruments, in experimental procedures, or in
entire experimental systems? Are there specific types of ~Qexperimental~R
knowledge, different both from explicit propositional knowledge and
genuinely implicit (tacit) knowledge? To mention yet another aspect, the
~Qstandard view~R of experiment often implicitly equates scientific
knowledge with scientific theory. But what about concepts and the language
in which the experimental setup is conceived in the first place? What kind
of knowledge is incorporated in these concepts, and how are concepts revised
or new ones formed in the course of experimental activity? Hacking~Rs claim
that ~Sconcepts have memories~T is pertinent to the dynamics of experimental
research, but it needs close attention and thorough elaboration. The
dynamics of knowledge generation in experimental systems, the variety of
possible experimental errors, and the characteristics and implications of
attempts to exclude them provide further topics.

Placing experimental knowledge center stage may help to bring these various
aspects together and thus to create a more integrated view on experiment
than hitherto achieved. It may not only open new perspectives on old
problems (such as the pertinent, never resolved question of the
theory-ladeness of experiments), but also, and more importantly, show and
explicate a much closer connexion between experimenters~R epistemic
guidelines, their practical, material considerations, and the cultural and
institutional settings within which they work.

The organisers:

    * Friedrich Steinle (Wuppertal)
    * Uljana Feest (Berlin)
    * Giora Hon (Haifa)
    * Hans-Jrg Rheinberger (Berlin)
    * Jutta Schickore (Bloomington, IN)