Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited

Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited

Catelijne Coopmans
Janet Vertesi
Michael Lynch
Steve Woolgar
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited
    Book Description:

    Representation in Scientific Practice, published by the MIT Press in 1990, helped coalesce a long-standing interest in scientific visualization among historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science and remains a touchstone for current investigations in science and technology studies. This volume revisits the topic, taking into account both the changing conceptual landscape of STS and the emergence of new imaging technologies in scientific practice. It offers cutting-edge research on a broad array of fields that study information as well as short reflections on the evolution of the field by leading scholars, including some of the contributors to the 1990 volume. The essays consider the ways in which viewing experiences are crafted in the digital era; the embodied nature of work with digital technologies; the constitutive role of materials and technologies -- from chalkboards to brain scans -- in the production of new scientific knowledge; the metaphors and images mobilized by communities of practice; and the status and significance of scientific imagery in professional and popular culture.ContributorsMorana Alac, Michael Barany, Anne Beaulieu, Annamaria Carusi, Catelijne Coopmans, Lorraine Daston, Sarah de Rijcke, Joseph Dumit, Emma Frow, Yann Giraud, Aud Sissel Hoel, Martin Kemp, Bruno Latour, John Law, Michael Lynch, Donald MacKenzie, Cyrus Mody, Natasha Myers, Rachel Prentice, Arie Rip, Martin Ruivenkamp, Lucy Suchman, Janet Vertesi, Steve Woolgar

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31915-7
    Subjects: Sociology, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Michael Lynch and Steve Woolgar
  4. 1 Introduction: Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited
    (pp. 1-12)
    Catelijne Coopmans, Janet Vertesi, Michael Lynch and Steve Woolgar

    Over the past three decades, representation in scientific practice has become an established topic in science and technology studies (STS). From anatomical to astronomical illustrations, from protein gels to atlases, from remote-sensing imagery to brain scans, a rich field of inquiry spanning historical, sociological, and philosophical approaches has produced analyses of scientific efforts to “capture,” “render,” and otherwise make available aspects of the world. To examine the full richness of these efforts, STS scholars situate historical and contemporary notions of a representation’s “truth to nature” within the contingent activity of locally grounded and discipline-specific, yet also mobile and powerful, practices....

  5. Chapters
    • 2 Drawing as: Distinctions and Disambiguation in Digital Images of Mars
      (pp. 15-36)
      Janet Vertesi

      In the summer of 2006, Susan Lee, a geochemist at a midwestern US university, saw something unusual in an image of Mars. A participating scientist on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission, Susan was working with the Panoramic Cameras, an instrument on board the Rovers that takes digital photographs in color and in stereo. The RoverSpirithad recently been stuck in a sandy patch, and had left behind some unusually deep tracks during its extraction process. As Susan examined the Rover’s images of these tracks using digital image-processing software, she started to recommend to her colleagues on the mission that...

    • 3 Visual Analytics as Artful Revelation
      (pp. 37-60)
      Catelijne Coopmans

      In February 2010, theEconomistpublished a fourteen-page special report titled “The Data Deluge—And How to Handle It.” The cover showed a male figure holding an inverted umbrella toward a sky from which streams of binary data rain down. With his umbrella, the man catches some of the streams, using the distillate to water a flower by his side. Other zeros and ones rain down without bothering the man or his plant. The umbrella device thus helps manage an otherwise overwhelming “torrent of information” (Economist2010, 15), extracting beneficial elements from it. This idea is made salient inside the...

    • 4 Digital Scientific Visuals as Fields for Interaction
      (pp. 61-88)
      Morana Alač

      As visual renderings in sciences are becoming increasingly entangled with computers and computational formats, their digital materiality calls for a distinct approach. To tackle the digitality of scientific visuals,¹ attention turns to how they are engaged as a part of “local, interactionally produced, recognized, and understood embodied practices” (Garfinkel et al. 1981, 135). When scientific visuals are analyzed in a published format, their digitality is, obviously, not directly accessible. This may even be the case when the analysis is based on interviews and classical ethnographic observations. But, if doing and making are considered, the digital materiality of those renderings comes...

    • 5 Swimming in the Joint
      (pp. 89-106)
      Rachel Prentice

      A retired gynecologist I know, citing nineteenth-century surgeon William Halsted, said that anything he can see, he can operate on. The statement appears to be self-evident. Indeed, “exposure” is a surgeon’s term for interventions that make injury or pathology available to sight and action. But what happens when new technologies reconfigure the relationship of hands, eyes, tools, and patient body? This chapter examines the technical and perceptual skills surgeons deploy as they work to see and to act upon patients’ bodies in the operating room. I interrogate examples of open and of remotely mediated surgeries to show how action produces...

    • 6 Chalk: Materials and Concepts in Mathematics Research
      (pp. 107-130)
      Michael J. Barany and Donald MacKenzie

      Chalk in hand, his formulas expressed themselves, it seems, more easily on the board than they were able to with pen in his notebooks, for in his listeners’ presence his fecund genius found again a new zeal, and a ray of joy illuminated the lines of his face when the proof he sought to render understandable struck his audience as obvious.¹

      So recounts an admiring biographer the pedagogical exploits of Augustin-Louis Cauchy, a towering figure of early nineteenth-century mathematics. Cauchy was trained and then became professor of analysis at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique, a school for military engineers that not...

    • 7 Networked Neuroscience: Brain Scans and Visual Knowing at the Intersection of Atlases and Databases
      (pp. 131-152)
      Sarah de Rijcke and Anne Beaulieu

      Brain scans have been in heavy circulation these past two decades as some of the most fascinating and ubiquitous digital images in scientific and cultural spheres. Such images contribute to the constitution of the brain as an object of knowledge (De Rijcke 2008a, 2008b), and of the mind-in-the-brain (Beaulieu 2000). Part of their influence stems from how brain scans tie in to the biologization and digitalization of behavioral and psychological processes. The discrete, mapped-out bright bits seem to provide visual proof for the existence of material substrates of behavioral mechanisms, and for the claim that the basis of the mind...

    • 8 Rendering Machinic Life
      (pp. 153-176)
      Natasha Myers

      “Who here has taken a biology course before?” Dan,¹ a professor of biological engineering, looked up at the eighty or so students who had crowded into a too-small lecture hall on the first day of spring semester classes at this private university on the east coast of the United States. They had arrived for a freshman seminar aimed at recruiting a new cohort of students into the school’s brand-new biological engineering major. Save one or two, all the students put up their hands. “Good,” he responded. “But this will be a little different from what you learned in your other...

    • 9 Nanoimages as Hybrid Monsters
      (pp. 177-200)
      Martin Ruivenkamp and Arie Rip

      In nanoscience, images play an important role. Among these there are visualizations of nanoscale realities assumed to be “down there,”¹ based on data provided by instruments. At the same time, there are graphic designs that convey the message about the nanoscale more clearly, or indicate actual or potential nanoachievements. Nanoimages go further in expressing such design achievements² than do traditional representations in science that attempt to be faithful to nature or to experimental findings. In this chapter we explore whether a new genre of representation is emerging in which design and vision are integral elements. While we discuss this with...

    • 10 Toward a New Ontology of Scientific Vision
      (pp. 201-222)
      Annamaria Carusi and Aud Sissel Hoel

      The emergence of the computational techniques of modeling, simulation, and visualization in all fields of science is producing a new range of visual artifacts that challenge us to reconsider the role of instruments and technologies in scientific observation and representation. One aspect of this is the long-established distinction between qualitative and quantitative methods, which has historically shaped conceptions of scientific methods.¹ In this chapter we discuss the dismantling of the qualitative-quantitative distinction in the practice and instrumentation of computational biology, and the ways in which this prompts us to recognize the limitations of long-established ontological categories.²

      Disciplinary groupings within the...

    • 11 Essential Tensions and Representational Strategies
      (pp. 223-248)
      Cyrus C. M. Mody

      In advancing themselves and their work, scientists balance between innovation and tradition, between building upon and breaking down the current state of knowledge. This balancing act is so central to research that Thomas Kuhn (1977) called it the “essential tension” of science. Yet it is not self-evident whether a particular argument or piece of evidence should be seen as conventional or iconoclastic. Many contributions could be assimilated easily to what has gone before or could be taken as anomalous and disruptive, depending on how they are presented and interpreted.

      If a scientist prefers colleagues to interpret his or her work...

    • 12 In Images We Trust? Representation and Objectivity in the Digital Age
      (pp. 249-268)
      Emma K. Frow

      This chapter draws on a contemporary debate in scientific publishing to address ideas about objectivity, trust, and practices of representation in the digital age. Over the last 10–15 years, digital images have become a ubiquitous feature of scientific journal articles, not least because during this period most journal publishers have implemented electronic submission systems for manuscript text files and their accompanying images (e.g.,Nature2000; Rossner 2002). Whether or not researchers acquired their original image data in digital format, the process of preparing images for publication now requires them to be rendered digitally; a wide and growing array of...

    • 13 Legitimizing Napkin Drawing: The Curious Dispersion of Laffer Curves, 1978—2008
      (pp. 269-290)
      Yann Giraud

      The Laffer curve is not truly a curve but an insight.

      —Roger Starr,New York Times, July 26, 1981

      In its textbook version, the tale of the Laffer curve is a straightforward narrative of how professional economists respond to political propaganda. For instance, in the sixth edition of John Sloman’sEconomics, this two-dimensional diagram is displayed as a symmetrical, bell-like curve (figure 13.1) and located in a box bearing the ironic title “Having your cake and eating it.” The accompanying text begins with a few words about the political origins of the figure, attributed to President Ronald Reagan’s advisor Arthur...

    • 14 How (Not) to Do Things with Brain Images
      (pp. 291-314)
      Joseph Dumit

      An article in the 30 July 2004 issue ofScience(Beckman 2004) discussed a case that was scheduled to come before the US Supreme Court, which concerned whether a 17-year-old convicted murderer named Christopher Simmons should be eligible to receive the death penalty (Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 2005). Specifically, the question was whether adolescents are protected from capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, due to theirrelativeincapacity for decision making compared with adults.¹ The argument put forward by the defense was that adolescence was a distinct period of human life characterized...

  6. Reflections
    • 15 Preface
      (pp. 317-318)
      Steve Woolgar

      Our final section comprises brief commentaries by seven authors who have had longstanding and even formative roles in studies of representational practice. Each of their commentaries offers broad reflections on the field, and each calls attention to both persistent and changing issues in studying representation in scientific practice.

      A first issue is, perhaps inevitably, the very notion of representation. Lorraine Daston speaks of intractable conceptual problems associated with the very idea of representation. Studies of representation, whether “in practice” or otherwise, can inherit those problems by reproducing the conceptual limitations with the very terms they use to describe detailed practices...

    • 16 Beyond Representation
      (pp. 319-322)
      Lorraine Daston

      After some twenty years of remarkable work on visualization in science,¹ it is now astonishing to recall how blind historians of science once were to anything but words: scientific texts were purely textual; when we came to an image (a drawing, a graph, a table, a diagram, a photograph, it was all one), we just flipped the page. Illustrations in history of science monographs, insofar as there were any, consisted almost exclusively of portraits of past scientific luminaries. Pick up almost any recent book or article in the field now and it is likely to be peppered with images, many...

    • 17 Representation in Formation
      (pp. 323-328)
      Michael Lynch

      One of the most often-quoted aphorisms from Wittgenstein’s (1958)Philosophical Investigationsis the line “a picture held us captive, and we could not get outside it” (§115). Of course, Wittgenstein is not concerned with pictures as such, but with the picture theory of language: the ancient and modern preoccupation withreferenceas the primary linguistic function of interest for philosophy. Specifically, it is a preoccupation with words standing proxy for objects, signs for meanings, pictures for things depicted, and signifiers for things or ideas signified. Moreover, Wittgenstein is not simply making an observation about the picture theory’s hold on the...

    • 18 Struggles with Representation: Could It Be Otherwise?
      (pp. 329-332)
      Steve Woolgar

      Empirical studies have characterized representation in scientific practice as involving lengthy struggles with research materials to reconstruct them in a way that facilitates scientific analysis. Rather less attention has been paid to the parallel struggles that characterize our own analytical efforts to come to terms with representation. What are the consequences of our own struggles with research materials? What is the status of “representation” in our analytic accounts? These questions continue to permeate studies of scientific practice. Numerous scholars both in and beyond science and technology studies (STS) have pursued various kinds of skeptical stance, and deployed tactics of disturbance,...

    • 19 Reconfiguring Practices
      (pp. 333-336)
      Lucy Suchman

      As science and technology researchers, how do we make the objects of our research? One way to address this question is through the figure of “practice”—both in the sense of research methods as practice, and in the sense of “practice” as itself an object of research. So my opening question can be rephrased as this one: What are the implications of the fact that we are an integral part of the practices through which our research objects are made? This is of course a longstanding question for science and technology studies (for example, Ashmore 1989; Woolgar 1988), but it...

    • 20 Indistinct Perception
      (pp. 337-342)
      John Law

      If the practices of science represent and visualize the world, then at the same time they don’t. Or at least not directly. Science and technology studies (STS) work on representation attends to what is actually represented and how this is done. That is how it should be. But what happens if we think about the elusive whatever-it-is that lies at or beyond the periphery of vision? What happens if we attend to that which we don’t quite see?

      Leibniz’s thinking has some purchase in STS, and especially within actor-network theory (see, for example, Latour 1988). Monads are Leibniz’s elementary particles....

    • 21 A Question of Trust: Old Issues and New Technologies
      (pp. 343-346)
      Martin Kemp

      The production and manipulation of images in the digital age has been seen as precipitating a crisis of trust. The basic issues, however, are as old as the earliest uses of images and diagrammatic presentations to convey information. There have over the ages been a series of tensions of which participants were aware at the time: episodes such as the dearth of anatomical pictures in early humanist publications of Galenic medicine, alongside the great anatomical picture books (Roberts and Tomlinson 1992); the use of optical devices, such as telescopes and microscopes, to show things that most people could not witness;...

    • 22 The More Manipulations, the Better
      (pp. 347-350)
      Bruno Latour

      Focusing researchers’ attention on the visual aspects of various scientific practices has been of great import because it has brought down to earth many philosophical claims about objectivity. And yet focusing on the visual per se might lead in the end to a blind alley. The reason is that image making in science is very peculiar, so peculiar indeed that following its odd ways offers an excellent way to define what is “scientific,” after all, in science.

      At first, the temptation is great to treat the visual aspects of so many scientific instruments, papers, posters, and displays in the same...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 351-356)
  8. Index
    (pp. 357-366)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 367-370)