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Scientific Graphs and the Hierarchy of the Sciences: A Latourian Survey of Inscription Practices

Laurence D. Smith, Lisa A. Best, D. Alan Stubbs, John Johnston and Andrea Bastiani Archibald
Social Studies of Science
Vol. 30, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 73-94
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/285770
Page Count: 22
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Scientific Graphs and the Hierarchy of the Sciences: A Latourian Survey of Inscription Practices
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Abstract

Studies comparing the cognitive status of the sciences have long sought to identify the distinguishing features of 'hard' and 'soft' science. Attempts by philosophers of science to ground such distinctions in abstract principles and by sociologists of science to detect relevant differences (for example, in consensus levels) have met with limited success. However, recent investigations of scientists' concrete practices of data representation provide new leads on this problem. In particular, Bruno Latour has argued that graphs are essential to science due to their ability to render phenomena into compact, transportable and persuasive form. Applying Latour's notion of 'graphism' to the hierarchy of sciences, we found that the use of graphs across seven scientific disciplines correlated almost perfectly with their hardness, and that the same pattern held up across ten specialty fields in psychology.

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