Title page for ETD etd-09142007-000938


Type of Document Dissertation
Author Seltzer, Michael William
Author's Email Address mseltzer@vt.edu
URN etd-09142007-000938
Title The Technological Infrastructure of Science
Degree PhD
Department Science and Technology Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Pitt, Joseph C. Committee Chair
Burian, Richard M. Committee Member
La Berge, Ann F. Committee Member
Reeves, Barbara J. Committee Member
Keywords
  • narration
  • history of science
  • population genetics
  • radiation standards
  • fallout
  • philosophy of technology
  • philosophy of science
  • postmodernism
Date of Defense 2007-08-27
Availability unrestricted
Abstract
THE TECHNOLOGICAL INFRASTRUCTURE OF SCIENCE

by

Michael William Seltzer

Dr. Joseph C. Pitt, Ph.D., Chair

Science and Technology Studies

ABSTRACT

In this dissertation, I explore a selection of recent work in the philosophy and history of experiment, with an eye toward reformulating its focus and redirecting its future path. Specifically, I re-examine a traditional problem in the philosophy of experiment: how to make sense of scientists’ attempts to separate experimental “signal” or “entity” from background “noise” or “artifact.” This aspect of the analysis of the practice of scientists—the day to day task of getting one’s experimental equipment and techniques to give reliable results that will be accepted by prevailing scientific standards—requires modifications in order to be made compatible with an adequate notion of historiography and with a philosophically and historically tenable view of scientific epistemology. I show that the concept of historical narrative is a crucial, if not primary, construct in answering these questions about interpreting experimental practice. Particular historical narratives, and the historiographies that guide their construction, constitute the crucial evidence for any legitimate view of the epistemological and cultural significance of scientific experimentation. However, narrativity and historiography must be deconstructed before their conceptual significance for experimentation can be evaluated adequately. The metahistorical construct I implement in order to analyze questions concerning scientific experimentation is the technological infrastructure of science.

Joseph Pitt’s concept of the technological infrastructure of science, a material/cultural network of artifacts and structures that enables and sustains the mature sciences, provides the theoretical foundation for my analysis of experimentation. I extend and refine Pitt’s concept of technological infrastructure in order to create a metahistorical tool that researchers in many fields, including Science and Technology Studies (STS), Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Technology, Cultural Studies (of Science and Technology), History of Science, and History of Technology, may utilize when analyzing experimentation. To this end, I develop the technological infrastructure as an incorporation, extension and/or replacement of, for example, Thomas Kuhn’s “disciplinary matrix,” Bruno Latour’s “network,” Peter Galison’s “short-, middle-, and long-term constraints,” Ian Hacking’s “coherence of thought, action, materials, marks,” Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s “experimental system,” Andrew Pickering’s “mangle of practice,” and Richard M. Burian’s “interaction of mechanisms, of structures and functions, at a great many levels.”

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