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The Planetary Science Group

The strength of our group is that we’re experts in particular fields and all come together with our own expertise and we try not to step on each others’ toes.

Adam, interview, groupl

The first group that I have studied empirically through observation and interviewing is the planetary science group, which is a small but longstanding interdisciplinary collaboration among senior researchers and their graduate and post-graduate students. The group examines extraterrestrial surface processes and combines expertise from geology, physics, chemistry and microbiology. Having searched for interdisciplinary collaborations at Danish universities online, I contacted the group in 2010 and soon began to observe their weekly meetings on Tuesday mornings. Later I shadowed individual group members, following them through their professional days. When I had familiarized myself with the group, I set out to interview the five scientists that formed the group’s core at the time of my investigation.

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 S. Wagenknecht, A Social Epistemology of Research Groups, New Directions in the Philosophy of Science,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-52410-2_4

This chapter portrays the planetary science group and illustrates at the same time how I familiarized myself with it, providing examples of the empirical data I obtained. Section 4.1 describes the group meetings where my observations began. As it turned out, these are crucial for the group’s functioning and continually interweave individual research interests into a collaborative experimental practice. Section 4.2 abstracts from my situated observations and describes the group more systematically. Finally, Sect. 4.3 draws on two of the interviews I conducted to provide a more nuanced portrayal of the group from the personal perspective of its group members. The interviews are not only deeply personal accounts of sentiment and experience—they also touch upon a range of issues that are crucial to discussions of scientific practice in social epistemology. The interviews, thus, provide a first glimpse of what it means to wrestle with epistemological problems, problems of epistemic dependence and trust in professional practice.

This chapter, as well as the following Chap. 5, provides the background against which the data that I refer to in empirically informed arguments in later parts of the book gain significance. With its main focus on qualitative empirical data and the way in which I have gathered them, these two chapters may be an unusual read for many philosophers. Regarding content, but also regarding tone and style, these chapters do not abide by the conventions of writing that dominate analytic philosophy of science and social epistemology. Once I have laid out the empirical foundations upon which my reasoning rests, however, later parts of the book return to a way of writing closer to the conventions of analytic philosophy.

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