Tom Gilbert Publishes “Subjectifying Objectivity”

20 Sep 2020

CHAI PhD candidate Thomas Krendl Gilbert and collaborator Andrew Loveridge published “Subjectifying Objectivity: Delineating Tastes in Theoretical Quantum Gravity Research” in Social Studies of Science. Below is the abstract of the paper:

Research in theoretical quantum gravity has continued expansively even as it has become detached from classic arbiters of research such as direct empirical falsification. This makes it an interesting test case for theories of what motivates and mediates contemporary scientific research and of the nature of scientific objectivity. We conducted 50 semi-structured interviews with researchers in the rival camps of string theory and loop quantum gravity, coded a subset for reoccurring themes, and subjected the resulting data to statistical analysis. To delineate the subjective tastes and the related process of collective consensus-making in contemporary quantum gravity research, we mobilize aspects of Daston and Galison’s depiction of the scientific self and its relation to epistemic virtues, Bourdieu’s field-centered account of social space, and Kantian notions of aesthetics. We make two key contributions. First, our analysis sheds light on the inner workings of the field by connecting its internal epistemic struggles with approaches to understanding scientific fields. Second, our application of theories of social reproduction to the substance of scientific inquiry allows some substantive generalizations of Daston and Galison’s framework.