Science in Action

Part III

From Short to Longer Networks

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.

Passage #1: (185)

Questions about causes do not deserve an answer if the existence of the effect is not proven first. There would be no special factor to discover for why people believe irrational things, if this irrationality was simply a consequence of looking from the inside of the network to its outside – after having bracketed out all the resources necessary for this network to exist, to extend and to be maintained. There is no use in having a discipline like the sociology of knowledge, that tries to account for non-scientific beliefs, if all questions of irrationality are merely artefacts produced by the place from which they are raised.

Question #1: (211-212)

“Can we say, for instance, that scientists moving through the world are more ‘disinterested’, more ‘rational’, more concerned by the things ‘themselves’, less ‘culturally determined’, more ‘conscious’ than the people they meet along the way?”

Bringing, as they no doubt do, their networks, ideologies, and the conceptions that are a consequence thereof, with them to interactions, do the explorers not conflate the issues of whom is rational/irrational as outlined by Latour? For example, the case in which the Trobriand islander’s monologue brings an entirely different perspective to the situation for the jury in court, where an outsider having knowledge concerning the land tenure system changes the verdict. I don’t just mean that the worldviews are different, as is obviously the case; but the issue of differing pools of information, ways of getting at the information, ways of translating the differences between them are necessarily influenced by the translaters themselves.

Passage #2: (226-227)

The positive loop runs all the more rapidly, if the same Brahe is able to gather in the same place not only fresh observations made by him and his colleagues, but all the older books of astronomy that the printing press has made available at a low cost. His mind has not undergone a mutation; his eyes are not suddenly freed from old prejudices; he is not watching the summer sky more carefully than anyone before. But he is the first indeed to consider at a glance the summer sky, plus his observations, plus those of his collaborators, plus Copernicus’ books, plus many versions of Ptolemy’s Almagest; the first to sit at the beginning and at the end of a long network that generates what I will call immutable and combinable mobiles.

Question #2: (218)

In the case of the geographers and the Chinese fishermen, am I understanding the concept of asymmetry and symmetry properly by positing that when they first encounter one another, a situation of symmetry occurs (based on their matching unfamiliarity with one another) and on subsequent expeditions the situation between the groups is asymmetrical? Or is it asymmetrical when they first meet due to the fishermens’ greater knowledge of the land they live on, in comparison to Lapérouse and his complete lack of said knowledge?



Science in Action: Part II

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.

Question # 1:
“In the diffusion model, this (a Diesel rusting on a dock in an underdeveloped nation) would be accounted for in terms of the resistance, the passivity or the ignorance of the local culture. Society or ‘social factors’ would appear only at the end of the trajectory, when something went wrong. This has been called the principle of asymmetry: there is appeal to social factors only when the true path of reason has been ‘distorted’ but not when it goes straight.” (page 136)

How can you “ignore” that which is essential throughout the construction of a machine? If it wasn’t for the society of consumers, would there be a starting point for those who are constructing the machine?

Passage # 1:

(140-141) “Understanding what facts and machines are is the same task as understanding who the people are. If you describe the controlling elements that have been gathered together you will understand the groups which are controlled. Conversely, if you observe the new groups which are tied together, you will see how machines work and why facts are hard. The only question in common is to learn which associations are stronger and which weaker. We are never confronted with science, technology and society, but with a gamut of weaker and stronger associations; thus understanding what facts and machines are is the same task as understanding who the people are.”

Question # 2:
(page 141-142) “I presented our third rule of method: Nature cannot be used to account for the settlement of controversies, because it is only after the controversies have settled that we know what side she is on. Nature thus lies behind the facts once they are made; never behind facts in the making.”

What scientists are doing is discovering facts, discovering what Nature is. Nature accounts for the settlement of controversies. Facts do not take “sides”; they either are, or they aren’t. Nature has been explained, or it hasn’t, but it is certainly there all the time, unlike the artificial groups Latour describes. Do you agree with the above brief passage, or do you have an alternate explanation? The same is said of society, do you agree with these assessments that put nature and society into a definition-like box, where you can’t use the concept to account for the concept, much as you can’t use a word in its own definition?

Passage # 2:

(page 157) “The young kids’ interests, those of West, of De Castro and of the Data General Board of Directors were all aligned, at least for a few months. This alignment is precisely what is lacking in the two other examples. The Church, the universities, the gentry, the state, the public, the amateurs, the fellow geologists, all have mixed feelings about letting Lyell develop an independent geology; when Lyell talks about his interests, no one else at first feels that he means ‘their interests’ as well. Difficult negotiations are still going on to keep all these contradictory wills in line. In Joao’s case, it is clear that the interests are all at loggerheads. When he talks about his goals, no one else in the whole world thinks they are theirs as well: neither the military, nor industry, nor his colleagues. The relation between Joao and the others is so unambiguous that no community of interest is possible.”


Science in Action

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.

Passage 1:

“In my anatomy of scientific rhetoric I keep shifting from the isolated reader confronted by a technical document to the isolated author launching his document amidst a swarm of dissenting or indifferent readers. This is because the situation is symmetrical: if isolated, the author should find new resources to convince readers; if he or she succeeds then each reader is totally isolated by a scientific article that links itself to masses of new resources. In practice, there is only one reversible situation, which is just the opposite of that described by Galileo: how to be 2000 against one.” (page 50)


Almost as easily as Galileo proposed it, the isolated reader can look up the literature on the point and find support for his/her dissenting views. Do you feel that Latour is ignoring the phenomena of the paradigm shift in the scientific revolution as Thomas Kuhn describes it?

(Of course, later, Latour addresses this (page 94) by pointing out that Nature is at the disposal of the dissenter and, “[a]ny dissenter has got a chance”.)

Passage 2:

“If you dispute further and reach the frontier where facts are made, instruments become visible and with them the cost of continuing the discussion arises. It appears that arguing is costly.” (page 69)


My thoughts: this follows from the phenomena of education and resources being costly and leads to the discussion of the politics behind the funding of science and the issues surrounding science education. I see here the intersection of science and politics (and religion). Also, I see this as a question of value in our culture. Do you see the question and debate surrounding the allocation of resources for scientific research (and/or science education) as a question of value? The point of the scientific method is so the general public can “trust” (to a point), what scientists do, as we all don’t have the resources. This is also leads to the debate over where the money comes from. If “we” are the government, then that speaks to my point about being able to let the scientists go about their business and trust the peer review process. On the other hand, when science (especially the controversial sort) is funded by outside agencies, do more questions arise as to motivations, as opposed to government-funded operations, or less?


Metaphors We Live By

Chapters 4-8

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Print.


Moving from structural metaphors to orientational metapors, this section focuses on how orientational metaphors give spatial orientation to concepts. The authors explain how a culture’s fundamental values are coherent with the metaphorical structure of the concepts in the culture. Priorities are given to values based on the subcultures involved, and we give artificial boundaries to make phenomena discrete,and therefore useful to our purposes. Ontological metaphors arise as a result of our physical experiences and are useful in dealing rationally with experiences. In example, we have entity and substance metaphors, container metaphors, personification, and metonymy.


“IS should be viewed as a shorthand for some set of experiences on which the metaphor is based and in terms of which we understand it” (20). This sentences sums up the explanation given for how language is being used, despite the fact that the experiential basis of metaphors is not well understood. It is demonstrated that the use of specific concepts is dependent on the various experiences that go in to shaping the concept being used. Metaphors are incoherent when based on different experiential bases.

Metonymy serves a referential function, allowing for greater understanding, and for using one entity in place of another. Metonymy is essentially personification, without the implication of human qualities for the comparison. What is done is to take an entity and use a related one in place of it for the purpose of better expression. Another form is synecdoche, where a part of something stands for the whole thing. Metonymy is different from metaphor in that they are not the same type of process; in metaphor we conceive of things in terms of different things, whereas in metonymy we have one entity in place of another.


“Ontological metaphors like this are necessary for even attempting to deal rationally with our experiences” [26]. Are they really, and at the same time, do they not limit our understanding of things? In the example of the mind is a machine, we are looking at a pervasive metaphor of the whole body as a machine, (something that causes all sorts of problems, considering our brain has more in common with the ocean than with a computer). [27]

Does the pervasive quality of some of these metaphors actually disable us culturally from a complete understanding of ourselves and each other?  Are there different ways of expressing ourselves with metaphors that wouldn’t cause so many issues of questions of definition?

Key Words and Phrases:

experiential (19)

ontological metaphors (25)

container metaphors (29)

personification (33)

metonymy (35)

synecdoche (36)

Related Readings:

Nagy, William. 1974. “Figurative Patterns and Redundancy in the Lexicon”. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California at San Diego.


The Social Life of Information

Chapter 7 Reading the Background

Brown, John Seely and Paul Duguid.  The Social Life of Information. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000. Print.


This chapter examines how though predicted in several arenas, paper has not died a timely death, and why. Paper is underestimated for it’s qualities outside the simple transfer of fixed information from one individual to another. Information technology and paper consumption have grown together, at fast rates. Then there’s the newspaper, which, (while nearly obliterated now) hung on due to people enjoying the tactile experience of the material itself (seemingly, though it has other redeeming qualities). The attempt to digitize books soon was realized for the insurmountable task that it is. Libraries are useful for their selection, anyway; what they leave out is useful for the patrons. Post-its show that paper is certainly not dead, nor does it seem to be dying.

Digital books attempt to imitate the conventional ones. In the same vein, the web is organized in a document-friendly format, using web pages, bookmarks, indexes, and the like. There are drawbacks to digitization, as illustrated by the medical historian that uses the smell of vinegar to trace cholera outbreaks. Documents are described as not just a cable for carrying information, but a program used to interpret information. The medium used to carry information is not a passive vehicle shunting data around. The medium has it’s own story to tell, based on the quality of paper, notes in the margins, spills on the pages, and so on. Newspapers are also not passive carriers of information; one determines the importance of the story based on location within the paper. The existence of the paper form of a document implies it’s validity; in a similar way the quality of materials used implies the investment in the information contained in the materials.

More aspects of the physical document are the “warrants”. As mentioned above, some documents carry notes in the margin, additions, and the like which add to the value of the document and are not reproducible online. In the Web’s defense, there are programs set up to monitor things like wear and tear (measured using a record of hits and updates to sites). Documents make, structure, and validate information; they also reform, destabilize and transform information. The circulation of documents is critical to success in most organizations, but can also prove a weakness. In science they lead to “laboratories of social organization” (193). Zines, on the web, lead to the formation of interest groups on the Web, of like-interested individuals. “Imagined” communities arise from shared documents. Newspapers, and everyone reading the same stories written in the same, or nearly the same way, leads to a national consciousness and a sense of community.

Pirating and reprinting documents is much faster than setting up a webpage; it has all the fixity on its side with none of the fluidity that website updates offer. Digital personalized news can make finding common ground difficult, but in general technologies are complementary and variable, finding ways to offer both fixity and fluidity. Communication technologies are described as “time-binding” or “space-binding”, with the issue being that the current news we get today is not as time-binding as the news that is already located in an archive somewhere. Space we have in abundance (digital-wise). The output of websites is compared to the typesets used in printing presses to print books and other materials. The best way to preserve the output of the printing press before the type is destroyed? Print a paper copy.

Discussion: It is interesting how the circulation of documents, so critical to the progress of organizations like the Royal Society (or science in general), is so detrimental to business. It is put forward that while information leakage is bad for individual companies, it is helpful to larger ecologies like the organizations in Silicon Valley. I am curious if this is less the case in this decade, where parts of science (at least pharmaceuticals and other aspects of medicine) are commoditized instead of being for the public good. It would seem that businesses are finding ways of “thinking outside the box” and practicing creativity in order to lessen vulnerability to these unavoidable leakages of information. On the other hand, our genetic code is being sold off for profit, and to what end? Not a good one for humanity, one would imagine. How is the ethos of science affected by this?

The dramatisms come into play in the debate between paper and digitized documentation. Paper copies can often offer answers to the questions of Burke’s pentad in thorough ways that the internet doesn’t contain in the way of evidence. For example, how important a document is could show in how well it’s cared for. Was coffee spilled on it? Is it crumpled and torn, or pristine?

It is interesting to think of the role documents have played in, for the example used, the formation of the democracy of the U.S.A. The shared documents, such as newsletters, pamphlets, lampoons, etc. led to an audience being created for Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Which in turn leads to other publications, all of which created a rhetorical situation. The audience was ripened, so to speak, by the rhetor and their methods. This, while comparatively simple, is definitely a case of rhetorical ecologies, so many things came in to play and it wasn’t a single instance or situation.

Questions: Is the resistance to complete digitization a question of value? Does the procedure of going online undermine the source of the information provided online?

Does the audience of information, for instance how medical research is targeted to the companies that will pay for the results, affect the way the information is presented? Certainly for medicine, as for other companies that are competing for profits within the same industry, there are ways of sharing information that differ from areas where profit is not as issue (as it shouldn’t be in medicine).

Keywords / Phrases:

social worlds (190)

invisible colleges (191)

zines (193)

Context shapes content (202)

Related Reading:

Fidler, Roger. Mediamorphosis: Understanding New Media. Newbury Park: Pine Forge Press, 1997. Print.

Rhinegold, Howard. The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991. Print.


The Social Life of Information

Chapter 4: Practice Makes Process

Brown, John Seely and Paul Duguid.  The Social Life of Information. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000. Print.


          The authors start the chapter by outlining problems in business organization that lead to experimentation in business processes. The field is labeled reengineering and the reengineers make a distinction between value-adding and non-value-adding processes. The reengineers return unsatisfactory results. This makes for a change to “knowledge management”, where reengineers focus on longitudinal links of information that do not encompass all of the activity within any organization. This is problematic as the indifference to practices makes for a struggle for meaning among personnel. Etienne Wenger notes that “it is the practice of the people who work in the organization that bring process to life and life to process” (96).

The authors also outline two resources for garnering understanding. There is the from the outside, where meaning is functional, process-based, cross-functional, longitudinal view. Then there is the from the inside, lateral view, using peer-group explanations. Business process reengineering suffers from four biases; firstly it is monotheistic, assuming that process explains everything. Then it is top-down, command-and-control. Thirdly it is not personnel-focused. Lastly, it discourages laterality.

They also note that directive documentation, using the example of Xerox representatives, is designed for rule-following and doesn’t account for reality. What happens, then, is that the reps go “off the maps that process provides” (103), and use collaboration, narration, and improvisation. Collaboration allows for a collective set of tools, where knowledge and resources are pooled for the good of the group. Narrative stories serve many functions, they help provide sequence, causation, cohesion, and lead to learning. Improvisation allows workers to fit people into the proper shapes, if they don’t readily do so. Not everyone falls into one formulaic view, but improvisation keeps the routine balanced.

The database Eureka is mentioned as an example of one that is not top-down, but instead run by the representatives themselves and therefore proves quite useful. Processing is defined as disguising unauthorized behavior so that it looks authorized. Ultimately, Brown and Duguid have contrasted process with practice. In this chapter, process is formal while practice is informal. This is not a new dichotomy, but it serves a useful purpose in their explanation. They favor practice, but note some of the strengths and weaknesses of both methodologies.


On page 105, the authors discuss the idea of how individualized work actually leads to displacement. In their view, the individual is forced to take on tasks that would be better handled by a group that has peers available. They say that what should be shared tasks are given to individuals in a process misnamed “empowerment”. This results in inefficiency and disempowerment. I focused on this paragraph as it really seemed to sum up the thrust of the whole chapter.

The authors mention that some departments are already organized in such a way as to allow for improvisation and lateral processing. For example, on page 109, they refer to “those in R & D or in business planning”. This is not the only instance and I am looking for the explanation as to how this is accomplished, seemingly without any issues for the linear process-based organizations.


Is the divide between the formality of the process and the informality of the practice as hard a line as it is drawn to seem in this chapter? Or is there a lot more blending that goes on, much in the way they describe for forms to be filled out and routines to be unthwarted by the odd man out?

Why is there such a lack of common sense in business practices? (other than the obvious answer of greed)

Keywords and Phrases:

productivity paradox (91)

gradualism (92)

cross-functionality (98)

Related Reading:

Orr, Julian E. Talking About Machines: An Ethnography of a Modern Job. New York: Cornell University Press, 1996. Print.

Hammer, Michael. Beyond Reengineering: How the Process-Centered Organization is Changing Our Work and Our Lives. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Print.


The Birth of Molecular Biology: An Essay in the Rhetorical Criticism of Scientific Discourse

by S. Michael Halloran

Halloran, S. Michael. “The Birth of Molecular Biology: An Essay in the Rhetorical Criticism of Scientific Discourse”. Landmark Essays on Rhetoric of Science: Case Studies. v 11. ed. Randy Allen Harris. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997.  Print.


Halloran’s essay makes the claim that Watson and Crick’s article “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” creates a new ethos, which he defines as “a characteristic manner of holding and expressing ideas, rooted in a distinctive understanding of the scientific enterprise” (39).  He goes on to add that not only the logos, or specific beliefs of the scientific community, are important, but also the, as Edwin Black phrases it: “stylistic proclivities and the qualities of mental life of which those proclivities are tokens” (40).  When Watson and Crick published “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid”, there was a lot of competition to be the first to discover, and seemingly more importantly publish, about the structure of DNA.  Halloran outlines the structure of the paper, and then summarizes the three main arguments Watson and Crick put forward in support of their model of DNA. He claims their argument is an enthymeme where the premise is missing, which is fine as it is entirely obvious. He argues that it is both implicit and elegant. The next argument shows how the model answers the question of the ratios of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine, which Halloran again claims is left implicit, and is also elegant. Lastly, Halloran points out that the model is not inconsistent with the experimental data that is currently available. The main thrust of Halloran’s argument, then, is that the rhetorical effect of their understated language in the paper is to communicate a sense of absolute confidence.

Halloran, after discussing the language Watson and Crick use, goes on to examine their style. In Halloran’s opinion, they use a “genteel tone” (42). He thinks they are using a personal tone, which is not generally used in scientific papers. Halloran argues that this passive voice and the use of abstract rhetors suppresses human agency, implying that the rhetorical devices can be used without human volition. Watson and Crick don’t fall into this trap, using authority to make their claims. The sum of these styles and arguments is to make the case that Watson and Crick are laying proprietary claim to the double helix. Without upsetting conventions, they nonetheless paint a picture of a speaking scientist. Halloran compares Watson and Crick’s work to that of other scientists, notably that of Oswald Avery. “The character that speaks to us from Avery’s paper is that of a cautious skeptic who is forced somewhat unwillingly to certain conclusions” (45). Watson and Crick’s contrasts with their quiet confidence. Another way to look at the contrasting views is to examine form and strategy. He goes through paragraph by paragraph to show the ways that Watson and Crick whet the intellectual appetite, so to speak. Avery, on the other hand, uses the facts as the strength of his claim, and instead of inspiring interest, is intent on presentation of facts. Watson and Crick make statements about what are legitimate questions, and also suggest uses for theories so that new questions and research can be invented.

As Halloran points out, Watson and Crick bring to science with their paper, “a rhetorical aspect that falls under the heading of ethos. In offering their model of DNA to the scientific world, they simultaneously offered a model of the scientist, of how he ought to hold ideas and present them to his peers” (46). The last part of Halloran’s paper presents his argument that Watson and Crick have become a rhetorical-ethical model for others. He claims that the spirit of molecular biology and genetic engineering is more adventurous and irreverent, which is evident in the language used. This is a legacy of Watson and Crick, according to Halloran, which has led to researchers welcoming the chance to be exploited commercially, possibly at the expense of traditional academic values. He also points out that this has led to scientific discoveries being looked at as private, profit-making properties.


One of science’s brighter points as a human endeavor has been the traditional willingness of scientiss to share time, information, and even specimens and equipment” (47) This is true, and I would argue no less true today, and what Watson and Crick did was bring attention to the arrogance of some scientists in a very blatant way by not using the usual style of scientific prose and instead adopting the personal style of the critic. They don’t so much change the game, as they make it socially acceptable for those with the framework of greed and arrogance to operate in greedy and arrogant ways. At least, that’s my opinion. To say that there is more profit-making is probably true, but would there be even enough money for scientists to perform research with if there weren’t at least a few arrogant attention-grabbers is a question one might ask. As Halloran points out, “the scientist’s claim to a discovery was a rather inexact approximation of a property right, in that one exercised this right most fully by having others make free use of the property; a discovery became a “contribution” in the very moment that it became one’s own property” (47).

By analyzing this work in an almost literary and artistic way, using language such as “the genteel style becomes a transparent burlesque” (43) or “touches of delicate irony” (47) or “the testimony of one of the original actors” (47), is Halloran not making the argument that not only do they create an ethos, they create a new logos? Halloran makes their behavior seem very dramatic when to me it sounds merely human. After all, scientists are bound to science when performing science, but they are people performing science.


Do you think that the concept of scientific discovery as property was really introduced by Watson and Crick’s proprietary style, or only made more permissible after they published their study in quiet arrogance? Halloran hints that it is the latter with his statement about how Watson and Crick are as people outside of their written work; “in the flesh they were obstreperous and irreverent” (43).

Do Watson and Crick use their differing style to lay claim to the paradigm shift that occurs, in that Avery’s just as important article was not recognized for the groundbreaking work that it was?

Keywords and Phrases:

ethos (39)

logos (40)

arrows of desire (45)

Weltanschauungen view (46)

in which knowledge was in a sense commonplace (47)

emic” criticism (48)

Mr. Fix-It spirit (48)

Related Reading:

Chargaff, Erwin. “Molecular Biology comes of Age”. Nature. April 1974. Web.

Watson J.D. and F. H. C. Crick. “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid”. Nature. April 1953. Web.