Shwed, U; Bearman, PS. 2010. The Temporal Structure of Scientific Consensus Formation. AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW 75 (6): 817-840
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Shwed, U; Bearman, PS. 2010. The Temporal Structure of Scientific Consensus
Formation. AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW 75 (6): 817-840..
Author Full Name(s): Shwed, Uri; Bearman, Peter S.
Document Type: Article
Author Keywords: sociology of science; consensus; black boxing; network
KeyWords Plus: TOBACCO INDUSTRY; PUBLIC-HEALTH; SCIENCE; NETWORKS;
SOCIOLOGY; KNOWLEDGE; POLICY; AREAS; FIELD; RISK
Abstract: This article engages with problems that are usually opaque: What
trajectories do scientific debates assume, when does a scientific community
consider a proposition to be a fact, and how can we know that? We develop a
strategy for evaluating the state of scientific contestation on issues. The
analysis builds from Latour's black box imagery, which we observe in scientific
citation networks. We show that as consensus forms, the importance of
internal divisions to the overall network structure declines. We consider
substantive cases that are now considered facts, such as the carcinogenicity
of smoking and the non-carcinogenicity of coffee. We then employ the same
analysis to currently contested cases: the suspected carcinogenicity of cellular
phones, and the relationship between vaccines and autism. Extracting meaning
from the internal structure of scientific knowledge carves a niche for renewed
sociological commentary on science, revealing a typology of trajectories that
scientific propositions may experience en route to consensus.
Addresses: [Shwed, Uri] Ben Gurion Univ Negev, Dept Sociol & Anthropol, IL-
84105 Beer Sheva, Israel; [Bearman, Peter S.] Columbia Univ, New York, NY
Reprint Address: Shwed, U, Ben Gurion Univ Negev, Dept Sociol & Anthropol,
POB 653, IL-84105 Beer Sheva, Israel.
E-mail Address: shwed at bgu.ac.il
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