The Sociology of Discovery

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences


The existence of gravitational waves is predicted by Einstein’s theories. They are very weak `ripples in space-time’ caused by astrophysical catastrophes, such as the collision of two black holes. Scientists have been trying to detect the waves since the late 1960s. Some half-dozen claims to have seen them have been made in the intervening years but none have stood the test of scrutiny by the wider scientific community. The researcher has followed the course of this science over 35 years. In 2004 the researcher published an 870 page book describing the historical sociology of the development of the field from a small science to a billion dollar international project including detailed descriptions of the demise of each of the failed claims. The current grant will enable him to continue monitoring this scientific community, with luck to the point at which they finally detect the waves. The overall object is to understand how scientists decide what is to count as a sound piece of knowledge. The failed claims will be compared with the first successful detection.


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