What empirical network analysis could offer to research in integrated HPS: The case of studying the diffusion of scientific innovations

Catherine Herfeld (University of Zurich)

It is only recently that philosophers began to discuss the role and usefulness of empirical and computational methods in Integrated History and Philosophy of Science (&HPS). Such a debate does not come as a surprise. Philosophers of science already use experimental tools, formal models, and simulation techniques. Historians of science furthermore draw on topic modeling, network analysis, and other scientometric tools. Moreover, the data to study the development, the social organization, and the procedures of science are readily available. These tendencies have methodological implications for &HPS. As research in &HPS has mainly relied on traditional case study methodology, the questions arise whether and if so in which way such research can benefit from those methods. This paper aims at advancing a discussion about one such method, namely empirical network analysis. To balance the relation between concrete case studies and abstract philosophical concepts, research in &HPS requires methods to carefully, yet systematically study when and how, for example, rational and non-rational factors influence theory choice, progress, and scientific change occur in specific cases, yet allow for justified inferences from such cases. I propose that empirical network analysis is such a method. It is particularly useful because it allows for addressing a set of methodological issues arising from the use of case studies. More specifically, it enables case studies to better fulfil their core functions of concept generation, concept refinement, and empirical justification by allowing for a systematic iterative process between the concrete level of a case and the abstract level of a philosophical concept. I will substantiate this claim by discussing an exemplary application of network analysis to characterize the diffusion process of innovative ideas in science on the basis of a case study. As this example illustrates, network analysis has more methodological advantages than prima facie visible. I conclude that it nevertheless cannot replace more traditional philosophical methods but must rely on them to fully develop its potentials.