Two Kinds of Case Study and a New Agreement

  • Allan FranklinEmail author
  • Harry Collins
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 319)


The debate between Collins and Franklin over the demise of the credibility of Joseph Weber’s gravitational wave claims has been treated as an iconic case of conflict over rival interpretations of the history of science (see, for example, Kinzel, this volume). Collins conducted contemporaneous interviews with the scientists and argued that the existence of the experimenter’s regress meant that scientists who generated results that conflicted with Weber were not forced to claim that he was wrong—a possible interpretation was that the critics’ experiments were less sound than Weber’s. Collins argued that the crucial intervention was made by a scientist whose rhetoric encouraged everyone to interpret Weber’s results, rather than their own, as flawed. Franklin drew largely on published sources and claimed that the accumulation of negative results was the inevitable outcome of rational processes. Collins and Franklin still disagree strongly about method and interpretation but the interesting thing discussed here is that, for them, the violence has gone out of the debate. In the early days they found themselves insulting each other but nowadays they find themselves cooperating in joint enterprises. This change reflects a change in the history of science: nowadays it is impossible to believe that there is no social component involved in the acceptance of scientific results so the disagreement between Franklin and Collins is no longer over deep epistemological principle but over methodological approach and their views concerning the intentions of different historical actors. This is the stuff of normal disagreement between historians rather than mutual incomprehension born of incommensurable approaches. The change in the tenor of the debate is a consequence of the fact that a revolution in historiography has taken place.


Gravity Wave Gravitational Wave Gravitational Radiation Delay Excess Laboratory Notebook 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhysicsUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Distinguished Research Professor of SociologyCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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