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The difference a method makes: methods as epistemic objects in computational science

New paper: The difference a method makes: methods as epistemic objects in computational science

Matt Spencer

https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/VaCBm8ZMM3AXhcz9FmJa/full?target=10.1080/1600910X.2019.1610018

Abstract

Computational science is intrinsically interdisciplinary; the methods of one scientist may be the objects of study for another. This essay is an attempt to develop an interdisciplinary framework that can analyse research into methods as a distinctive kind of epistemic orientation in science, drawing on two examples from fieldwork with a group of specialists in computer modelling. Where methods for simulation are objects of research in their own right, they are distinct in kind to the objects of simulation, and raise a different set of sociological and philosophical questions. Drawing on the historian Hans-Jorg Rheinberger’s theory of epistemic objects, I ask: what kind of epistemic object does a method make, and how is research organized around it? I argue that methods become objects of research as purposeful things, in terms of their enrolment in the intentional structure of the experimental system. And, as methods research tends to be interventionary, in the sense that its mode of study creates and modifies its objects, we therefore observe a practical recursion, a dynamic of scientific reinvention, a ‘tuning’ of experimental systems that sheds light on the form of these systems’ historicity, their differential self-reproduction.