domingo, 9 de mayo de 2010


Online Interview with Loet Leydesdorff. January 23, 2005

Ligia Parra-Esteban. Hello Loet, I want to ask you some questions about your research. Probably some other members of our lists would join us in this virtual interview. Do you have some time to answer them?

Loet Leydesdorff. Sure, Ligia: go ahead. It is a pity that I don't speak sufficiently Spanish.

Ligia Parra-Esteban. My English is hardly good enough to communicate. Please give me your general ideas concerning Social Studies of Science.

Loet Leydesdorff. Social Studies of Science is in the first place a journal in the field of science and technology studies. The journal is a bit broader than the constructivist program for which it stands in which science is primarily seen as a social process. Usually, in this program which is still quite dominant in the field of STS, one considers "true" and "false" insights in science as symmetrical because the social process is indifferent to this cognitive distinction. Both true and false insights are produced socially (Bloor) as belief systems. One "follows the actors" (Latour).

I don't share this view on science. It identifies science with beliefs held by actors ("the Durkheimian program") and thus one tries to explain the cognitive variation in terms of the (smaller) social variation. Science, in my opinion, is not a normal social process, but a specific one. Belief systems are systems which can be attributed to persons and communities, while science as a system of rationalized expectations can be attributed to discourses. This point was made within the sociology of scientific knowledge first by authors like Mulkay et al. (1983) and Gilbert & Mulkay (1984): it matters for science and for the scientists involved in the longer term whether a belief was based on a "correct insight"--that is, a belief which was later believed to be true--or on error. Asymmetry is produced by scientific discourse over the time axis. The asymmetry between the rationalist discourse and the empirical discourses is based on codification of the communication in one (or more) directions, but not in others.

When it matters whether a belief is held to be true or not, one can raise the question why this matters. The traditional answers of the philosophy of science turn towards transcendental answers, but we are able to provide empirical answer when me includes the option that the sciences develop as discourses which span universes. One expects the dimensions of the universes to be latent for the actors involved because the actors have only direct access to the vectors, but not to eigenvectors of the networks which they span. The focus on the actors thus focusses on the relations, but not on the positions of the actors within structures. In other words, in social studies of science one focuses on the constructions and the constructors, but not on the constructed systems. The latter are more interesting than the former, in my opinion, because they are specific for science, while social processes prevail in all social systems.

Ligia Parra-Esteban. What is Science Communication?

Loet Leydesdorff. Science communication is usually defined in terms of the communication of scientific results and processes to wider audiences, for example, by journalists. Additionally, one can distinguish scientific communication, for example, within scientific journals. Scientific communication is highly codified, while science communication tries to decodify this communication at an interface. The codification in science, for example, may lead to temporary closure of the communication like in the case of a paradigm. In that case the codification is not only stabilized, but also globalized (within a relevant universe of discourses).

My research has been more focused on scientific communication than on science communication. Science communication has to simplify scientific communication by taking one of the degrees of freedom in scientific communication as provisionally stabilized. For example, one can communicate about the complexity in scientific knowledge and/or how the scientific insights evolve. In the latter case, one focuses on the selection mechanisms over time, while in the former case one focuses on the variation. It is difficult to communicate all the dimensions of a rich semantics in a single communication. Within the sciences, the relatively stability in the background is provided by the previous codifications. More recently, I have worked with Iina Hellsten more seriously on the mapping of meaning in order to study the communication of meaning (in addition to information) at


I am not sure in which direction you wish to take this further. It is a complex issue about which one can easily write a book (or two).

Ligia Parra-Esteban

Revisado en Mayo 03 de 2010.

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