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Title: Seafarers, silk, and science : oceanographic data in the making
Author: Halfmann, Gregor
ISNI:       0000 0004 7427 3466
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis comprises an empirical case study of scientific data production in oceanography and a philosophical analysis of the relations between newly created scientific data and the natural world. Based on qualitative interviews with researchers, I reconstruct research practices that lead to the ongoing production of digital data related to long-term developments of plankton biodiversity in the oceans. My analysis is centred on four themes: materiality, scientific representing with data, methodological continuity, and the contribution of non-scientists to epistemic processes. These are critically assessed against the background of today’s data-intensive sciences and increased automation and remoteness in oceanographic practices. Sciences of the world’s oceans have by and large been disregarded in philosophical scholarship thus far. My thesis opens this field for philosophical analysis and reveals various conditions and constraints of data practices that are largely uncontrollable by ocean scientists. I argue that the creation of useful scientific data depends on the implementation and preservation of material, methodological, and social continuities. These allow scientists to repeatedly transform visually perceived characteristics of research samples into meaningful scientific data stored in a digital database. In my case study, data are not collected but result from active intervention and subsequent manipulation and processing of newly created material objects. My discussion of scientific representing with data suggests that scientists do not extract or read any intrinsic representational relation between data and a target, but make data gradually more computable and compatible with already existing representations of natural systems. My arguments shed light on the epistemological significance of materiality, on limiting factors of scientific agency, and on an inevitable balance between changing conditions of concrete research settings and long-term consistency of data practices.
Supervisor: Leonelli, Sabina ; Dupré, John Sponsor: European Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: philosophy of science ; oceanography ; scientific data ; scientific practice ; data-intensive science