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How Well Do Facts Travel?: The Dissemination of Reliable Knowledge Paperback – January 20, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"This fascinating interdisciplinary collection arising from an extraordinary international collaboration is a significant and innovative contribution to a crucial question in science and technology studies: what do we mean by a 'fact'? New light is thrown on this old question by a fresh focus on the transmission and transformation of facts between different contexts, with very welcome attention to neglected subject areas, too. It is an intellectual feast of a volume, with plenty of food for thought for historians, philosophers, and natural and social scientists, especially those who are uncomfortable sitting in conventional disciplinary pigeonholes."
- Hasok Chang, University of Cambridge

"This is a lively and diverse collection of essays about the lives of facts: 'shared pieces of knowledge that hold the qualities of being autonomous, short, specific and reliable.' The book is not so much about what facts are, but about what makes them travel - across space, time, and social worlds - and what gives them character. Focusing on the engaging question, what makes some facts travel well, that is, with integrity, yet with the ability to be put fruitfully to new uses, the book provides such a rich survey of curious, prosaic, profound, and false - as well as true - facts that readers will want to try their hand at grand theorizing, which the authors have politely and wisely refrained from doing. It will be an interesting experiment to see how well these facts about facts travel, and where."
- James Griesemer, University of California, Davis

"How Well Do Facts Travel? accomplishes the uncommon feat of bringing fresh thinking to a most common phenomenon. Far more than merely contextualizing the use of 'facts' in myriad fields, this eye-opening and deeply thoughtful collection of essays sets facts in motion, models their dynamics, and maps their travels. Adventurous yet grounded, the group of scholars engages and challenges assumptions in disciplines ranging from history and archaeology to economics and policy to biology and design."
- Randall Mason, University of Pennsylvania

"Stemming from a five-year group multidisciplinary research project, How Well Do Facts Travel? is a welcome and insightful contribution to the growing bodies of scholarship on comparative and historical epistemology, cultural and technological transfer, social networking, and the philosophies of the social and physical sciences. As with the work of Daston, Poovey, and Latour, this diverse and compelling collection of essays will be as usefully provocative to scholars in the arts and humanities as it will to those in the sciences."
- Mark A. Meadow, University of California, Santa Barbara; Leiden University, the Netherlands

"How Well Do Facts Travel? provides an usual perspective on science and its communication by dealing with the 'lives of facts' and their constitution, development, and circulation, in disciplines as diverse as architecture and social psychology, climate science, and gerontology."
- Staffan Mueller-Wille, University of Exeter

"How Well Do Facts Travel? edited by Peter Howlett and Mary S. Morgan is an impressive exploration - interdisciplinary in character - of the circulation of 'facts' in a number of areas spanning both the natural and social sciences and the humanities as well. Science studies abound in work on the vagaries of metaphors, models, and images. Curiously, so far, facts have hardly been included in this list. Peter Howlett and Mary Morgan's assessment of less the production of facts but what makes them travel and how traveling transforms them opens a new horizon. The authors of the volume address the topic with subtleness and sovereignty, covering a broad range of carefully chosen case studies."
- Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Director, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

"Philosophers of science have long talked about fruitfulness as a criteria of scientific merit. This collection asks how ideas - or facts - actually get to be recognized and used; it is a major contribution that greatly deepens this important problem."
- Stephen P. Turner, University of South Florida

"....The authors explore the ties and the tensions between "integrity" and "fertility" of travel, involving a dialogue of replication and variation.... a variety of perspectives on the problem of travel, presented in papers, often attractively written, that take seriously their particular topics."
>-Theodore M. Porter, University of California, Los Angeles, SCIENCE

"....This superb volume is for all sociologists and philosophers of science, policy planners, and yes, scientists.... Highly recommended...."
>-D.B. Boersema, Pacific University, CHOICE

Book Description

Is a fact still the same fact if you take it somewhere else? Where do the facts we do have come from, and where are they going next? These diverse stories from the humanities and sciences explain why some facts travel well enough to acquire a life of their own.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 486 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (November 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052115958X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521159586
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,173,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bridgette Eichelberger on January 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How Well Do Facts Travel was assigned as a textbook in my critical thinking/writing class, and I felt that it was interesting in places, but some of the discussion felt incredibly abstract, especially Morgan's extended introduction.

The bulk of the book is written by a variety of authors on a host of real-world topics that deal with the slippery, tricky thing that we call a fact. The connecting thread that binds the narratives together is the abstract idea of a fact: how facts are created, transmitted, received, etc., and the many difficulties surrounding every stage in the process.

In my opinion, the most interesting section is Part Two: Matters of Fact, which deals with facts that are present in material objects. Valeriani's discussion of the facts embedded in ancient artifacts is especially noteworthy, as is Oreskes' piece on misinformation on global warming.

Through the use of these individual essays, Morgan and Howlett show that the definition of fact is something that researchers in every field, from history to climate science, must struggle with. This book is extremely thought provoking, and raises many more questions than it answers. It was perfect fodder for our discussion-based class.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This fascinating pastiche of studies about facts is an archetype of opinion, prejudice and nearly fanatical belief written by credentialed scholars drubbing their favorite whipping boys from climate change "deniers" to ancient Greek forms in American nineteenth-century architecture and pretending to be objective.
The giveaway, however, is that the scholars in How Well Do Facts Travel treat facts as objects having existence outside their minds, instead of being statements about existence outside their minds, a distinction that more careful scholars diligently observe. The distinction may sound trivial at first blush, but deeper study shows it to be crucial for critical thinking. Existence does not care what scholars think about it and does not change because of a scholar's findings or opinions. Any and all statements about existence, however, are subject to argument and challenge. Keeping that distinction at the forefront of thought prevents the reader from falling prey to undetected bias, appeals to authority, self-righteous censorship of opposing views, and other lurking intellectual bullying.
Conversely, How Well Do Facts Travel treats facts as if they were objects that exist outside the authors' minds by asking how well they travel. How silly it would appear if stated as How Well Do Statements Travel.
All sixteen essays comprising this book treat facts as objects and put forward the author's opinion as if it were a solid thought, an object, a physical thing, undeniable, unchallengeable, incontrovertible, an expression of absolute truth. When read as a collection of deliberate efforts to dress the author's opinion as absolute truth, this book is highly entertaining as an example of scholarly hubris and the splendid isolation of the community of scholars.
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