from 13 August 2011

In Gravity's Shadow: The Search for Gravitational Waves, Harry Collins introduces "the hidden dimensions of seeing's space-time." One spatial dimension in the case of gravitational waves is the social space of the different research groups with divergent opinions about whether the waves have in fact been detected or not. The other dimension he calls "the chain of hearsay." What he means by this is the chain that runs from the "inside experts" who actually run the experiment and have very intimate, first-hand, and detailed understanding of the measurements and detectors. Even they engage is a whoppingly large amount of inference connecting behavior of the detectors to the supposed underlying event that has been seen. But spreading out beyond these actors are those who might work in similar areas and so would hear about results and "understand" their significance. Further out are those who have every reason to believe those more centrally located but who themselves do not have the expertise to evaluate the claims. And so on.

For SOI purposes, one piece here is to look at the bases of inference at each stage. Combination of assessments of specific sources, channels, and one's own approximate logic — that is, one applies one's own sense of "does that sound plausible given what I know?"