Scholarly blogs, a space on the side for academic dialogue
“What industrialists might call the ‘traceability’ of products relies on the dependability of Héloïse seated before the trench. It is she the group have elected as guardian of the mission notebook. For each sample, she has note the coordinates of the location, the number of the hole, the time, and the depths of samples; as two colleagues dictate, she has to record all the qualitative data they obtain from each clump of earth before it is consigned to bags.” In his Petites leçons de sociologie des sciences , Bruno Latour sets out to show how scientific data is created. He follows a team of French Institute of Research for Development in Cooperation (ORSTOM) researchers into the heart of the Brazilian forest to study soil samples in an attempt to better understand how forest is transformed into savannah. Latour lifts the lid on how knowledge is produced, and shows the essential role played by notebooks, annotated maps and other improvised gauges of measurement, and how they form a primary representation of the reality under observation. The data from these initial observations is then translated and transformed in controlled conditions across academic networks, from laboratories and their instruments to publications and their calculations, which guaranteeing the validity of the data. In his essay, the sociologist demonstrates, via examples, the ideas laid down in La vie de laboratoire , written with Steve Woolgar: a researcher’s work, and academic discussion in general, always develops in tandem with a very diverse mass of written documentation of which only a very small amount is actually formally published. Before books are published, conference papers read, or articles accepted by peer-reviewed journals, there is a whole army of documentation—measurements, notes, bodies of quantitative data, photographs, procedural records, and field notebooks—that plays an equally important role in the establishment of academic reasoning and in the final publication.