Which scientific disciplines cite the philosophy of science? (Guest post)


What is the impact of the philosophy of science on science?

In the following guest post *, Mahdi Khelfaoui (UQTR), Yves Gingras (UQAM), Maël Lemoine (Bordeaux) and Thomas Pradeu (Bordeaux) discuss their recent empirical research on this question.

[Hearson McArthur Microscope, c.1930s, detail]

Which scientific disciplines cite the philosophy of science?
by Mahdi Khelfaoui, Yves Gingras, Maël Lemoine and Thomas Pradeu

Whether the philosophy of science is, should be, or could be useful to science is a long-standing debate that has recently been revived by philosophers of science as well as scientists. Advocates of a wider dissemination of the ideas and tools developed in the philosophy of science, and of a closer relationship between the philosophy of science and the sciences, have mainly relied on individual examples of philosophers of science who have contributed meaningful philosophical contributions to understanding and solving scientific problems. , clarify scientific concepts or criticize scientific hypotheses. However, few empirical analyzes have attempted to assess, on a larger scale, the extent to which knowledge produced within the scope of the philosophy of science has actually been used, or at least targeted, in the scientific field.

In an article recently published in Synthesis (preprint available here), we tried to shed light on this question from a quantitative point of view, by measuring the visibility of articles on philosophy of science in science, through citations made to reviews of philosophy of science by science Natural Sciences, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as well as Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) disciplines. We defined the field of ‘Philosophy of Science’ by selecting 17 major Philosophy of Science journals included in the Clarivate Analytics Web of Science database, which also contains data on nearly twenty thousand journals covering all STEM disciplines and SSH. Explored at the level of disciplines, journals and authors, our bibliometric analysis allowed us to reveal several features of the relationship and interface between the philosophy of science and a wide and diverse range of scientific disciplines.

Which scientific disciplines cite philosophy of science journals?

We began our analysis by assessing the visibility of the philosophy of science in other sciences at the disciplinary level. In Figure 1, an alluvial map shows the distribution of citations from different STEM and SSH disciplines to Philosophy of Science, between 1980 and 2018. We observe that 30.2% of all citations to Philosophy of Science come from this field itself, and that 19.7% comes from the rest of philosophy. All other SSH disciplines account for 28.8% of citations. Psychology, health, and scientific studies are the three disciplines in the humanities that cite the philosophy of science journals the most. Finally, STEM disciplines represent 21.3% of citations in philosophy of science journals. Clinical medicine, biology and physics are the three disciplines where the philosophy of science is most visible. Overall, about half of all citations to Philosophy of Science journals come from outside the field of philosophy, broadly defined (i.e., including the philosophy of science). So, contrary to what many may think, our data shows that the philosophy of science as a specialized field is far from being self-sufficient and closed in on itself and that philosophical ideas about science are seeping into many disciplines. scientists.

Figure 1 – Distribution of citations from philosophy of science journals from other disciplines between 1980 and 2018 (%)

Which scientific journals cite philosophy of science journals?

The distribution of citations within a set of journals is not homogeneous and rather follows a power law such that a minority of journals represents the vast majority of citations received. Our analysis shows that the affinity between the journals citing STEM and SSH and the philosophy of science journals cited strongly depends on the topics covered by the two categories of journals. For example, in disciplines such as biology, physics or psychology, major journals citing the philosophy of science tend to focus on the theoretical underpinnings and principles of their discipline, thus providing more opportunities to cite conceptual and philosophical articles as well as scientific journals. publish only technical or applied contributions. Not surprisingly, medical and health journals tend to cite philosophy of science journals that publish articles on ethical and bioethical issues. In the field of science studies, philosophy of science journals are mainly cited by sociology and history of science journals, which is not surprising since the philosophy of science and the). The relationships between citation of STEM and SSH journals and cited philosophy of science journals can be explored and visualized in more detail through journal citation networks. We present in Figure 2 a network of journals citing STEM and journals cited in philosophy of science which illustrates the citation affinity between the journals discussed above. A community detection algorithm allowed us to identify coherent subsets which generally correspond to specialties.

Figure 2 – Network of STEM journals citing philosophy of science journals (1980-2018)

The visibility of philosophers of science in other sciences

What are the characteristics, in terms of citation and publication models, of authors whose philosophy of science articles are cited outside their field? figure 3 shows the STEM and Philosophy of Science citation network (each represented by a single node) to authors who published at least one article as a first author in one of our 17 core Philosophy of Science journals before 2018. The network is remarkably structured into three distinct communities of authors. The community on the right side of the network is made up of authors who are mostly cited by philosophy of science journals, which means their articles do not cross the boundaries of their field. The community on the left side of the network represents the authors of philosophy of science articles that are primarily cited by journals in STEM disciplines. It mainly includes practicing scientists who have also published one or more articles in philosophy of science journals.

The community at the center of the network is the most interesting to analyze, since it is made up of authors, mainly philosophers of science, who get some of their articles on philosophy of science cited not only in philosophy of science but also in disciplines. STEM. Their work thus appears more visible to scientists than those of the first group. What makes the philosophers of science of this central community visible in both the disciplines of philosophy of science and STEM? An analysis of the publication and citation models of this group of authors shows that they are either highly cited authors in the field of philosophy of science, or are frequently involved in science, through the frequent publication of committee articles. reading in journals from STEM disciplines. In other words, two main categories of philosophers of science are more likely to be cited by both scientists and philosophers of science: those who achieve high visibility in their own field (philosophy of science) and those who frequently publish in STEM disciplines. These analyzes complement our recent identification of the specific practice of “philosophy in science”, defined as the use of philosophical tools to approach a scientific problem, with the underlying purpose of making a useful contribution to science.

Figure 3 – Network of authors of philosophy of science articles cited at least 20 times in STEM or philosophy of science, 1980-2018


Our article shows that over the past four decades, Philosophy of Science has increased its visibility in a large number of STEM and SSH disciplines and, more importantly, has extended its visibility to more journals and sub-fields. These citations, however, are not evenly distributed across disciplines and journals, with some having more affinities with the philosophy of science than others. Part of the visibility of Philosophy of Science in STEM disciplines can be explained by contributions made by scientists in Philosophy of Science journals, but there is also a large community of Philosophers of Science who are cited both in the fields of philosophy of science and STEM.


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