Article ID: CBB074491056

Let’s Not Talk About Science: The Normalization of Big Science and the Moral Economy of Modern Astronomy (2020)


In the 1990s, the Dutch astronomical community had to choose its next big telescope project. The starting point of their discussions was not a plan in search of support, but a scientific community in search of a plan. Their discussion demonstrates how big science projects are an integral part of the moral and institutional economy of modern astronomy. Large telescopes are unique but not exceptional: big science has become part of “normal science,” both scientifically and institutionally. In retrospect, the discussions anaylized in this paper discussions concern the earliest phase of three major astronomical instruments: the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), and the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR). Interestingly, the Dutch astronomers focused on what they called “strategic” arguments, explicitly excluding arguments regarding scientific merit. I demonstrate how this should be understood in the context of the moral economy of the community. This analysis, based on rich archive material and background interviews with key actors, adds to our understanding of big science or “megascience” in the post–Cold War era.

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Authors & Contributors
García-Sancho, Miguel
Munns, David P. D.
Aronova, Elena
Baker, Karen S.
Bud, Robert
Chow-White, Peter A.
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Minerva: A Review of Science, Learning and Policy
Physics in Perspective
Historical Records of Australian Science
Journal of Global History
Cambridge University Press
MIT Press
Big science
Cold War
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Government sponsored science
Oliphant, Mark
Oort, Jan Hendrik
Revelle, Roger
Time Periods
20th century, late
21st century
20th century
United States
Great Britain
Soviet Union
European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)
History of Science Society
Brookhaven National Laboratory (United States)
International Geophysical Year (IGY)
Large Hadron Collider (LHC)
International Biological Program

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