Gravity's Ghost: Scientific Discovery in the Twenty-first Century

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In theory, at least, gravitational waves do exist. We are constantly bathed in gravitational radiation, which is generated when stars explode or collide and a portion of their mass becomes energy that ripples out like a disturbance on the surface of a serene pond. But unfortunately no gravitational wave has ever been directly detected even though the search has lasted more than forty years.

As the leading chronicler of the search for gravitational waves, Harry Collins has been right there with the scientists since the start. The result of his unprecedented access to the front lines of physical science is Gravity’s Ghost, a thrilling chronicle of high-stakes research and cutting-edge discovery. Here, Collins reveals that scientific discovery and nondiscovery can turn on scientific traditions and rivalries, that ideal statistical analysis rests on impossible procedures and unattainable knowledge, and that fact in one place is baseless assumption in another. He also argues that sciences like gravitational wave detection, in exemplifying how the intractable is to be handled, can offer scientific leadership a moral beacon for the twenty-first century. In the end, Gravity’s Ghost shows that discoveries are the denouements of dramatic scientific mysteries.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice - M. Dickinson
Richard Staley
“This fine book pairs exploratory analysis with the pulse of a detective story. Giving a portrait of the way a community chose to test itself on the threshold of new knowledge, Collins offers the rich sociological insight that can only be won from uncommon experience, from a long-standing dialogue with the community he studies, and from a moral engagement in the future of science.”
Francis Halzen
“A sociologist embedded (with full access!) in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration chronicles the search for gravitational waves. Though physicists, with very few exceptions, are in no doubt that gravitational waves exist, evidence for their passage through the new kilometer-length interferometers would nevertheless represent the scientific event of the twenty-first century. Harry Collins has turned the initial joined search exploiting the LIGO and Virgo instruments into a detective novel that exquisitely describes the social processes associated with discovery (and statistical analysis) in a large collaborative effort.”
Steven Yearley
“The gravity wave community and Harry Collins have done it again: throwing unexpected and brilliant new light onto the sociology of science. Collins’s new book is cannily constructed around a mystery—a false signal may or may not have been introduced into the latest gravity wave detectors in order to check their validity and reliability. Is there a signal; will the scientists spot it; and what does their spotting (or not) of it tell us about how scientific evidence is put together? The book is a great read, is lovingly detailed and is every bit as smart as one would expect on the basis of Collins’s earlier writings.”
Allan Franklin
Gravity’s Ghost reads like a good mystery novel, with an unexpected twist. A significant contribution to the study of scientific practice.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226113562
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,073,717
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Harry Collins is distinguished research professor of sociology at Cardiff University; director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science; and author of many books, including Gravity’s Shadow: The Search for Gravitational Waves, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Gravitational Wave Detection 7

2 The Equinox Event: Early Days 23

3 Resistance to Discovery 49

4 The Equinox Event: The Middle Period 71

5 The Hidden Histories of Statistical Tests 93

6 The Equinox Event: The Denouement 111

7 Gravity's Ghost 127

Envoi: Science in the Twenty-First Century 153

Postscript: Thinking after Arcadia 163

Appendix 1 The Burst Group Checklist as of October 2007 169

Appendix 2 The Burst Group Abstract Prepared for the Arcadia Meeting 179

Acknowledgments 181

References 183

Index 185

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