Figure 2 – Network of STEM journals citing philosophy of science journals (1980-2018)
The visibility of philosophers of science in other sciences
Which Scientific Disciplines Cite Philosophy of Science?
by Mahdi Khelfaoui, Yves Gingras, Maël Lemoine, and Thomas Pradeu
[Hearson McArthur Microscope, c.1930s, detail]
What is the impact of philosophy of science on science?
Our paper shows that over the last four decades, philosophy of science has increased its visibility in a large number of STEM and SSH disciplines and, more importantly, spread its visibility among more journals and subfields. These citations, however, are not evenly distributed among disciplines and journals, some having more affinities with 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 an important community of philosophers of science who get cited in both philosophy of science and STEM fields.
Whether philosophy of science is, should be, or could be, useful to science is a longstanding debate that has been recently reignited by philosophers of science as well as by scientists. Advocates of a wider diffusion of ideas and tools developed in philosophy of science, and of a tighter relationship between philosophy of science and the sciences, have mainly relied on individual examples of philosophers of science who have made significant philosophical contributions to understanding and resolving scientific problems, clarifying scientific concepts or critiquing scientific assumptions. However, few empirical analyses have tried to assess, on a larger scale, the extent to which the knowledge produced inside the field of philosophy of science has actually been used, or at least referred to, in the scientific field.
We started our analysis by assessing the visibility of philosophy of science in other sciences at the discipline level. In Figure 1, an alluvial chart 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 that field itself, and that 19.7% come from the rest of philosophy. All the other SSH disciplines acount for 28.8% of citations. Psychology, health and science studies are the three SSH disciplines that cite the most philosophy of science journals. Finally, STEM disciplines account for 21.3% of citations to philosophy of science journals. Clinical medicine, biology and physics are the three disciplines where philosophy of science is the most visible. Overall, about half of all the citations made to philosophy of science journals come from outside the field of philosophy, broadly defined (i.e., including philosophy of science). Thus, contrary to what many may think, our data show that philosophy of science as a specialized field is far from being autarchic and closed on itself and philosophical ideas about science do percolate through many scientific disciplines.
The distribution of citations within a set of journals is not homogeneous and rather follows in general a power law such that a minority of journals account for the large majority of the citations received. Our analysis shows that the affinity between STEM and SSH citing journals and cited philosophy of science journals strongly depends on the topics addressed by both categories of journals. For instance, in disciplines such as biology, physics or psychology, the main journals citing philosophy of science tend to focus on the theoretical foundations and principles of their discipline, thus providing more opportunities for citing papers of a conceptual and philosophical nature than do scientific journals publishing only technical or applied contributions. Not surprisingly, medicine and health journals tend to cite philosophy of science journals that publish papers 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 philosophy of science and science studies are closely linked, especially through the interdisciplinary field of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS). The relationships between citing STEM and SSH journals and cited philosophy of science journals can be further explored and visualized through journal citation networks. We present in Figure 2 a network of STEM citing journals and philosophy of science cited journals that illustrates the citation affinity between journals discussed above. A community detection algorithm allowed us to identify coherent subsets that generally corresponds with specialties.
Figure 3 – Network of authors of philosophy of science articles cited at least 20 times in STEM or philosophy of science, 1980-2018
The community at the center of the network is the most interesting to analyze, since it is composed of authors, mainly philosophers of science, who get some of their philosophy of science articles cited not only in philosophy of science but also in STEM disciplines. Their work thus appears more visible to scientists than those of the first group. What makes philosophers of science of this central community visible in both philosophy of science and STEM disciplines? An analysis of the publication and citation patterns of this group of authors shows that they are either highly cited authors in the field of philosophy of science or intervene frequently in science, through the frequent publication of peer-reviewed articles in journals of 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 publish frequently in STEM disciplines. These analyses complement our recent identification of the specific practice of “philosophy in science”, defined as the use of philosophical tools to address a scientific problem, with the underlying aim of making a useful contribution to science.
In the following guest post*, Mahdi Khelfaoui (UQTR), Yves Gingras (UQAM), Maël Lemoine (Bordeaux), and Thomas Pradeu (Bordeaux) discuss recent empirical research of theirs on this question.
Which scientific journals cite philosophy of science journals?
Figure 1 – Distribution of citations to philosophy of science journals coming from other disciplines between 1980 and 2018 (%)