Testing the Invisible College of Physics

British sociologist Harry Collins asked a scientist who specializes in gravitational waves to answer seven questions about the physics of these waves. Collins, who has made an amateur study of this field for more than 30 years but has never actually practiced it, also answered the questions himself. Then he submitted both sets of answers to a panel of judges who are themselves gravitational-wave researchers. The judges couldn’t tell the impostor from one of their own. Collins argues that he is therefore as qualified as anyone to discuss this field, even though he can’t conduct experiments in it.


Harry Collins, noted sociologist, learns physics as well as or better than some physicists, is able to discuss and describe physics similarly. This experiment shows, to some extent, that one does not have to be inside of a scientific field in order to study and understand a scientific field. That is to say, one can know science without being a scientist. (Which we all knew to some extent) However, more importantly what it seems to indicate is that Science and Technology in Society researchers in their understandings of science and scientific practice could be, and likely are, just as correct as scientists in their observations of science. Now, as a justificatory act, this is important, but it is also important because external observation,outsider research, ethnographic, is generally thought poorly of in the sciences as a result of the ‘science wars’ . However, everyone had a sneaking suspicion that the science wars were not about science as much as policing the boundaries of a culture of expertise. What this paper then says in that light… is that the boundary, unless well policed, is a fiction, and knowledge of a science or discipline can be had without specific participation in that discipline.