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Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog

Scientific Discovery and Social Analysis in the Twenty-First Century

Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog brings to life science’s efforts to detect cosmic gravitational waves. These ripples in space-time are predicted by general relativity, and their discovery will not only demonstrate the truth of Einstein’s theories but also transform astronomy. Although no gravitational wave has ever been directly detected, the previous five years have been an especially exciting period in the field. Here sociologist Harry Collins offers readers an unprecedented view of gravitational wave research and explains what it means for an analyst to do work of this kind.
Collins was embedded with the gravitational wave physicists as they confronted two possible discoveries—“Big Dog,” fully analyzed in this volume for the first time, and the “Equinox Event,” which was first chronicled by Collins in Gravity’s Ghost. Collins records the agonizing arguments that arose as the scientists worked out what they had seen and how to present it to the world, along the way demonstrating how even the most statistical of sciences rest on social and philosophical choices. Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog draws on nearly fifty years of fieldwork observing scientists at the American Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory and elsewhere around the world to offer an inspired commentary on the place of science in society today.

392 pages | 19 halftones, 7 line drawings, 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011, 2013

History of Science

Physical Sciences: Astronomy and Astrophysics, History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences

Sociology: General Sociology, Theory and Sociology of Knowledge


“In part an account of sociological fieldwork among scientists in the field and part astronomy-history mystery, Collins’s book is a terrific read informed by almost forty years of research.”

Marianne de Laet | Nature

“[T]he physics junkie or philosophy of science enthusiast . . . will find lots to mull over.”

Science News

Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog is a fascinating and thought-provoking study of twenty-first century pioneering science, charting several years of significant recent developments in the worldwide effort to detect gravitational waves. The unique insider’s perspective that Harry Collins brings to the narrative is a key strength, skillfully interweaving sociological insight and astronomical detective story. His reflections on the denouement to the ‘Big Dog’ event capture very clearly both the inspiration and perspiration that underpin modern scientific discovery.”

Martin A. Hendry, University of Glasgow

“Written in Harry Collins’s usual accessible and readable style, Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog makes for very entertaining reading.”

Daniel Kennefick, University of Arkansas

Table of Contents

Preface to the Enlarged Edition

I. Gravity’s Ghost: The Equinox Event
Chapter 1. Gravitational-Wave Detection
Chapter 2. The Equinox Event: Early Days
Chapter 3. Resistance to Discovery
Chapter 4. The Equinox Event: The Middle Period
Chapter 5. The Hidden Histories of Statistical Tests
Chapter 6. The Equinox Event: The Denouement
Chapter 7. Gravity’s Ghost
Envoi. Science in the Twenty-First Century
Postscript. Thinking after Arcadia
Appendix 1. The Burst Group Checklist as of October 2007
Appendix 2. The Arcadia Abstract

II. Big Dog
Introduction. Big Dog Barks
Chapter 8. Black Holes Observed?
Chapter 9. Evidential Culture and Time
Chapter 10. Time Slides and Trials Factor
Chapter 11. Little Dogs
Chapter 12. Discovery or Evidence
Chapter 13. Closing Arguments
Chapter 14. Twenty-Five Philosophical Decisions
Chapter 15. Opening the Envelope
Appendix 3. Parameter Estimation
Glossary of Tree Pseudonyms with Descriptors

III. The Trees and the Forest: Sociological and Methodological Reflection
Chapter 16. The Sociology of Knowledge and Three Waves of Science Studies
Chapter 17. Methodological Reflection: On Going Native
Appendix 4. A Sociologist Tries to Do Some Physics


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