Techno-Scientific Practices: An Informational Approach

Publication date: 5 October 2022

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield International



In scholarly debates, as well as in everyday parlance, we tend to pull science and technology apart: science gives us theory, and technology applies it. In practice, however, science and technologies are highly intertwined. This book sets out to look at the practice of science, and to elucidate the role of technologies and of instruments in the process of knowledge production. In this exercise, it becomes evident that, in the context of scientific practices, technologies cannot be analyzed on their own, but always in relation to us epistemic agents. Thus, the book pleads for the importance to look at the process of knowledge production in techno-scientific practices, in which there is a triad of relations to look at: us – the instruments – and the world.

Russo positions her work at the cross-road of rich and well-developed debates in Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Technology, Philosophy of Science in Practice, and Science and Technology Studies. In particular, it is argued that the way in which science and technology are intertwined cannot be addressed by simply ‘juxtaposing’ methods, approaches, and objects of investigation typical of Philosophy of Science and of Philosophy of Technology. In spite of wide criticism of the concept, Russo argues for a qualified understanding of ‘techno-science’. Methodologically, the book makes two important moves. One move is to look at practices, and the specific take on practices is discussed with respect to the ‘practice turns’ in Philosophy of Science and in Sociology of Science. Another move is to adopt the Philosophy of Information as a philosophical methodology. Specifically, Russo adopts Constructionism as a theory of knowledge that is mid-way between realism and constructivism, and the Method of the Levels of Abstraction, which is meant to provide a most general methodology for posing and addressing philosophical questions, in a rigorous (but not rigid) way, and to foster dialogue across levels.

The first objective of the book is to offer an epistemology of techno-scientific practice. The revisiting of debates on modeling and model validation, evidence, and truth, is meant to shed light on the various ways in which, in the process of knowledge production, technologies and techno-scientists are involved. The production of knowledge, in techno-scientific practices, is captured by the concept of poiêsis: both human and artificial epistemic agents take active part in this process. Along the way, it is explained how a practice approach and an informational perspective help build such an epistemology. The second objective of the book is to motivate a discussion of ontological questions from the vantage point of epistemology. Russo follows the constructionist approach of Luciano Floridi and the ontoepistemology of Karen Barad in setting up a discourse on selected ontological questions in techno-scientific practices. Specifically, it is argued that the epistemology developed in the first part of the book leads to exploring process-based ontologies (instead of entity-based ones) and to rethinking causal production in terms of information transmission.In the closing chapter, Russo reflects on the work ahead for a Philosophy of Techno-Science, and on the potential role of the Philosophy of Information to re-connect areas that, in the course of time, developed too autonomously: (Techno-)Science, Philosophy of Science and of Technology, and Ethics/Political Philosophy.

Table of Contents

Preface by Mieke Boon

1. Whence Philosophy of Techno-Science?

The origin of the project

The contents of the book

Motivation and perspective


2. Philosophy of Science or Philosophy of Technology


2.1 Parallel contexts and debates

2.1.1 Distinct institutional contexts

2.1.2 Distinct academic outputs

2.1.3 Distinct objects of investigation

2.2 PSP tries to bridge the gap

2.3 Neglected traditions: ‘Techno-science’ in French epistemology

2.4 What do we need a concept of ‘techno-science’ for?

3. Techno-scientific practices: theoretical framework and selected episodes


3.1 The ‘practice turn’ in sociology and in philosophy of science

3.2 How to study ‘practices’, in practice

3.3 Selected episodes of techno-scientific practices

3.3.1 What are these ‘episodes of’, exactly?

3.3.2 Episode 1: Molecular epidemiology and exposure research

3.3.3 Episode 2: Computational history of ideas and the e-Ideas project

3.3.4 Episode 3: The measurement of vitamin D

3.3.5 Episode 4: High energy physics and the ATLAS experiment

3.4 What is the role of instruments in the process of knowledge production?

4. Two tools from the Philosophy of Information


4.1 Why going informational?

4.2 The Philosophy of Information

4.2.1 Tool 1: Constructionism

4.2.2 Tool 2: The Method of the Levels of Abstraction

4.3 Perspectivism and the role of epistemic agents


5. Modeling and validation in techno-scientific practices


5.1 What is a model?

5.1.1 A vast literature to organize and systematize

5.1.2 Models as representations

5.1.3 Models as objects

5.2 Models and reality

5.2.1 Models mediate between epistemic agents and the world

5.2.2 Models helps epistemic agents isolating relevant factors

5.2.3 Models guide epistemic agents through the process, like a map

5.3 Methodological pluralism

5.3.1 A plurality of types of modeling practices

5.3.2 Methodological pluralism, styles of reasoning, and foliated pluralism

5.3.3 The perils of methodological imperialism

5.4 The practice of model validation

5.5 The materiality of modeling

6. The informational content of evidence


6.1 Models generate evidence

6.2 The limits of analytic approaches and the materiality of evidence

6.3 Evidence as semantic information

6.4 A practice approach to evidence and the case of evidence hierarchies

6.3.1 Evidential pluralism

6.3.2 If evidence hierarchies are wrong, then what?

7. Establishing the truth of techno-scientific claims


7.1 Why bother with truth?

7.1.1 Modelling, language, and truth

7.1.2 Examples of techno-scientific claims

7.2 The received view in analytic PhilSci: truth as correspondence

7.3 The PI approach: truth as correctness within a modeling framework

7.4 The conceptual design of ‘truth’: correctness, contextual correspondence, procedural objectivity, and the role of epistemic agents

8. Techno-scientific knowledge and the role of instruments


8.1. Propositional and situated knowledge

8.1.1 Knowledge and language

8.1.2 Knowledge and situatedness

8.1.3 Knowledge in techno-science practices

8.2 Knowledge is Relational

8.3 Knowledge is Distributed

8.4 Knowledge is Embodied

8.5 Knowledge is Material

8.5 ReDiEM-Knowledge

8.5.1 A constellation of concepts

8.5.2 Understanding the prism: validity, evidence, truth, and knowledge

8.6 The role of instruments in the process of knowledge production

8.6.1 Instruments as the bearers of knowledge

8.6.2 Instruments belong to the network of actors

8.6.3 Instruments mediate the human-technology relation

8.6.4 Instruments respond to ‘what the world is like’

9. Poiêsis: how human and artificial epistemic agents co-produce knowledge


9.1 Why ‘poiêsis’?

9.2 Poiêsis, beyond epistêmê and technê

9.3 The poietic character of human epistemic agents

9.3.1 The knowledge-maker tradition

9.3.2 The production of knowledge

9.4 The poietic character of artificial agents

9.4.1 Technologies that can transform the environment

9.4.2 The semi/quasi-autonomous role of (non-digital) instruments

9.4.3 The agency of instruments

9.5 The epistemic and moral responsibility of knowledge co-production

9.5.1 The concept of ‘in-betweennes’

9.5.2 The epistemic and moral responsibility of poietic agents


10 Deriving ontology from epistemology


10.1 Ontoepistemology and constructionism

10.2 Agency, structures, and relations

11 The prospects of process-based ontologies


11.1 Entities and the ‘myth of substance’

11.2 Entities or processes?

11.2.1 French philosophy of techno-science

11.2.1 Practice-oriented studies of individuals and individuality

11.3 Process philosophies in (philosophical) context

11.4 Processes and interactions

12 Causality as information transmission


12.1 Do we need to ‘cement’ things together?

12.2 The mosaic of causal theory

12.3 Accounts of causal production

12.3.1 The classic process account

12.3.2 Complex-systems mechanisms

12.3.3 Capacities/powers/dispositions

12.4 Tracing the transmission of information

12.5 Two episodes of information transmission

12.5.1 Tracing decay signatures in the LHC

12.5.2 Tracing signal from the noise in omics analyses

12.6 The ontoepistemological and constructionist character of information transmission

13 Wither Philosophy of Techno-Science?

Philosophy of Information and the ability to connect distant edges

The research ahead