AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXVII, No. 2, Fall 1995


Study of Large Collaborations in Space Science and Geophysics Issues Findings

Final reports of AIP's study of multi-institutional collaborations in space science and geophysics are now available for the asking. The reports give the findings of the first extensive study ever conducted of a variety of these organizations, based on numerous site visits and analysis of over 200 interviews plus questionnaires and documents. These collaborations can be huge--bringing together teams from a number of institutions, enlisting specialized engineering organizations, sometimes creating intellectual niches for entire communities of scientists. They are usually very costly but are often crucial to the advance of scientific understanding in their field. And they are transient, liable to leave only fragmentary traces for those who need to understand them for purposes of administration, science policy studies, and history.

The AIP reports are based on historical-sociological essays that offer a preliminary sketch of the social patterns and changes over time of collaborations in the space science and geophysics communities. Special attention is given to information that will be useful to archivists, whose work increasingly requires them to understand the structures and functions of collaborations. The reports continue with archival essays describing the records that space science and geophysics collaborations create and retain (or destroy) as they work across institutional lines. There are also appraisal guidelines to help archivists identify and preserve core sets of records relating to their institutions.

Report No. 1 includes summaries of all the findings, followed by recommendations for actions that institutions in space science and geophysics should take to improve the documentation of their work for the sake of both current administration and posterity. It appears that a few simple changes would greatly improve the chances that records will be preserved. The longer Report No. 2 gives the complete historical- sociological and archival essays (for some preliminary findings see the fall 1994 issue of this Newsletter). Included among the appendices are a quantitative sociological report on basic issues of trust in collaboration, and a case study of the importance of a collaboration and a high-technology company to each other. For a free copy of either or both reports, contact the AIP History Center.


This study of space science and geophysics constitutes the second phase of a long-term study of multi- institutional collaborations in physics and allied sciences (as reported in previous fall issues of this Newsletter). Phase I, a study of high-energy physics, was completed in 1992. In our work on Phases I and II we became familiar with a range of styles of multi-institutional collaboration and noticed the centrality of certain issues across the fields we studied. For example: where, if anywhere, is the boundary between an individual scientist's intellectual property and institutional interests and the collaboration's property and interests? Are there other fields where collaborations are as all-embracing as high-energy physics with its enormous author lists, fields where competition and technical specialization force collaborators to keep significant individual autonomy as in space science and some geophysics projects, and fields where collaborations create facilities that provide niches for outside researchers as in some geophysics projects?

AIP staff are now starting a third and final phase, "Comparisons, Conclusions and Policy Recommendations." We will be covering four areas: uses of accelerators (for other than high-energy experimentation), materials science, ground-based astronomy, and medical physics and clinical medicine. We will also study the National Collaboratory, a new technique for multi-institutional collaboration which is being tried out in upper atmospheric physics. In place of the intensive interviewing programs based on selected examples of collaborations that we conducted in the first two phases, we plan to conduct fewer interviews and concentrate on individuals who have been involved in multiple collaborations in the selected areas. We will also exploit the (rather scanty) literature on collaborations in any field of science. The aim is to construct a general typology of scientific collaborations, to analyze patterns of collaborations within the several fields studied, and then advise archivists and policy-makers of the implications for the administration of these organizations and the preservation of their documentary record.

The long-term study of collaborations is directed by Joan Warnow-Blewett with the assistance of Spencer Weart. The project historian is Joel Genuth and the project archivist is Anthony Capitos. The sociological report was written by Lynne Zucker with Michael Darby and the case study of industrial collaboration by Frederik Nebeker. In Phase III, the Center staff will be supplemented by consulting sociologists Wesley Schrum and Ivan Chompalov. Support for the long-term project has come from the American Institute of Physics, the National Science Foundation, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Return to Newsletter Table of ContentsRETURN to Fall 1995 Newsletter Table of Contents

AIP History Center Center for History of Physics
Phone: 301-209-3165
American Institute of Physics 2003 American Institute of Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3843. Email: Phone: 301-209-3100; Fax: 301-209-0843