Lydia Patton has embarked on a mission that could spark new discoveries for generations of researchers.

Since the mid-2000s, scholars have produced crucial research in the integrated history and philosophy of science discipline. But accessing those studies has proven difficult because no comprehensive database exists.

Patton, a professor of philosophy at Virginia Tech, is working with a colleague, Professor Jutta Schickore of Indiana University, to fill that void.

“Integrated history and philosophy of science is a transdisciplinary endeavor examining a constellation of issues,” said Patton, who is also a historian of the philosophy of science. “My hope is to build an enduring record of all of the research contributed to the discipline so far that researchers can easily access over and over again in the future.”

Building an enduring repository requires support. The National Science Foundation recognized the importance of the mission, awarding a prestigious grant to Patton and Schickore.

The grant will aid the creation of an open-access searchable database, being developed at Indiana University, of all the publications within the integrated history and philosophy of science since 2007. Originally, the grant also supported an international conference at Virginia Tech to be hosted by the Committee for Integrated History and Philosophy of Science. Patton intended to include an archive of the publications in the conference and place it within the new database.

But then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We planned to host scholars from across Europe, India, Brazil, Canada, and the United States,” said Patton, who, along with Schickore, is a member of the committee’s Executive Board. “In response to COVID-19, we had to seek alternate solutions.”

The committee decided on a workshop plan in lieu of an in-person conference, offering scholars a chance to receive detailed comments from committee members. In the fall of 2020, the committee gathered videos for a virtual conference, and a team of Virginia Tech graduate students — Colleen Malley, Jin Tian Acton, Brandon Burkey, and Hannah Glasson — is producing a series of videos to help researchers present their work.

Graduate students Jin Tian Acton, Colleen Malley, Hannah Glasson, Brandon Burkey
Graduate students Jin Tian Acton, Colleen Malley, Hannah Glasson, and Brandon Burkey.

Patton credited the flexibility of the committee for forging ahead with the conference under challenging circumstances. She also lauded the National Science Foundation for its willingness to extend the grant timeline.

“The National Science Foundation has been fantastic,” she said. “As soon as we knew the writing was on the wall and we would need to alter our plans, the organization notified us to say they’d be willing to move deadlines.”

The organization extended the grant’s final deadline by a year. In the meantime, Patton and Schickore will continue growing the online database.

Integrated history and philosophy of science research currently appears in a variety of journals, including Annals of Science, Perspectives on Science, and HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science. Patton serves as the editor of HOPOS.

By organizing all of the major research within the discipline to date, the database will provide future and current researchers with a launching pad.

“We hope this repository will help orient researchers in the field much faster,” said Patton. “This database will also illustrate how the discipline has evolved and provided crucial solutions to complex problems.”

Patton said the discipline emerged when philosophers of science began recognizing the importance of the history of both philosophy and science.

“The founders of our discipline have a strong interest in making sure historians and philosophers are aware of the key issues and problems in each discipline,” said Patton.

Examples of the discipline’s evolution include a broadening from a focus exclusively on physics to include the life sciences. The geographic reach also widened as international scholars began contributing research to the discipline in a global context.

The National Science Foundation grant to establish the database will continue through August 2021.

Written by Andrew Adkins