One could say that science began with a scientific utopia: under the name “Solomon’s House,” this utopia featured prominently in one of seventeenth-century bestsellers, Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. Half research –institute, half secret society, Francis Bacon’s ideal blueprint society for the production and administration of (scientific) knowledge haunted European culture ever since. Many attempted to replicate it, to continue it and to put it into practice: from the visionary millenarian philosophers of the English Civil War to the Royal Society for the Advancement of Learning, from the team of the French Encyclopedie to the various scientific societies of the Enlightenment. How about Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies? How about some of the Soviet “cities” of science? Are they distorted contemporaries echoes of the same scientific utopia?
Why was Bacon’s scientific utopia so appealing? First, it offered a general, imaginative and extremely persuasive model of intellectual collaboration. Second, it depicted an international, well-organized, meritocratic and progressive society, imaginatively combining moral and cognitive qualities with well-established traditions and nice stories. Retrospectively, one can say that Solomon’s House encapsulate some of the major ideals of modern science.
Reading Bacon in this utopian key, however, misses and important point: his blueprint society is a small, well organized research team. No more than 36 characters are populating his “Solomon’s House” – which, by the modern standards or scientific research is a very small group. A small group responsible for the production, administration and communication of scientific knowledge, in a state supported institution, international and well connected with the rest of the world. Does that sound familiar?
What are our scientific utopias of today?
The purpose of this blog is to launch a wide, cross-disciplinary discussion about collaboration in science and humanities. About ideal and normative forms of collaboration (hence our title) but also about collaboration as it is, in the various teams you have encountered (or worked with).