Brannigan, Augustine. The Social Basis of Scientific Discoveries. New York: Cambridge


Brannigan, Augustine. The Social Basis of Scientific Discoveries. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1981.

This is a beautiful book in the tradition, (if it can be called that), of Mulkay and Barnes and the
anti-Mertonians. Its major contribution may be stated very simply: "discoverer" is an ascribed
social status. Folk knowledge has it that the true discoverer is easily recognized and rewarded by
his confirmation. This book suggests that discoverer is a label appended by scientists on
particular others. "Discoverer" is not a recognition of anything, it is, rather, a creation of a

Discovery is a social process which is in need of exploration. Jack D. Douglas, often cited here,
has it that suicide is a judgment made by a coroner. If one is to understand suicide, it is necessary
to study coroners. The coroner creates suicides. Just as we cannot understand suicides by looking
at suicide rates or suicide records, so we cannot understand discovery without looking at the
process of attribution. This is not a psychological process. This is a social process as it involves
at least two people, the discoverer and someone who labels him or her.

The creative mind and the ordinary mind are one. There are no biological or psychological
differences between the Great Man and the ordinary. The ordinary man is using the same mental
processes as does the "genius." The major difference between the genius and the ordinary Joe is
that the genius is accorded his special status.

Poincare‘s description of his insightful flash (while getting on the tram, "I knew...") is
meaningless. While walking away from my car "I knew..." I'd locked my car keys inside. That
kind of insightful burst is not the mark, clearly, of any sort of genius. We all go bananas when we
"realize" the solution to any puzzle, no matter how trivial. Koehler's Apes on Teneriffe similarly
had their insights. This psychologizing is not helpful and it distracts us from seeing the real
pathways to truth, the process of ascription.