The power of bibliometrics for historical epistemology of 20th century life sciences

  • Hanna Lucia Worliczek (Vortragende*r)

Aktivität: VorträgeVortragScience to Science


Historical epistemology of the life sciences in the latter half of the 20th century is frequently challenged by phenomena of abundance. This concerns not only the sheer amount of published scientific papers and the number of scientists, but also the steadily increasing quantity of interdisciplinary research fields – many of them with their own professional societies, conferences, and scientific journals. This abundance raises the question of how to select historical periods, relevant actors, sources, and historical research fields to address particular epistemic interests. This question gains relevance as more and more periodicals make their historical papers available online. These developments raise the necessity for increasingly delicate source selection processes since pragmatic availability or access constraints decrease constantly. These developments may also provoke new challenges when trying to avoid selection bias. Elaborated tools of the digital humanities, including corpus analyses of whole research fields and disciplines, are one way to make systematic use of these digital sources. However, such high‐end tools are not universally available due to resource limitations, lack of highly specialized expertise, fragmentary full‐text availability, or time‐constraints. Easily applicable bibliometric analyses using digital resources may, however, provide an important tool in source‐based selection and contextualization processes. By taking the history of modern cell biology as an example, I discuss two low‐threshold strategies to tackle the above‐mentioned abundance problems bibliometrically. I discuss (1) a bibliometric strategy to identify relevant research fields and historical periods of increased dynamics as a basis for historical‐epistemological research, with the introduction of a new microscopic imaging method in cell biological research as an example. I (2) discuss a bibliometric strategy to contextualize narratives about cell biological journals by reconstructing historic publication dynamics and impact factors, and by addressing their explanatory power. To conclude, I will illustrate how knowledge from these low‐threshold strategies can inform historical epistemology and how they help weighing conflicting narratives in other sources, exemplified by the case of modern cell biology.
Zeitraum19 Juli 2021
EreignistitelBiennial Meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB)
OrtCold Spring Harbor, USA / Vereinigte StaatenAuf Karte anzeigen


  • Wissenschaftsgeschichte
  • Wissenschaftsphilosophie
  • Bibliometrie
  • Geschichte der Biologie