During the past 75 years departments in major universities have increasingly divided or split into separate units, a phenomenon I term “fractionation”. Fractionation is not confined to the “mature” disciplines in the natural sciences, Physics, Chemistry, or Biology, but seems to apply generally.
There is some informal preliminary evidence that before a new discipline joins the community of sciences as an independent unit – a process which may take many years – it may already possess a solid theory and may even have impressive supporting data for it. The major attribute of such a new discipline would be its power to stimulate intensive research and its ability to gather much additional “confirming” data (i.e. knowledge).
This brief sketch of how contemporary science may be producing new knowledge disagrees in many respects with those accounts which are primarily based on case histories from the period from Copernicus to Einstein. But science in all its forms has become heavily institutionalized during the past century and it is entirely possible that this has also changed the character of science and how science is done.
Under what historical conditions has this happened? How does the process of fractionation affect the emergence of new theories and consequently the production of data? Does it change the dynamics of the growth of scientific knowledge? By pooling resources from sociology, history and the philosophy of science, I hope to explore and attempt to answer these open questions.