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INTRODUCTION

Lara Huber and Oliver Schlaudt

This volume of fifteen essays offers the reader a multidisciplinary approach to


standardization in measurement.1 Measurement is crucial to modern civilization,
and standardization is crucial to measurement. Standardization in measurement
is also a challenge, for it is a multidimensional object in the study of which the
epistemic and the social are intertwined and, in last analysis, cannot be separated. Over the last few decades research in the natural and life sciences has been
marked by an unstable and often tense relationship between philosophical, historical and sociological approaches. The days of overt aggression (e.g., the science
wars) seem to be over, but even if historians, sociologists and philosophers are
interested in collaborating with one another, they usually do not know how, so
there is a general tendency to withdraw into their own traditional domains. We
think that standardization in measurement offers a quite natural opportunity to
overcome disciplinary boundaries. This volume seeks to inform the reader about
the fundamental relationship between measurement and standardization and to
explore standardization in measurement in its various aspects: standardization of
procedures, instruments and objects, of units of measurement and of vocabulary.

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Measurement and Standardization

Measurement
Measurement is an old companion of mankind, dating back at least to ancient
Mesopotamia. It is also intimately linked to science. Some have even argued that
the development of quantitative methods is coextensive with science itself. [In]
any special doctrine of nature, Kant tells us in his Metaphysical Foundations of
Natural Science from 1786, there can be only as much proper science as there is
mathematics therein and thus measurement, if the mathematics is to be linked

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Standardization in Measurement

to experience.2 Viewed realistically, however, measurement is surely neither sufficient nor necessary for science; rather, it is key to widely differing scientific
practices. As such it is strongly oriented towards the development of precision
instruments and statistical analysis as much as data mining techniques. Not surprisingly, measurement attracted much attention in the early days of epistemology
when physics was still the queen of the sciences it is extremely prominent in
Mach, Poincar, the early Carnap and the Vienna Circle and only ceased to
do so when measurement theory, at intervals from the 1890s on but predominantly since the 1940s, tended to be treated in a purely formal way (axiomatic
theories of measurement, theory of scales). The formal approach to measurement
conceived as the representation of objects by numbers studied the construction of mappings between a given empirical relational structure and a numerical
counterpart, neglecting thereby the intricate role of laboratory work involved in
accessing the empirical relational structure in such a way that numbers can be
mapped onto it. This work is often of a local nature, not stabilized once and for
all, and rests on material artefacts inherited from tradition and adapted to novel
use. These contingent, history-laden circumstances of measurement are mirrored
in the full expression of a measurement result, consisting not only in a numeral
as supposed by the formal or representationalist approach but also in a unit
and a margin of error. These aspects begin to attract attention from various perspectives: studies of error, historical epistemology, the practical turn. In this way,
measurement re-enters the scene. Indeed, a recent review article observes a return
of measurement to the forefront of philosophical research:

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A wave of scholarship has emerged in the past decade that views measurement from a
novel perspective, bringing standards, artefacts, modelling practices, and the history
of science and technology to bear on philosophical problems concerning measurement. This recent work departs from the foundationalist and axiomatic approaches
that characterized the philosophy of measurement during much of the 20th century.
Inspired by developments in the philosophy of scientific modelling and experimentation, contemporary authors draw attention to scientific methodology and especially
to metrology, the science of measurement and standardization.3

Standardization
Crucial to this aspect of measurement is standardization. Standardization is a
practice of regulation that extends into all spheres of human action. Standardization in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century industrial production can be
seen as a major event in human cultural and social history. Accordingly, standardization cannot be reduced to exclusively scientific purposes such as measurement
and its implications for related practices in everyday life. There are very different
objects of regulation and topoi of standardization, including the stabilization

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Introduction

of material objects as much as the control of human interactions. It is for this


reason that sociologist Lawrence Busch in his recent book speaks of standards as
recipes for reality.4 Still, it is the domain of science where the genuine nature of
standards is most apparent, given that they are both prerequisites for scientific
practices and outcomes of scientific expertise. Standards formalize and regulate
strategies of validation and therefore contribute significantly to the evolution of
scientific practices as such. Standards, as for example clinical practice guidelines,
provide trust in scientific methodology but also prioritize a given set of research
practices.5 Several studies in the history of science and technology have shown
that practices of standardization arise predominantly on the basis of interactions
with technical devices, notably measuring instruments. In his book History of the
Thermometer and its Uses in Meteorology historian W. E. Knowles Middleton at
least implicitly illustrates that any history of measurement simultaneously gives
insight into a history of standardization.6 This characteristic is not restricted to
manufacturing technology or the calibration of measuring devices but includes
quite varied approaches to formalization in science. It also responds to significant regulatory challenges, as explored, for example, by Geoffrey C. Bowker and
Susan Leigh Star in their social study on the classification of disease.7 Actually, it
is the social sciences that have shown a steady and substantial interest in practices
of regulation and the effects of standards on human action or rather on human
self-perception in the course of practices of normalization.8 There is a huge
literature on how standardization impacts on how individuals are viewed and
judged, including, most famously, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison by
Michel Foucault and The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould. As regards
practices of standardization in laboratory science, the concept of standardized
packages introduced by sociologist Joan H. Fujimura could serve as a starting
point for further research into the extent to which the standardization of technical devices serves a stabilization of facts and is effectively a means of regulating
human action across divergent areas of application.9
Up until recently, the systematic challenges posed by standardization have
not been addressed from the perspective of philosophy of science. Allan Franklins book Experiments in Particle Physics in the Twentieth Century could be
read as a systematic case study of how standards of measurement (here standard
deviation) determine epistemic values such as significance or credibility. Due to
technical innovation, standards remain objects of improvement or even displacement. This aspect could be classified as part of the history of scientific progress.
Additionally, the case of shifting standards could also be framed as a problem
associated with an established scientific practice. As a consequence, epistemic
values, such as significance or credibility, may be affected when a given standard
is challenged due to its modified use.10

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Standardization in Measurement

Standardization in Measurement: A Multidisciplinary Approach


Standardization in measurement is thus a crucial and yet largely neglected
component in the production of scientific knowledge. Furthermore, it is a
multidimensional issue, which lays bare the entanglement of the scientific, technological and social issues that come into play in the development of knowledge
in the natural and life sciences. As such, its study offers an excellent opportunity
to rethink disciplinary boundaries. What we hope to gain from this new perspective on standardization in measurement is a much clearer picture of how
scientific, technological and social issues not only coexist but indeed interrelate
with and mutually influence one another in science.
Multidisciplinary approaches run counter to the commonplace distinction
between facts and (epistemic) values, between a contingent context of discovery
and a self-sufficient context of justification. This distinction is constitutive of
epistemology as understood by many philosophers, and it is behind the endless quarrels between philosophers and sociologists which have taken place over
the last forty years and which, we think, have often enough paralysed efforts
to understand how science works. The fact/value distinction has always had its
doubters too, however. The heretical movement of pragmatism, for example,
challenged the fact/value dichotomy in a number of fundamental ways, while
some early representatives of the sociology of science were also sceptical about it.
Karl Mannheim, in his 1929 work Utopia and Ideology, regarded the fact/value
dichotomy simply as an over-hasty, hypostatizing institutional strategy aimed at
establishing epistemology as an independent discipline.11
This critical stance has reappeared more recently. In the wake of Nelson
Goodman, Catherine Elgin proposed in 1989 the Relativity of Fact and the
Objectivity of Value, i.e., the thesis that fact and value are inextricably intertwined.12 Feminist philosopher Lynn Hankinson-Nelson and, in neo-pragmatist
mode, Hilary Putnam both draw parallels between their attack on the fact/value
distinction and Quines critique of the synthetic/analytic dichotomy: the normative and the descriptive, just as the analytic and the synthetic, might well be
aspects of our epistemic engagement with the world, but they are not mutually exclusive categories to which all the individual items of our knowledge can
finally be allocated. The reason for this is that statements do not express bare
facts but rather entangle facts and conventions and so they do also with facts
and values.13 In her book The Fate of Knowledge14 (2002) Helen Longino seeks
to overcome the dichotomy between the (non-social) rational and the (nonrational) social by identifying the underlying values constitutive of scientific
discourse and thus of the production of scientific knowledge. Far from being
merely a disturbing factor (Francis Bacons famous idols of the mind), here
the social is the rational not only in the trivial sense of an instantiation of

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Introduction

the rational in the social, but in the sense that the social is constitutive of the
rational, or at least of one of its constituents.
The case of standardization in measurement is a rather striking instantiation
of this observation. To take a case in point, fixing a unit of measurement is clearly
a social act, and it also has a social purpose, namely, to record a finding and to
enable its communication and independent reproduction. It has often been
stressed that ratios of (homogeneous) quantities are independent from units
and hence do not contain conventional elements. True, but this is not the end
of the story because, viewed realistically, scientific knowledge cannot be reduced
to mere ratios and their relations (cf. Nadine de Courtenays paper for further
details on what follows here). If, for example, we write down a law of nature that
links quantities of different kinds as a classical proportion, and if we wish to apply
mathematical operations to it, then we have to fix the denominators of the ratios
so as to transform the classical proportion into an equation which holds between
the numbers. Thus conventionally fixed units come into play again. And if we
further wish to give an invariant expression to this equation, or, to put it another
way, if we want exactly the same equation to hold between both the magnitudes
and their measures (Maxwells double interpretation of equations as it is tacitly
assumed in todays science), even a coherent set of units has to be constructed
coherent in itself, but also coherent in the context of contemporary physics
and its experimental means. Accordingly, understanding scientific knowledge
as it actually occurs within scientific practice demands the study of the invisible infrastructure of metrology ;15 more generally, it requires a recognition of
the contingent, history-laden context in which scientific knowledge is embedded and with which it is entangled in various intricate, often improvised ways.
Objectivity, to put it in general terms, cannot be accounted for as a general trait
of scientific knowledge without taking into account the local and provisional
strategies adopted in order to achieve it. It emerges in the superposition of different practices recording, communicating, reproducing and should in the
last instance not be regarded as an independent property over and above them.
The case of standardization in measurement hence takes us even further than
Longino did in her study, as she focuses only on theory formation in the sense of
a choice between empirically equivalent theories relating to a given set of data.
What we are concerned with, in measurement and standardization, is the very
production of data itself. Standardization in measurement seems to provide an
excellent opportunity for demonstrating the interrelatedness of epistemological
and social factors and thus the need for an approach that combines philosophical, sociological and historical studies and leaves behind the unfruitful quarrels
which have characterized debates in the past.

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Standardization in Measurement

Dimensions of Standardization in Measurement


This volume gathers together fifteen contributions by metrologists, sociologists,
historians and philosophers. In order to enable the entanglement of the social,
the historical and the epistemic, or of the practical and the theoretical, to show
itself (as Wittgenstein might say), we have deliberately not arranged the papers
according to their disciplinary aims or origin but have rather grouped them
according to their shared themes (or at least those themes highlighted most
prominently in them). As a general guide to this volume, we have identified various sets of questions in relation to standardization in measurement: Who are
the actors of standardization? How do they secure acceptance of their norms
and how do they maintain the authority to do so what are the mechanisms
involved? What is the subject of standardization: artefacts such as units, prototypes or measurement devices, procedures and methods (i.e., protocols), or
language, symbolic representation and vocabulary, both on an empirical and on
a methodological level (in metrology)? What are the effects of standardization?
Standardization contributes towards stabilizing data and validating knowledge,
to creating uniform artefacts and shaping scientific practices. Furthermore,
standardization can impact on community building by addressing disciplinary
boundaries. Here both descriptive and normative aspects clearly appear, though
we hold them to be present also in the preceding questions. Standardization is
seen to play a crucial role in both constructing fields and disciplinary identities
and in justifying knowledge. Of course, none of the contributions to the present
volume covers only one of these aspects. The five themes according to which they
are grouped are as follows:

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Making the Field

Measurement is a social practice based on instruments and technical expertise.


In this respect, then, standardization in measurement could be understood as
a coordinated and approved exercise of rule following in a socially and technologically shaped space. Hence concepts and values of measurement affect
social practices: Marin Kusch opens the volume with a philosophical paper on
Wittgensteins rudimentary sociology of metrological knowledge implicit in
his use of metrological metaphors in the analysis of grammar. The relationship
between measurement and the social sphere, however, is a dialectical one, given
that the establishment of shared standards in measurement of units, artefacts
and methods is also a community-building practice. With regard to scientific
communities, it may help in constructing or enhancing disciplinary identity or
in reflecting on existing disciplinary boundaries, as Pablo Schyfters paper illustrates. Schyfter analyses how synthetic biologists seek to promote the discipline
of biological engineering by identifying existing standardized parts in genet-

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Introduction

ics and how this practice is linked to producing valid engineering knowledge.
Whereas standardization could be regarded as essential for community building , we might nevertheless question the extent to which the introduction of
standard formats impacts on the goals of research in a given field. Sbastien Plutniaks sociological study, for example, analyses the role of multivariate analysis
of data in the disciplinary dynamics of French prehistoric archaeology as well as
its impact on the communities definition of its epistemic object.

Standardizing and Representing


Standardization in measurement, though not generally recognized as such in
epistemology, is crucial to representing nature by means of mathematics, numbers and equations (formalization I). However, it also demands conceptual
efforts in metrology, and thus the science of standardization in measurement
standardizes its own vocabulary as well (formalization II). In her philosophical
paper Nadine de Courtenay reveals the metrological preconditions for the representation of physical relations in mathematical equations and shows how this
metrological basis of physical theory links to the coordination of scientific, technical, economic and everyday activities. Luca Mari reflects on the current status
of measurement science, taking as a basis the development of the International
Vocabulary of Metrology (VIM) from 1984 to the present day. The existence and
the development of the VIM reflect practical demands as well as a changing
conception of measurement. Fabien Grgis takes up a current issue of the VIM
debate when he asks: Can we dispense with the notion of true value in metrology? He relates the rejection of the notion of true value in the most recent
VIM to an epistemic turn in metrology, characterized by a focus on practical
issues. He lays bare the entanglement of metaphysical and epistemological issues
within measurement science.

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Calibration: Accessing Precision from Within

Devices, apparatuses, techniques and procedures have to pass calibration tests


before entering the stage. These tests often exhibit a recursive structure: they
depend on both the past and the future, the theoretical and the practical, on
science and metrology. Lna Soler provides the outlines of a theory of calibration. She shows that even in the everyday use of well-mastered instruments,
calibration can be a delicate procedure, and she analyses the challenges involved
in elaborating new practices and prototypes. In his historical study, Shaul Katzir
shows how new practices of standardization impact on the understanding of scientific values. He traces the history of frequency standards from the 1920s to
the invention of the quartz oscillator. Here we witness how the material prerequisites of a popularization of precision came into being in the twentieth century.

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Standardization in Measurement

Genco Guralps case study on the beginning and the end of the Hubble Wars
explores the rivalry between two alternative calibration schemes in the quest to
determine the Hubble constant, and shows how the conflict became meaningless
when in the precision era a new material culture developed, aimed at reducing
error rather than demanding commitment to a single method. He shows how
this error reduction programme displays a structure of epistemic iteration.

The Apparatus of Commensurability


Quantification, coding , evaluation how can scientific phenomena be accessed
by measurement and to what extent does the establishment of standards reflect
possible answers to this question? Franois Hochereau shows in his case study
on measuring animal performance in breeding how establishing a metric, understood as a collective process, makes things governable and at the same time
operates as a device for reaching agreement, how it provides information but
also brackets out aspects of the objects it is applied to. Sharon Crasnow addresses
a case of measurement in the political sciences: in her analysis of coding as a way
of measuring latent concepts she shows that quantification can be goal dependent, i.e., pragmatic decisions within quantification may work for one goal but
may not be easily transported to different contexts. Convergence in the sense
of Hasok Changs epistemic iteration thus could not be guaranteed for cases
such as measuring democracy. Commensurability as an epistemic end of standardization might be challenged if the area of application of a new standard is
expanded: Elizabeth Neswald, coining the notion apparatus of commensurability, pinpoints measurement in nutrition physiology as a historical chapter in the
intersection of the physiological and the social sciences where different dimensions of measurement strengthen but also undermine one another.

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Standards and Power: The Question of Authority

Standardization sets rules, i.e., technical and scientific norms. It thus demands
sovereignty over actants, human or non-human, artefacts and their users. Standardization presupposes social and political authorities. Hector Vera, following
Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, investigates how units of measurement
are socially constructed, arguing that they are a bundle of different processes
such as institutionalization, sedimentation and legitimation, all of which are
at work in socially and disciplinary heterogeneous groups. Standards express
authority and are discussed as powerful but ambiguous non-human actors: Sharon Ku and Frederick Klaessig challenge the ideology of exact measurement in
nanotechnology by analysing the micro-structure of standardization: the socalled Gold Nanoparticle standard is at once a harmonizing calibration device
and an irritating object at the research frontier. The relationship between stand-

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Introduction

ards and power is a multi-layered issue: Lara Huber explores the purposes for
which standards are introduced and how standard formats are established. This
also includes the question of how the very status of standards their epistemic
singularity might be challenged in parallel regimes.
Taken together, these fifteen papers offer plentiful evidence of why standardization in measurement is a central issue. Even as they address a wide range
of perspectives on standardization, including procedures, units of measurement
and basic vocabulary (such as metrological nomenclature), these fifteen papers
are held together by one common topic: although the epistemic and social status
of standards might be scientifically approved, it is by no means beyond question.
This may be so for purely technical reasons, but it may also be due to internal
scientific debates arising from the need for effective standardization as a means
of accessing phenomena through measurement.

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