Farina usefully offers the case study of software engineering to illustrate the three-tiered taxonomy I set out regarding types of social cognition/knowledge. In particular, he argues that such a case study can lend support to the idea that often what we are dealing with in cases of highly integrated collaborative inquiries is merely socially extended knowledge and not (as I call it) distributed knowledge. He also points out, however, that depending on how one understands the details of the case, it could go the other way and lend support to distributed knowledge. I welcome the consideration of concrete cases like this. As I say in my paper, I am not opposed to the idea that there genuinely is distributed knowledge. My point is rather that once the three-tiered conception of social cognition/knowledge is in place we need to be wary about being too quick to treat highly integrated collaborative inquiries as resulting in distributed knowledge rather than a weaker kind of social cognition/knowledge, such as socially extended knowledge. The details of the case are thus all-important.
Sprevak’s commentary also focusses on the case of cognitive failure and the lines of epistemic responsibility, though his concern is instead with my treatment of Wray’s objection to socially extended cognition. Sprevak gives a case of socially extended knowledge whereby an individual (Head) who leads a research team effectively employs other members of a research team (such as RA) as proper parts of his extended cognitive processes. When things go well, Head thus gains socially extended knowledge, where this (I suggest) is individual knowledge. I argue that when things go wrong in this collaborative enterprise, then patterns of individual epistemic responsibility for the error emerge, thereby indicating that there were lines of individual attribution present all along, even if they were obscured by the day-to-day practice. For example, if it turns out that there is cognitive failure in this collaborative enterprise due to RA falsifying results, then we will identify RA as a culprit.
University of California, Irvine
Duncan Pritchard
I am very grateful to Mirko Farina, Orestis Palermos and Mark Sprevak for their insightful commentaries on my paper. I here give a short response to each, to promote further discussion.
By Duncan Pritchard
While I agree that we should be alert to both structural and individual responsibility for cognitive failure in a social scientific system, I don’t believe that this in itself motivates the thought that distributed scientific knowledge is on display. After all, in cases of socially extended knowledge we also have a socially integrated cognitive system, and hence we could quite properly look for structural failures when there is a cognitive failure resulting in such a system. For example, perhaps there is something about the institutional setting in which the scientific collaboration is taking place that accords some agents more (or less) epistemic credibility than they warrant. In short, that there might be structural failures in an integrated cognitive system needn’t entail that the system is a distributed cognitive system in the sense that I identify (i.e., such that it gives rise to distributed knowledge that is non-reducibly attributable to a group subject rather than to individual subjects).
With this in mind, when things go wrong, as in the case of the RA fabricating results, these lines of epistemic attribution will flow in reverse to highlight attributions of epistemic blame. Head might be deserving of some of this epistemic blame, as we’ve noted. But if the lion’s share of the explanatory burden for this cognitive failing lies on the contribution made by RA, then it is to be expected that the lion’s share of the epistemic blame will fall on him too. This is entirely compatible with the thought that, when things were going well, Head was acquiring socially extended knowledge from this collaborative endeavor (perhaps the only person in the team to do so). 
            This issue also crops up with regard to Palermos’s contribution, as he also questions whether the details of a particular case study—in this case the highly collaborative scientific enterprise as described by Knorr-Cetina (and which I discuss in my own paper)¾can only be understood such that, as Palermos puts it, the “scientific cognitive successes—produced by highly distributed scientific research teams such as those within HEP experiments—are attributable to group-level processes and agents” As I note in the paper (and Palermos acknowledges in his reply), I’m not claiming that distributed scientific knowledge is impossible, so it could well be correct that this is an instance of it. My point is just that once we have the three-tiered distinction between socially-facilitated, socially extended, and distributed scientific knowledge in play, then it becomes clear that most cases of apparently distributed scientific knowledge can be accommodated by appealing only to the weaker notions of social scientific knowledge.
Sprevak’s puzzle about this case, however, is why RA is held responsible for this cognitive failure, rather than Head. More specifically, if the RA is really a proper part of Head’s cognitive processes that lead to his socially extended (but individual) knowledge, such that the credit for the cognitive success flows naturally to his cognitive agency, then why doesn’t the blame for the cognitive failure flow to Head’s cognitive agency too? I want to make two points in response to this objection.
This is a part of the symposium on socially extended knowledge
Palermos argues, however, that one consideration regarding the case as described by Knorr-Cetina that might make us specifically opt for distributed scientific knowledge is that when the “collaborations fail, attributions of individual responsibility should not exhaust our inquiry into the collaboration’s shortcomings.” Palermos’s thought is that focusing on individual responsibility for cognitive failure, rather than on the collective responsibility, would blind us to the structural shortcomings of the wider cognitive system.
The bigger point, however, is that Sprevak misunderstands what socially extended knowledge in this case amounts to. He clearly supposes that since the cognitive success is attributed to Head’s socially extend agency, such that he is credited with socially extended knowledge, that it is therefore only attributed to his cognitive agency. But this need not be the case. Indeed, I take it that what will usually happen in collaborative scientific endeavors of this kind is that several members of the team will end up gaining socially extended knowledge of the target cognitive successes. Knowledge acquisition is not a zero-sum game, after all—every individual in the team can in principle gain the knowledge on offer. Once one understands this, then it becomes clear why the flow of epistemic credit need not be solely directed towards Head. Notice too that this point remains even if, as it happens, Head is the only socially extended knower in the research team. For even if none of the other participants in that team clear the threshold for socially extended knowledge, this doesn’t mean that they are excluded from the web of epistemic attribution for the target cognitive successes. Each of them will be playing an explanatory role in the cognitive success of the group, and so attributions of epistemic credit will be appropriate even if they do not rise to the level of socially extended knowledge.
The first is to note that some of the epistemic responsibility for the cognitive failure may well lie with Head—I wasn’t intending to suggest otherwise. Just as Head’s use of a scientific instrument might be sloppy and inattentive, such that the resulting cognitive failure is partly his fault, so Head’s epistemic interactions with the RA in this collaborative scientific endeavor might be epistemically sub-optimal and so deserving of epistemic censure. Similarly, insofar as Head is partially culpable for this epistemic debacle, then it follows that RA isn’t solely epistemically responsible for the cognitive failure in play.
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