Research Article

Group Deliberation, Social Cohesion, and Scientific Teamwork: Is There Room for Dissent?

Deborah Perron Tollefsen


Recent discussions of rational deliberation in science present us with two extremes: unbounded optimism and sober pessimism. Helen Longino (1990) sees rational deliberation as the foundation of scientific objectivity. Miriam Solomon (1991) thinks it is overrated. Indeed, she has recently argued (2006) that group deliberation is detrimental to empirical success because it often involves groupthink and the suppression of dissent. But we need not embrace either extreme. To determine the value of rational deliberation we need to look more closely at the practice and practitioners of science. I offer a closer look here by exploring the joint agency of small research teams. Although there are factors that contribute to the suppression of dissent in group contexts, a closer look at the literature on group dynamics suggests that there are ways to mitigate the effects of groupthink. Thus, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the value of rational deliberation within certain scientific contexts.

Deborah Tollefsen received her Ph.D from Ohio State University in 2002. Her research and teaching interests are in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and action theory. Recent publications include: “Let's Pretend! Joint action and young children” in Philosophy of the Social Sciences and “The rationality of collective guilt” in Midwest Studies in Philosophy.