Social Science: Complex Cognition in Early AIDS Research

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AIDS presented a totally unknown disorder requiring immediate solutions. This study examines how leading scientists studied and thought about AIDS during the first years of the epidemic. We present a detailed analysis of three interviews with scientists who worked at or with the National Institutes of Health. Though representing different disciplines (epidemiology, clinical work, & immunology), the scientists went through similar stages in their thinking. An initial data gathering stage characterized by inductive logic was followed by an explanatory phase using abduction to understand the initial results and generate hypotheses. And finally a deductive stage where the data from the different scientists were combined to help discover the HIV virus as the underlying cause of AIDS. We highlight the discipline-specific manner in which each researcher engaged with the problem, the role of abduction and the influence of the scientists on each other’s reasoning.


Presented at the 30th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Washington, DC, July 23-26, 2008.