The 2023 David Edge prize is awarded to David Reinecke and Jordan Bimm for their article "The maintenance of ambiguity in Martian exobiology" published in Social Studies of Science. This is an empirically and theoretically rich article that explores how a new scientific field can develop and garner funding in spite of multiple failed experiments (non-detection events) through the maintenance of ambiguity. The article draws on a combination of primary sources (NASA and CalTech archives, published scientific literature, and contemporaneous media coverage) and secondary sources to reconstruct and analyze three events in 1965, 1976, and 1996 to illustrate the role that maintenance of ambiguity played in enabling the field of astrobiology to continue after non-detection of life on Mars. This paper shines as an exemplar of skillfully written and exceptional STS scholarship.
The 2023 David Edge prize committee: Vivette Garcia Deister (Chair), Vincent Li, Michal Nahman, Jaimie Morse.
The Prize Committee awarded an Honorable Mention to Sophia Roosth for her paper "The Sultan and the Golden Spike"; or, "What Stratigraphers Can Teach Us about Temporality", published in Critical Inquiry. This is a richly conveyed piece of STS work that combines thickly described and analyzed ethnographic data with a depth of understanding of the local, political, global, national, and historical significance of the material. It is an engagingly written piece of outstanding STS scholarship.
We are deeply honored to receive the David Edge Prize and thank the prize committee for recognizing our work. This paper came together in a serendipitous way, as we shared an office and interest in Martian exploration. Since then, we have had the distinct pleasure of sharing our research with practicing astrobiologists and advising them on managing (and perhaps even maintaining) ambiguity on future space missions. We are grateful for the generous support of the National Science Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Linda Hall Library. Conversations with Janet Vertesi (another Edge Prize winner) shaped our thinking and the paper. We also extend our thanks to space scientists including Penelope Boston, Paul Byrne, Chris Chyba, Darby Dyar, Tom Krimigis, Lou Lanzerotti, Bob Pappalardo, Louise Proctor, and Abi Rymer, who volunteered their time to talk through our ideas. We want to give a special shoutout to Sergio Sismondo, the editor of Social Studies of Science, who stood by the paper and found reviewers in a time of considerable uncertainty.
Dr. David Reinecke is presently an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the U.S. State Department in the Office of Space Affairs in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. His current portfolio includes public outreach on the Artemis Accords and related issues of cislunar policy. He previously taught at Princeton University in the sociology and engineering departments. Working at the intersection of economic sociology and the sociology of science, he is currently finishing a book with Janet Vertesi about the struggle of space scientists to get and stay funded. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
Jordan Bimm is Assistant Instructional Professor of Science Communication and Public Discourse at the University of Chicago and a 2023-2024 NASA Astrobiology Program Field Scholar. His work in STS examines the history, science, and cultures of space exploration, with a focus on astrobiology and space medicine. His current research project Putting Mars in a Jar recovers the forgotten origin and politics of pre-NASA military astrobiology in the U.S. Air Force. His work has been published in Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences(HSNS) and popularized in The New York Times and The Atlantic.