From a historical and sociological perspective, this essay presents and develops the first comprehensive theory of scientific collaboration: collaborative scientific research, formally acknowledged by co-authorships of scientific papers, originated, developed, and continues to be practiced as a response to the professionalization of science. Following an overview of the origins and early history of collaboration in the 17th and 18th centuries, a study of the first professionalized scientific community, that of Napoleonic France, confirms that, as the theory predicts, collaboration is a typical research style associated with professionalization. In the early 19th century, virtually all joint research was performed by French scientists; collaborative research only appeared much later in England and Germany when they, too, underwent professionalization. That historical finding, which constitutes a puzzling anomaly for any other view of scientific teamwork, here conforms to theoretical expectation. Several other predictions of the theory are presented, to be taken-up in subsequent studies.
A review of selected parameters of the growth of scientific collaboration over the last century provides further confirmation of the dependency of teamwork on the increasing professionalization of science. Analysis reveals significant inaccuracies in current views of the recency and prevalence of collaborative research, and affords a more correct picture of twentieth century developments. A change in the growth rate of the practice of scientific collaboration at about the time of World War I, and indications of associations of teamwork with financial support and research publication in leading journals are discussed. Characteristics of the natural history of scientific collaboration signify that collaboration reflects relationships of dependency within a hierarchically stratified professional community, and serves as a means of professional mobility. As such, it continues to fulfil its original functions.
This essay investigates a number of the predictions of the theoretical view of scientific collaboration as a response to the professionalization of science: (1) that collaboration is most typically practiced by the scientific elite, or those who aspire to it, (2) that it increases individual research productivity, and (3) that it enhances the visibility of research to the larger scientific community. With respect to the first professionalized scientific community, that of Napolconic France, the study focusses on the research practices and careers of members of the Society of Arceuil, the Philomatic Society, and the First Class of the Institut, as they illustrate and confirm the accuracy of those predictions.