Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reflecting on History of Science, Feb 3 in Philadelphia

I'm reposting an announcement for an interesting upcoming event hosted by the Philadelphia Center for the History of Science (PACHS). If any of our readers are in attendance, I hope that you will continue the discussion here at AmericanScience.


What Matters About the History of Science and What do we Do About it?
Feb 3, 2012, 4-5:30, Followed by a social hour and light dinner. The American Philosophical Society’s Franklin Hall, 427 Chestnut St.

Join three distinguished scholars for an evening of big questions: What do historians want audiences to understand about the history of science, technology and medicine? What do historians want students to take away from classes, audiences from events, readers from books? What answers to these questions does the community of historians share in common? How do—or should—historians promote what matters about history of science?

Nathaniel Comfort is Associate Professor in the Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University specializing in history of biology; history of recent science; and oral history and interviewing. In addition to his academic publications, he writes newspaper and magazine articles for wider audiences.

Matthew Jones is James R. Barker Associate Professor of Contemporary Civilization at Columbia University working on history of early modern science, technology and philosophy. He is also chair of Contemporary Civilization in the Core Curriculum, a program that aims to prepare students to become active and informed citizens by introducing them to issues concerning the communities that people construct and the values that inform and define such communities.

M. Susan Lindee is Professor of the History and Sociology of Science and Associate Dean for the Social Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania where she works on the history of genetics, gender and science, science and popular culture, and science and war. She was a journalist for ten years before entering academia.

If you are in the area and plan to attend, RSVP by clicking through to the PACHS website here.

History of Medicine, For Human Dignity

An announcement for this conference on the history/memory of the Tuskegee experiments caught my eye in part because it aims higher than do most (and reflects on its use of history more explicitly than is usual). For instance:
Our purpose will not be to engender shame or guilt. Rather we will maturely enter into the realities of the past so as to re-imagine a deeper sense of human care in ourselves today, and thereby build a future never again marred by a holocaust of any kind. This conference will be a rich moment in time to prevent the worst by promoting the best of who we are and what we can do to protect the dignity and respect that is fundamental to being human.
I cannot tell from the agenda (pdf), however, the true degree to which it will be historical in nature. At any rate, offered for your consideration.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Diagnosing the diseases of the past, today

Historians of science and medicine debate whether it is possible to re-diagnose diseases manifested in the past with modern terms. But what about "diseases of the past" that come back today.

Note this 'graf from a Chicago Tribune article on vaccination and the resurfacing of now uncommon diseases:
Bonwit said medical schools must do a better job of teaching young doctors the history of medicine, which is largely the history of disease and death, he said. Archival footage of children with measles or whooping cough, for instance, should be teaching tools to help students identify diseases and understand their severity, he said.
Via Hope Leman. See below.

Funding Database

If you don't already know about ScanGrants, perhaps you should. It is "a public service listing of grants and other funding types to support health research, programs and scholarship" supported by Samaritan Health Services and maintained by Hope Leman, MLIS (who is also an invaluable and prolific contributor to H-Med-Sci-Tech).

Here are the listings for "history of science" grants.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Now that's a dune, Dr. Cowles!
The Library of Congress now hosts a fascinating set of photographs taken by University of Chicago ecologists (and their students), most prominently Henry C. Cowles (no relation to our dear Hank).

On a personal note, I love the images of Lake Michigan dunes. As an undergraduate at Michigan State, I did my best to escape every year to explore these enormous white-sand oddities and feel a bit of wonder.

I did not realize at the time that those same dunes had inspired Cowles' theory of ecological succession, beginning with his 1898 dissertation "The Ecological Relations of the Vegetation on the Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan."

In that seminal work, Cowles explained:
"Ecology, therefore, is a study in dynamics. For its most ready application, plants should be found whose tissues and organs are actually changing at the present time in response to varying conditions. Plant formations should be found which are rapidly passing into other types by reason of a changing environment." (3-4) 

While I saw the dunes as a wonder-filled getaway, Cowles saw a natural laboratory: "These requirements are met par excellence in a region of sand dunes. Perhaps no topographic form is more unstable than a dune." (4)

The LOC site has some useful background pieces on Cowles and the other ecologists involved. There are also many more photos worth perusing. I enjoy the group shots especially, for what they show about "the field" as a place that is certainly serious, but also quite fun.


No dessert unless you eat your US history...

I love this insight from scientist and blogger Ian Hopkinson (SomeBeans) on some salutary side-effects of well-done history of science:
"In the same way that Poirier’s biography of Lavoisier introduced me to the French Revolution, this book on Franklin has introduced me to the American War of Independence. It’s like sneaking vegetables into a child by hiding them in something they like."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Print Culture and Online Publishing

The Wikipedia Homepage on Jan. 18th, 2012

Today is a big day for the internet!  Visit the English-language version of Wikipedia and instead of the familiar start page, you'll see the ominous image above with a message prompting you to "Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge." By denying its Anglo-American users access to the site, Wikipedia is protesting two anti-piracy laws making their way through the United States Congress that it and many other internet content providers (especially social networking sites and blog hosts) claim are overly restrictive. These and other issues surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act are both important and complex. You can read more about them in today's Washington Post.  (If you have a subscription, you can also check out a story in today's New York Times.)

But what caught my attention was another story in the Times, about a website called ResearchGate designed to encourage scientists to collaborate, share ideas and data, and publish their results.  Check it out. This is just the newest installment of many similar efforts to make the web into a platform that encourages scientists to collaborate and share results, intended to bypass traditional academic institutions like conferences and peer reviewed journals. Others include and PLoS

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happy Birthday, William James

Today marks what would've been the one-hundred-and-seventieth birthday of one of the most well-regarded and enigmatic figures in American science: William James. (And, while he's a central figure in my work, my admiration doesn't even approach that of one of my colleagues: William James Dromgold Bouk turns two this March.)

James is a towering figure in American intellectual history – and he's gotten lots of attention in the ensuing century as a result. Lately, it's been picking up. The last few years marked a series of centenaries, including those of some of his best-known works: most significantly, The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902 and Pragmatism in 1907.

But it's more than anniversaries that have raised James's profile. From Louis Menand's Metaphysical Club (which won the Pulitzer in 2002) to Robert Richardson's Bancroft-winning biography (2006) to the privileged place given him by Jim Kloppenberg in Reading Obama, James is on bookshelves outside of the academy in a big way.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Cetacean Scientists in the US

Paul Greenberg recently reviewed D. Graham Burnett's The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century in the New York Times. Greenberg traces the arc, as told by Burnett, of the cetacean scientist from standing knee-deep in whale innards at the turn of the century to being newly enlightened by whale-ish complexity in the interwar years to fighting alongside other frustrated technocrats at the dawn of an age of international conservation to expanding the human and Cete mind in groovy ways amidst a backdrop of Cold War science. He comes away fascinated by the experience, but also wonders if the reading public wouldn't benefit from something less that 793 pages, with footnotes for the footnotes (almost) ---or actually, he wonders if the public wouldn't benefit from more: a shortened version to accompany the encyclopedic one.

Read the review. You'll encounter the characters who most capture Greenberg's imagination: A. Remington Kellogg (the Prince of Whales) and John C. Lilly, both of whom are American scientists worth extended consideration.

(There's a similar, but not so extensive, review at the Wall Street Journal.)
(Also, I haven't seen the text yet, but it sounds like it has footnotes and not merely endnotes. I *love* footnotes. Am I alone here?)

Sunday, January 1, 2012