History of Science and Technology/Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Colloquium

semester, 2016


Friday, January 22nd 2016
Speaker: Susan Wolf, University of Minnesota Law School
Subject: Precision Medicine & the Challenge of Sharing Genomic Results
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In January 2015, President Obama announced plans to fund a nationwide Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI). A year later, plans are under way to assemble a large and diverse cohort of 1 million participants to build a prospective research resource to fuel population-wide research. The PMI aims to use a new model of research driven by highly engaged patients actively partnering in data collection and having broad access to their own results as well as the cohort’s aggregate results. However, there remain big questions about this ambitious plan for return of results. For the last decade, the research community has actively investigated and debated those questions. Among them is how to determine what results are sufficiently understood to return, whether individuals should have access to uncertain results, and whether family members should be able to obtain a loved one’s genetic results that may have implications for relatives. These questions raise pressing issues in ethics, law, biomedical science, and clinical care.


Friday, January 29th 2016
Speaker: Margaret Carlyle, Department of History, University of Minnesota
Subject: From Paris to St. Petersburg: Portable Anatomies in Enlightenment Europe
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In 1759, the French surgeon Sauveur-François Morand (1697-1773) was in the final stage of preparing an anatomical collection for transport to the court of Elizabeth of Russia (1709–1762), where it would be dispatched to the Medical Chancery of St. Petersburg. This “Arsenal of Surgery” was four years in the making and comprised custom-made objects fashioned by anatomical modellers, as well as joiners, cutlers, goldsmiths, and sculptors. Shortly before its departure for Russia, Morand presented the collection to members of the Paris Royal Academy of Sciences accompanied by its most remarkable contributor, Mlle Biheron (1719–1795), who demonstrated on her lifesize wax woman. With the Academy’s stamp of approval for his scheme, Morand issued a Catalogue with the royal printer detailing the Arsenal’s contents and the intricacies of trafficking anatomical knowledge.

This talk situates the ultimately failed attempt to transmit the Arsenal from Paris to St. Petersburg within the broader context of Mlle Biheron’s three decades in the business of modeling anatomical waxworks. We discuss Morand’s project alongside the second attempt by philosophe Diderot (1713–1784) to bring Biheron’s wares to Russia, as well her independently arranged exhibitions in London. We see how forms of royal patronage, as well as the creative roles of medical intermediaries and experts, were a central feature of attempts to circulate scientific knowledge in the form of object lessons. It follows that the quality of what we call ‘portability’ conferred increasing prestige both to patrons and clients who participated in the circulation of anatomical hardware, while simultaneously presenting challenges beyond those experienced in more localised forms of knowledge display. By way of conclusion, we demonstrate how the patron-client exchanges characteristic of Enlightenment knowledge production and transfer were replaced by the Revolution’s nationalization of medical education.


Friday, February 5th 2016
Speaker: Larry Smith, Department of History, University of Saskatchewan
Subject: Reviving Thomas Beddoes: The Chemical and Medical Alternatives of the Late Enlightenment
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Thomas Beddoes asserted the oft disputed proposition that social and medical revision went hand in hand. Among 18th century republicans he was far from alone. While his pneumatic chemistry proved no panacea, Beddoes reflected a widespread group of chemists and medics who were intent on confronting orthodoxy at every opportunity through novel, chemical and electrical, therapies emerging from private laboratories. This seminar examines Beddoes’ extensive search, with his many supporters, for medical alternatives during the chemical revolution. In so doing, it reveals Beddoes as a highly-influential and much regarded, if politically divisive, figure by the early 19th century.


Friday, February 12th 2016
Speaker: Otávio Bueno, Department of Philosophy, University of Miami
Subject: Visual Evidence and Styles of Scientific Reasoning
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

The notion of style of scientific reasoning has been used as an analytic tool for the characterization of significant features of scientific practice (in particular, by Crombie [1994] and Hacking [2002]). Styles of scientific reasoning are different from scientific theories in a given domain of inquiry: styles are broader than theories, and they are not so dependent on features of the particular domain. In this work, I provide a characterization of the concept of style of reasoning that overcomes some difficulties that have been raised against this tool (by Bolduc [2014]). I then examine the role played by visual evidence in a characteristic style of reasoning found in much of contemporary sciences, which I call instrumental style. The implications for the normative nature of styles and some limitations of visual evidence in the sciences are finally examined.


Friday, February 19th 2016
Speaker: Richard Hirsh, Department of History, Virginia Tech
Subject: Shedding New Light on Rural Electrification: The Neglected Story of Successful Efforts to Energize Farms in the 1920s and Early 1930s
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m. Co-sponsored with the Institute for Advanced Study.

Traditional histories of rural electrification usually glorify New-Deal efforts of the 1930s to bring electricity to farmers, enabling them to enjoy modern amenities like their urban cousins. Though not disparaging the productive work pursued by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), created in 1935, this talk challenges the standard narrative by highlighting extensive electrification efforts undertaken in the 1920s and early 1930s by utility companies, farmers, and previously unrecognized agricultural engineers. Working at land-grant colleges, such as the University of Minnesota, these academic engineers served as intermediaries between farmers and utility managers, and they helped quadruple the number of rural homesteads that obtained electricity in the years between 1924 and 1931. (Not incidentally, the first rigorous experiment to determine how to electrify farms occurred in Red Wing, Minnesota, managed by UM agricultural engineer, Earl A. Stewart.)

The talk will also include an explanation of why the traditional historiography of rural electrification has remained so prevalent and popular. It suggests that historians may have paid inadequate attention to the context of the pre-Depression era, when government rarely became involved in enterprises undertaken largely by business organizations. More significantly, perhaps, historians found the standard narrative appealing because it contains colorful characters and a good-versus-bad storyline.


Friday, February 26th 2016
Speaker: Marc Ereshefsky, Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary
Subject: Science and Metaphysics: Lessons from Microbiology
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

The typical view of biological individuality is that such individuals have parents from one species and start life as single zygotes. However, recent work on microbial consortia challenges this view. The lesson from microbiology is not merely that we have been wrong about our favored account of individuality, but that we have been wrong to assume that there is one correct theory of individuality. Given the contingent nature of evolution we should expect a plurality of kinds of individuality. When we answer the question ‘What is a biological individual?’ with a plurality of accounts, we are more successful than we think.


Friday, March 4th 2016
Speaker: Mara Mills, Department of Media, Culture & Communication, New York University
Subject: Speed Listening by Blind Readers and the History of Audio Time Compression
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Talking Books for blind readers spurred the commercialization of mainstream audiobooks after World War II, but the two formats soon diverged in terms of reading strategies. This talk will discuss the cultural imperative for aural speed reading that drove early time-stretching innovations in the magnetic tape era, allowing playback rate to be changed without affecting pitch.


Friday, March 11th 2016
No Colloquium: Spring Break

Friday, March 18th 2016
No Colloquium: Spring Break

Friday, March 25th 2016
Speaker: Bruce Glymour, Department of Philosophy, Kansas State University
Subject: Evolutionary Biology and Inertia in Theory Change: A Preliminary Indictment of Explanatory Commitments
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Kuhn famously argued that scientific paradigms are immensely resilient to empirical evidence against their core theories. I offer a tentative and contentious diagnosis of one such case in evolutionary biology. Post-Synthesis evolutionary theory has been characterized by three nominally distinct theories of natural selection—classical population genetics and its extensions, quantitative genetics, and the halfway house occupied by models employing variants of the Price equation. Notwithstanding their important differences, all share the idea that selection is to be understood in terms of differences among types in one or another measure (generally called fitness) defined as some function or partial function of a probability density over reproductive success. Models implementing that idea immediately confront some intractable problems that limit their explanatory and predictive power. There are alternative conceptions of selection which do not face exactly those problems, and the mathematical tools requisite to them were available either before or roughly contemporaneously with the Synthesis itself. While more orthodox models generally employ the analysis of variance or co-variance in both discovery and explanatory contexts, the alternative models rely on regression and path analysis, and in so doing generate importantly different kinds of explanation and are vulnerable to a different suite of errors. In this paper I delineate (some of) the problems plaguing traditional models, and explore the idea that their continued dominance in both evolutionary population biology and philosophy biology is owed in large measure to a prior commitment to the explanatory importance of one kind of non-causal, statistical explanation.


Friday, April 1st 2016
Speaker: Jan Golinski, Department of History, University of New Hampshire
Subject: The Experimental Self: Humphry Davy and the Making of a Man of Science
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Humphry Davy (1778-1829) was a pivotal figure in the emergence of new scientific disciplines at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but his career cannot be understood through the traditional narrative of specialization and professionalization. Davy was a protean individual who forged his social persona with remarkable creativity. He exploited his institutional location to build a charismatic reputation with a public audience. He applied new electrical instruments and powers to reconfigure the discipline of chemistry. And he engaged in a sustained and profound exploration of his own subjectivity, through testing nitrous oxide and galvanism on his own body, and through literary exercises of poetry and fiction. Social ambidexterity, interdisciplinary creativity, and sometimes grueling self-experimentation were the keynotes of this extraordinary individual’s self-made identity. I shall argue that Davy’s experiments in selfhood illuminate the historical formation of the man of science in an era when social institutions and personal subjectivity were both in flux.


Friday, April 8th 2016
Speaker: Deborah Mayo, Department of Philosophy, Virginia Tech
Subject: How to Stop Refighting the Statistics Wars
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

If a statistical methodology is to be adequate, it needs to register how “questionable research practices” (QRPs) alter a method’s error probing capacities. If little has been done to rule out flaws in taking data as evidence for a claim, then that claim has not passed a stringent or severe test. The goal of severe testing is the linchpin for (re)interpreting frequentist methods so as to avoid long-standing fallacies at the heart of today’s statistics wars. A contrasting philosophy views statistical inference in terms of posterior probabilities in hypotheses: probabilism. Presupposing probabilism, critics mistakenly argue that significance and confidence levels are misinterpreted, exaggerate evidence, or are irrelevant for inference. Recommended replacements—Bayesian updating, Bayes factors, likelihood ratios—fail to control severity.


Friday, April 15th 2016
Speaker: Oren Harman, Science, Technology & Society, Bar-Ilan University
Subject: The Price of Altruism
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Survival of the fittest or survival of the nicest? Since the dawn of time man has contemplated the mystery of altruism, but it was Charles Darwin who posed the question most starkly. From the selfless ant to the stinging bee to the man laying down his life for a stranger, evolution has given rise to a most perplexing behavior. Set against the sweeping tale of 150 years of scientific attempts to explain altruism, here is the moving story of a brilliant and troubled scientist - George Price - who paid the ultimate price for wrestling with the mystery of altruism.


Friday, April 22nd 2016
Speaker: Erik Conway, Jet Propulsion Lab, NASA
Subject: Dreaming of Rocks from Mars: Scientific Desires and the Engineering of Mars Missions
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In 1996, NASA and the White House held a spectacular press conference, announcing the probable discovery of the remains of martian life in a rock recovered from Antarctica, known as ALH840001. While most planetary scientists have now rejected those claims, the fact that they were made at all—one year before the first landing on Mars since 1976—provides a window through which to view the process of advocating for and engineering missions to Mars. Ever since the Viking landers parked themselves safely on the Red Planet, scientists have advocated returning samples of Mars to earth for laboratory studies as a top priority. To date, many such projects have been proposed, detailed studies done, and a few sample return projects have even been approved and funded. None has made it as far as full-scale development, though, let alone Mars.

Yet scientists’ desires have mattered. The dream of sample return has affected both program planning and vehicle engineering. In this talk, I will trace the evolution of several Mars sample return efforts, showing how technologies intended for sample return campaigns wound up being used for other missions.


Friday, April 29th 2016
Speaker: Philip Kitcher, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University
Subject: Progress in the Sciences -- and also in the Arts
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

The view that the sciences make progress, while the arts do not, is extremely common. This lecture will challenge it. I begin by distinguishing teleological progress from pragmatic progress. You make pragmatic progress not by coming closer to a goal, but by solving some of the problems of your current state. Scientific progress should be seen as pragmatic. When the point is recognized, it becomes evident that scientific progress has social dimensions. A socially embedded notion of scientific progress then allows for a parallel concept of progress applicable to the arts.


Friday, September 9th 2016
Speaker: Dr. Michel Janssen, Physics/History of Science and Technology
Subject: "Common Origin Ideas"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In 2002, I introduced COI (Common Origin Inference) as a subspecies of IBE (Inference to the Best Explanation). I hoped to avoid problems with the 'E' by noting that the kind of explanation involved in COI (tracing striking coincidences to a common origin) should pass muster on any philosophically satisfactory account of explanation. Following Peter Lipton, I hoped to steer clear of the problem with the 'B' by taking IBE simply to be a slogan for any kind of inference guided by explanatory considerations. I stood firm on the 'I', arguing that the use of COI in various episodes from the history of science shows that, pace Bas van Fraassen, explanations can have epistemic value (i.e., can themselves be a reason to believe in the explanation).

I have changed my mind on this last count, at least when it comes to the use of COI and IBE in science. On closer examination, COI served not so much as an engine for transferring truth values from premises to conclusions (as inferences would) but as an engine for generating pursuit-worthy ideas. In general, evidence for such ideas must be generated in other ways.

In view of this, I want to redefine the 'I' in COI from 'Inference' to 'Idea'. This may be the best defense against the main charge Wes Salmon brought against IBE in a debate with Lipton published in 2001: Why should likeliness track loveliness? Why should a lovely explanation be more likely than an ugly one? Surrendering the I in COI and IBE, one can retreat to the position that pursuit-worthiness tracks loveliness, a line that is much easier to hold.


Friday, September 16th 2016
Speaker: Eileen Reeves, Princeton University
Subject: "Drawing on Galileo: Art, Astronomy, and Appropriation"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

This lecture involves a quarrel between Galileo Galilei, newly established as early modern Europe’s premier astronomer, and an aristocratic student at a Jesuit college. At stake here is the staying power of this particular struggle, which first emerged around 1613 and then resurfaced nearly twenty years later in Galileo’s celebrated discussion of the imperceptibility of common motion. Though this conflict began with elaborate displays of indifference, it soon depended upon comic manipulation of the opponent’s arguments, a fable concerning a shipboard artist, and an extraordinary series of odd, distracting woodcuts.


Friday, September 23rd 2016
Speaker: Robyn Bluhm, Michigan State University
Subject: "How to Think About Mechanisms in Medicine"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In this talk, I argue that the best way to think about knowledge of mechanisms in medical research and practice is to consider the relationship between knowledge of physiological mechanisms and knowledge gained from epidemiological methods, particularly clinical trials. The dominant view, rooted in evidence-based medicine, is that only clinical trials can establish treatment effectiveness, but not all such trials are equally useful. I draw on work by James Tabery and C. Kenneth Waters to show how knowledge of physiological mechanisms can improve the design and interpretation of clinical trials.


Friday, September 30th 2016
Speaker: James Fleming, Colby College
Subject: "Inventing Atmospheric Science: Gordian Knots and the Quest for Prevision"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Atmospheric researchers have long attempted to untie the Gordian Knot of meteorology—that intractable and intertwined tangle of observational imprecision, theoretical uncertainties, and non-linear influences—that, if unraveled, would provide perfect prevision of the weather for ten days, of seasonal conditions for next year, and of climatic conditions for a decade, a century, a millennium, or longer. This presentation, based on Inventing Atmospheric Science (The M.I.T. Press, 2016), examines the work of three interconnected generations of scientists and the influence of three families of transformative technologies in the first six decades of the twentieth century, from the dawn of applied fluid dynamics to the emergence, by 1960, of the interdisciplinary atmospheric sciences.


Friday, October 7th 2016

Friday, October 14th 2016
Speaker: Günter Wagner, Yale University
Subject: "The Conceptual Weight of Homology"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

The homology concept, i.e. the idea that different species can have the same or corresponding body parts, is fundamental to biology but has, as many basic concepts in biology, a rather varied history. Opinions range from accepting homology as a fundament of all of biology to complete dismissal as a pure illusion. I will give a brief outline of how we arrived at this state of affairs and then make an argument for a “reformed” homology concept that is not only capture the essence of the classical theories of homology but also is able to connect to a mechanistic understanding of developmental biology. The key idea is that homology requires developmental and genetic individuality and that many of the difficulties of current applications of homology result from ignoring this problem. I will finish with the argument that evolutionary biology needs, besides population thinking (Mayr) and tree thinking (O’Hara) a third form of intellectual framework that could be called “homology thinking” (Ereshefsky 2012).


Friday, October 21st 2016
Speaker: “The Dancing Bees: Karl von Frisch and the Discovery of the Honeybee Language”
Subject: Tania Munz, Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, & Technology
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In 1973, the Austrian-born experimental physiologist, Karl von Frisch, received a share of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the honeybee dance language. Von Frisch argued that bees communicate the distance and direction of food sources via their dance-like movements. Language had long been considered the exclusive domain of humans, and the discovery of symbolic communication in insects was considered a sensation and made von Frisch one of the best-known scientists of the post-war period. Less well known today is that von Frisch performed much of this work during WWII with funding from the Nazi Ministry of Food and Agriculture – this after the German government had declared him one-quarter Jewish and threatened to oust him from his position in Munich. Then, as now, the bees were dying and food had become critically important to the German war effort. This talk – based on Munz’s recent book by the same title – explores the relationship between science and politics during WWII and how the bees transitioned over the course of the 20th century from model political animals to premier communicators at the hands of von Frisch.


Friday, October 28th 2016
Speaker: Nick Wilding, Georgia State University
Subject: "Forging the Moon; Or, How to Spot a Fake Galileo"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

The integrity of the historical record is a prime concern for any historian. It follows that the art of detecting forgeries is crucial to our craft. Early modern print materials have generally been held above suspicion as a technologically impossible, or at least unprofitable, subject for forgery. But the emergence in 2005 of a spectacular copy of Galileo’s cosmos-changing Sidereus Nuncius, furnished with an autograph inscription and hand drawn lunar illustrations, forced a reconsideration of this assumption. By reconstructing the recent history of the analysis of this single and singular object, Nick Wilding shows how, when viewed from different perspectives, within shifting contexts, and alongside a choice of control copies, a seemingly rigorous and secure authentication can gradually lose its certainty and eventually become proof of forgery.


Friday, November 4th 2016
Subject: No HSTM/MCPS Colloquium this Week

Friday, November 11th 2016
Speaker: Margaret Morrison, University of Toronto
Subject: "Scientific Modelling and the Nature of Speculation"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

The multiverse is often thought to be speculative account of how one might solve problems in fundamental physics. Yet this kind of speculation seems different from the unrealistic assumptions instrinsic to scientific modelling more generally, e.g. infinite populations of genes in population genetics. This latter kind of modelling can be further distinguished from the construction of fictional or toy models. I discuss these different modelling practices and the nature of speculation associated with each, showing why the “models as fictions” view not only fails to capture the subtleties in modelling strategies but undermines the larger goals of modelling as a scientific activity.


Friday, November 18th 2016
Speaker: Christopher Graney, Jefferson Community and Technical College
Subject: "The Telescope Against Copernicus -- Marius, Galileo, Riccioli, and the Problem of Telescopic Observations of Stars in the Early 17th Century"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In his 1614 Mundus Jovialis, Simon Marius reported that telescopic observations revealed all the more prominent stars to appear as definite disks. This, said Marius, indicated the hypothesis of Tycho Brahe (in which the planets circled the sun while the sun circled the Earth) to be the correct one. Marius seems to be the first to cite telescopic observations of stars against the Copernican system. I will discuss what Marius saw, and why his telescopic observations of stars were indeed a problem for Copernicans. I will use as illustration the work of Galileo, who kept quiet about his observations, and also the work of Giovanni Battista Riccioli, who took pains to not only use telescopic star observations argue against the Copernican hypothesis, but who also provided a detailed description of how to make such observations, so that any observer could see for himself the problems with that hypothesis.


Friday, November 25th 2016
Subject: No HSTM/MCPS Colloquium for Thanksgiving Break
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Friday, December 2nd 2016
Speaker: Marcel Weber, University of Geneva
Subject: "On the Metaphysics of Biological Functions"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

This talk tries to clarify some ontological issues concerning biological functions. The guiding question is to what extent functions can be viewed as being mind-independent relations. I examine some standard arguments according to which functions are interest-dependent and show that these arguments simply fail to take into account the relational nature of functions (according to the most common analyses). However, there are other concerns that arise once we ask what kind of relation functional dependency relations are (e.g., the relation between the heart’s capacity to pump blood and the whole organism’s fitness). I argue that much like in causal relations, the truth-makers for functional statements are variegated. I examine various contenders that can play the role of a functional dependency relation, including causality, supervenience, metaphysical grounding, mechanistic constitution and mereology. I argue that each one of these (except supervenience) can be used to characterize a functional dependency relation in some set of cases, but that there is no unified account to be given for the truth-makers of functional relations.


Friday, December 9th 2016
Speaker: Marta Hanson, Johns Hopkins University
Subject: "Material Things and Technologies of the Body in the Golden Mirror, 1742"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In the last month of 1739, the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) ordered the compilation of a treatise on medicine “to rectify medical knowledge” throughout the empire. By the end of 1742, eighty participants chosen from several offices within the palace bureaucracy in Beijing completed the Golden Mirror of the Orthodox Lineage of Medicine (Yizong jinjian 醫宗金鑑). In addition to integrating literati trends in evidential scholarship from the Jiangnan region into the imperial medicine of the Manchu court, the Golden Mirror also coalesced publishing trends that made medicine more accessible to a wider audience through rhymes, annotations, illustrations, and instructions to use both material things and one’s own body therapeutically. The reader could learn about not only a range of medical tools - acupuncture needles, moxabustion sticks, devices for smallpox inoculation, braces for securing broken bones – but also multiple ways to use the body-as-technology through self-cultivation, ritual, and corporeal mnemonics to improve the accuracy of pulse reading, the efficacy of drug treatments, and the predicability of disorders. Hand mnemonics, for instance, were a form of embodied medical technology that enabled the reader to memorize multiple temporal orders of the cosmos and relate them to the pulse readings and conditions of individual sufferers. In addition to mastering how to read the patient’s body accurately according to the four examinations (sizhen 四診) and how to use the various material tools of the medical trade, the ideal physician was expected to master his own body. This paper provides examples of how the three corporeal distinctions of 1) the patient’s body, 2) the physician’s body-as-technology, and 3) the physician’s hand-as-medical technology give us better purchase on the connection between the body and “material culture in health and medicine” meant for the norms of medical practice established in the Golden Mirror of the imperial Qing court in mid-eighteenth-century China.


Friday, December 16th 2016
There is no colloquium this week.

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