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

semester, 2018


Friday, January 19th 2018
Speaker: Harvey Brown, Philosophy of Physics, University of Oxford
Subject: "How Einstein Came to Use the Action-Reaction Principle in Promoting his Theory of Gravity"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Einstein regarded as one of the triumphs of his 1915 theory of gravity — the general theory of relativity — that it vindicated the action–reaction principle, while Newtonian mechanics as well as his 1905 special theory of relativity supposedly violated it. In this talk I examine why Einstein came to emphasise this position several years after the development of general relativity. Several key considerations are relevant to the story: the connection Einstein originally saw between Mach’s analysis of inertia and both the equivalence principle and the principle of general covariance, the waning of Mach’s influence owing to de Sitter’s 1917 results, and Einstein’s detailed correspondence with Moritz Schlick in 1920. (The talk is based on ‘Einstein, the reality of space, and the action-reaction principle’, H.R.B. and Dennis Lehmkuhl, in Einstein, Tagore and the Nature of Reality, Partha Ghose (ed.), Routledge, London and New York, 2016; pp. 9-36. arXiv:1306.4902v1.)


Friday, January 26th 2018
Speaker: Nancy Tomes, Department of History, Stony Brook University
Subject: "’Recovery’ as Concept, Model, and Movement in the Mental Health Field: the Challenge of Writing a ‘History of the Present’"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Since the 1980s, the recovery concept has become central to efforts to empower people with severe and persistent mental illness. Advocates of the recovery model stress the importance of non-medical measures, such as supported employment, supported housing, strong community networks and perhaps most importantly, the support and leadership of other people with lived experience of mental illness. My talk will explore both the history and the historiography of the recovery model in the mental health field. I will discuss how the approaches that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s differed from previous attempts at “after care” for ex-mental patients, and look at their overlap with contemporary developments in addiction treatment and the disability rights movement. Finally, I will discuss criticisms of the recovery movement and its place in late 20th c. “reforms” of the welfare state as an example of how historical scholarship intersects with contemporary advocacy concerns and policy issues.


Friday, February 2nd 2018
Speaker: Marc Swackhamer, School of Architecture, University of Minnesota
Subject: "Hypernatural: Architecture's New Relationship with Nature" - MCPS Annual Science Studies Symposium
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Recent decades have witnessed the increasing popularity of nature-focused movements in architecture, such as sustainability, biophilia, biomimicry, biodesign, and emergent design. These movements are dramatically altering the relationship between the designed environment and the natural world, and although overlaps exist, there is no common discourse that unites these areas of study. A holistic framework is therefore needed to address these disparate areas of inquiry, the full spectrum of their operations, and their common goals and methodologies. This talk will address the ways in which architectural designers increasingly work directly with natural processes—rather than against them—in order to amplify, extend, or exceed natural capacities.


Friday, February 9th 2018
Speaker: Jacqueline Feke, Department of Philosophy, University of Waterloo
Subject: "Ptolemy's Ethics"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Why did Ptolemy devote his time to the mathematical sciences, especially astronomy? The answer lies in his brief ethical statement in the first chapter of the Almagest. Coopting virtue ethics for the mathematician, Ptolemy argues that the best life is the one devoted to mathematics, where the mathematician configures his soul in accordance with the good order in the heavens. In this paper, I analyze this ethical statement and argue that to understand why and how astronomical objects serve as ethical exemplars in Ptolemy’s philosophy we must look to his Harmonics. It is because musical pitches, heavenly bodies, and human souls are all characterized by harmonic ratios that the study of either harmonics or astronomy can lead to the good life.


Friday, February 16th 2018
Speaker: Cynthia Connolly, School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania
Subject: "A 'Big Business Built for Little Customers:' Children and the Flavored Aspirin Market in the United States, 1948–1973"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

By the early postwar era, new children’s consumer goods such as sweetened cereals, toys, games, and books flooded the market. In September, 1947, the bright orange-colored St. Joseph Aspirin for Children joined them amid a wave of creative marketing for what became known as candy aspirin. An immediate success, flavored low dose aspirin reshaped medical, nursing, and parental responses to pediatric fever and pain. Unfortunately, however, its popularity with children resulted in an unintended consequence—a 500% increase in aspirin poison rates within a few years. While pediatricians and public health activists argued for warning labels and reconfigured bottles that made it harder for children to access the pills, the aspirin industry went on the offense, using tactics similar to those of the cigarette industry— challenge the problem’s existence; the data underpinning the science; deflect blame onto parents; and mount a public relations campaign aimed at confusing the public. This paper analyzes a complicated set of negotiations at the junction of science, commerce, and childhood. In an era rife with child protection rhetoric, debates surrounding children’s aspirin in the years between 1948 and 1973 reveal the competition among stakeholders to “speak” for children, the many negotiations regarding how to determine children’s “best interests,” and what can happen when recommendations for children’s well-being challenge the economic well-being of major corporations.


Friday, February 23rd 2018
Speaker: Nahyan Fancy, Department of History, DePauw University
Subject: "Did Humoral Theory Undergo any Changes in Post-Avicennan Medicine? Examples from the Commentaries of Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288) and his Successors in Western Eurasia"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

It has long been maintained that Galenic/Hippocratic humoral theory reigned supreme in Islamic societies from when Greek medical texts were translated into Arabic in the ninth century till the arrival of European colonial powers in the nineteenth. Historians have provided various explanations for the persistence of humoral theory in Islamic societies ranging from the (alleged) religious prohibition against dissection to a predisposition amongst medical writers towards systematizing and summarizing rather than critical inquiry. Yet, medical writers engaged critically with medical theory in their commentaries on the Canon of Medicine and the Epitome. The leading figure in this critical engagement was Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288). Underlying his modification of humoral theory was a sustained critique of the Galenic physiological and anatomical understanding of digestion. Consequently, the paper provides evidence for Ibn al-Nafīs conducting anatomical observations on dead animals. Moreover, the fact that his new proposals were debated and accepted by later Islamic physicians counters the prevalent assumption that his works were ignored in the later period, and thus raises the distinct possibility that these new ideas on the humors and digestion were appropriated by Renaissance physicians such as Jean Fernel.


Friday, March 2nd 2018
Speaker: Alisa Bokulich, Department of Philosophy, Boston University
Subject: "Using Models to Correct Data: Paleodiversity and the Fossil Record"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

It has long been recognized that models play a crucial role in science, and in data more specifically. However, as our philosophical understanding of theoretical models has grown, our view of data models has arguably languished. In this talk I use the case of how paleontologists are constructing data-model representations of the history of paleodiversity from the fossil record to show how our views about data models should be updated. In studying the history and evolution of life, the fossil record is a vital source of data. However, as both Lyell and Darwin recognized early on, it is a highly incomplete and biased representation. A central research program to emerge in paleontology is what D. Sepkoski has called the “generalized” (or what I prefer to call “corrected”) reading of the fossil record. Building on this historical work, I examine in detail the ways in which various models and computer simulations are being used to correct the data in paleontology today. On the basis of this research I argue for the following: First, the notion of a data model should be disentangled from the set-theoretic, ‘instantial’ view of models. Data models, like other models in science, should be understood as representations. Second, representation does not mean perfectly accurate depiction. Data models should instead be assessed as adequate-for-a-purpose. Third, the ‘purity’ of a data model is not a measure of its epistemic reliability. I conclude by drawing some parallels between data models in paleontology and data models in climate science.


Friday, March 9th 2018
There will be no colloquium this week

Friday, March 23rd 2018
Speaker: Rebecca Kluchin, Department of History, California State University - Sacramento
Subject: "Court-Ordered Cesarean Sections in 1980s America"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In June 1987, Angela Carder was twenty-seven years old, married, pregnant, and in remission from cancer. Twenty-five weeks into her pregnancy, she learned that the disease had returned and metastasized in her right lung. Her prognosis was terminal and her condition deteriorated rapidly. When George Washington University Hospital administrators learned that Carder was dying and lacked a plan to save her fetus, they initiated an emergency legal hearing to determine their responsibility to her pregnancy. A judge ordered Carder to undergo an immediate cesarean section. The baby lived two hours. Carder died two days later.

Carder’s parents appealed the decision and in 1990, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled in their favor. The Carder case became national news and entered popular culture when the popular television show LA Law ran an episode based on it. But the Carder case did not occur in a vacuum; in fact, one month before Carder died, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article that revealed twenty-one prior attempts of court-ordered cesarean sections, eighteen of which were successful. Eighty-one percent of patients forced to undergo surgery were women of color and twenty-four percent were non-English speakers. The media attention granted to the Carder case obscured the other forced cesareans and erased women of color from the story. This paper reveals this hidden reproductive history, places it in the context of other reproductive abuses, and locates women of color at the center of the story instead of on the periphery. It argues that court-ordered cesarean sections simultaneously continued the long history of reproductive abuses directed at women of color and represented a new form of abuse specific to the post-Roe era and the politics of legal abortion.


Friday, March 30th 2018
Speaker: Susan Rensing, Department of Women's & Gender Studies, University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh
Subject: HSTM Alumni Lecture - "‘A Coldly Scientific Venture’: Unwed Mothers and the Eugenic Baby Panic"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In January of 1928, the New York World set off a firestorm of controversy with a front page story about a wealthy widow, Grace Burnham, who had “mated lovelessly” as a eugenic experiment. Newspapers rushed to seek out stories of other women who were conceiving eugenic babies by selecting a man purely for reproduction, not for marriage. Unlike the wholesome eugenic babies that won ribbons in Better Baby Contests at state fairs, these eugenic babies were portrayed as potential Frankensteins--creations of science run amok. Moral condemnation raged in editorials across the nation as experts weighed in with their opinions about this alarming trend. This talk will use the eugenic baby panic as a cultural lens to examine fears about science bereft of morality in the late 1920s and early 1930s.


Friday, April 6th 2018
Speaker: Stuart Glennan, Department of Philosophy, Butler University
Subject: “Compositional Minimalism”
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In her paper, “Causality and Determination,” Elizabeth Anscombe advanced an approach to causation that Peter Godfrey-Smith has dubbed “causal minimalism.” In this approach, causation is not one thing, but many. Causal relations depend upon a heterogeneous set of specific activities – like bonding, pushing, tearing or fighting. My aim in this talk is to pursue a related strategy for compositional relations between parts and wholes – whether these be between atoms and molecules, tissues and organs, or children and families. Composition, like causation, is not one thing, but many – largely because parts are bound into wholes by causal relations.


Friday, April 13th 2018
Speaker: Lawrence Principe, Department of History of Science & Technology, Johns Hopkins University
Subject: "Wilhelm Homberg’s Laboratories and Instruments: Doing Chymistry in Early Modern France"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

One of chemistry’s chief characteristics is its union of head and hand, theory and practice, and the subsequent need for workspaces and instruments doing chemistry practically. Wilhelm Homberg (1653-1715), the chief chymist of the Parisian Académie Royale des Sciences, worked in many different spaces over the course of his remarkable career. Starting in 1702, he worked in what was called at the time “the most magnificent laboratory that chymistry had ever known”--a workspace specially-built for him in the Royal Palace by his patron (and collaborator) Philippe II, duc d’Orléans, the future Regent of France. Philippe also outfitted this laboratory with the most extraordinary--and costly--scientific instrument of time, and Homberg enjoyed exclusive access to it. This talk examines the various workspaces Homberg used, highlighting the results that he achieved and their relation to spaces and instruments, the role of patronage, and the changing nature of chymistry in the period.


Friday, April 20th 2018
Speaker: Roberta Humphreys, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In December 2016, the prominent woman astronomer Vera Rubin passed away. Numerous articles lauding her accomplishments credited Vera with the discovery of dark matter or at least the confirmation of it. Vera was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a recipient of the National Medal of Science, plus numerous awards and recognition. She was also a strong and often outspoken advocate for women in science. My story begins in 1971 when Margaret Burbidge, the best known woman in astronomy, turned down the Annie Jump Cannon Award of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This was the Society's oldest award and the only one exclusively for women. This created an image crisis for the AAS. One of the consequences was the first Working Group on the Status of Women in Astronomy. Vera and I were on that committee. We established a strong supportive and professional relationship. At one point our research briefly overlapped regarding the motions of stars and gas in galaxies. I'll briefly describe some of the highlights of Vera's discoveries -- including the rotation curves of galaxies and dark matter.


Friday, April 27th 2018
Speaker: Richard Samuels, Department of Philosophy, The Ohio State University
Subject: "How to Acquire Number Concepts: A New Puzzle (With Stewart Shapiro and Eric Snyder)"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Philosophers and psychologists have long been interested in how human beings learn mathematical concepts in general, and natural number concepts, in particular. Efforts to explain how such concepts are learned, however, have resulted in a number of puzzles and problems, which have led some to conclude that these concepts cannot be learned. In this talk, we first sketch some of the more important of these puzzles, and then articulate a new one that rests upon an apparent tension between two of the best empirical probes into our natural number concepts – linguistic semantics and developmental psychology. On the face of it, the dominant views in these respective fields are in tension with each other, so that if the semanticists are right, then our best accounts of how natural number concepts are learned must be wrong. Having set out this puzzle in some detail, we argue that a structuralist conception of the naturals offers a partial resolution of this apparent tension.


Thursday, May 3rd 2018
10:10 am:
Speaker: Ryan Schmitz
Subject: A Computational Evaluation of Neutron and Photon Detection in Plastic Scintillators
Faculty Host: Paul Crowell

Friday, May 4th 2018
There will be no colloquium this week.

Friday, May 11th 2018
There will be no colloquium this week.

Friday, September 7th 2018
Speaker: Andrew Zangwill, Georgia Institute of Technology
Subject: Four Facts Everyone Ought to Know About Science

In 1994, the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Philip Anderson published an article in The Daily Telegraph of London titled ``Four facts everyone ought to know about science." His `` facts'' are not likely the ones you would choose and my talk draws on extensive biographical research to analyze his choices in detail. What scientific and personal experiences led him to his list? What do his choices say about the scientific philosophy of someone with a legitimate claim to have been the most influential physicist of the second half of the twentieth century? I discuss whether his choices were warranted in 1994 and whether the events of the subsequent twenty-five years might cause him to revise his list.

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