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

All future


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 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
Subject: "Margaret Burbidge, and the Annie Jump Cannon Award or How I Met Vera Rubin -- a Personal and Scientific Recollection"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

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.

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