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Past seminars 2019

Wednesday 6 November

Understanding risk, rationality and expertise for the climate crisis – A heuristic turn for a post-truth age


Peter Tangney (Flinders University)

Climate change experts struggle to influence public decision-making on at least four fronts: when characterising policy problems; when maintaining their privileged status in the eyes of public representatives; in their prescriptions for policymaking and administrative process; and, when prescribing action for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. This paper surveys the first three of these advocacy failures and thereby briefly dips a toe into the deep waters of the fourth. Contemporary scientism appears to still trust in the ultimate tractability of public problems, the eminence of certified expert judgement (regardless, it seems, of experts’ behaviour), and an unwavering need for the instrumental use of positive knowledge. Climate scientism, in particular, continues to presuppose a sort of rationality from well-informed citizens and their representatives, that frequently does not prevail. To date, experts’ privileged influence and their risk-based prescriptions for public decision-making have served tangential, and even, orthogonal lines of reasoning relative to the political rationalities prevailing for climate change. This paper proposes that experts should now embrace a heuristic turn in their reasoning and advocacy on climate policy. This conceptual shift will not cure the climate crisis, but it may de-escalate the polarised knowledge politics surrounding proposed solutions. A heuristic turn would encourage experts to reflect on the utility of their preferred precautionary means-ends reasoning when discussing environmental crisis in the context of economically rational scepticism. It would acknowledge the limits to both probabilism and linear-instrumental rationality when advising government. It would promote reflexivity under uncertainty, re-examine Mertonian ideals for scientific conduct and update those norms for expertise in a ‘post-truth’ age.

Peter Tangney is a lecturer in environmental policy and politics at Flinders University, Adelaide. Before his academic career, Peter was a policy advisor to UK government and regulated industry in the field of climate risk and water management. His book, Climate Adaptation Policy & Evidence: Understanding the tensions between politics and expertise in public policy was awarded the Crisp Prize 2018 by the Australian Political Studies Association.

Wednesday 30 October

Preregistration in cognitive modelling and other ’non-standard’ contexts

Sophia Crüwell (Meta-Research Innovation Center Berlin)

In recent years, Open Science practices such as preregistration have become more and more popular as tools to increase rigour and transparency in many fields of research. The responses to these reforms have been mixed, however: for example, within the mathematical psychology community, the adoption of preregistration in particular has been highly debated. In this talk, I will clarify current and contentious issues surrounding the application of preregistration in cognitive modelling in order to show that we need to consider different research contexts for advances in reproducibility to be widely applicable and feasible. I will argue that we need to create templates and guides specific to every field and method of research to be able to increase rigour and transparency more widely.

Sophia Crüwell is a first-year PhD student at the Meta-Research Innovation Centre Berlin (METRIC-B). She is passionate about truly open and reproducible science, and co-created the popular journal club format and podcast ReproducibiliTea.

Wednesday 23 October

Himpathy and Harassment: An Empirical Examination

Morgan Weaving (HPS, University of Melbourne)

From Brock Turner to Donald Trump, society appears hesitant to admonish privileged men who behave badly. Kate Manne (2017) argues this is a consequence of ‘himpathy’: the disproportionate amount of sympathy afforded to powerful men who perform misogynistic behaviour. However, as Manne’s analysis is philosophical in nature, it does not stipulate the psychological mechanisms that promote and perpetuate himpathy. Nor does it specify a causal link between the affective sympathetic response to privileged men and the cognitive process of exoneration, where exculpatory narratives are internalised and propagated to safeguard privileged men from blame. Integrating Manne’s analysis with current psychological research, I propose a model of himpathy that makes the following predictions: a) system justification—the desire to view existing social systems as just, fair and good—directs the flow of sympathy up the social hierarchy, towards privileged men and away from female victims, and b) when strong, this sympathetic response triggers motivated exculpation, leading individuals to interpret available evidence in a way that justifies exonerating perpetrators. After outlining this model, I will discuss results from a correlational study (n = 185) that investigates the relationship between system justification and attributions of blame towards perpetrators of sexual harassment. Additionally, I will outline future study designs that aim to experimentally examine the antecedents and consequences of himpathy.

Morgan Weaving is a PhD candidate in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne.

Wednesday 16 October 

Scientific Understanding as the Compression of Data

John Wilkins

The standard account of understanding has been, since Aristotle, knowledge of the causes of an event or effect. However, this account fails in cases where the subject understood is not causal. In this paper I offer an account of understanding as pattern recognition in large sets of data without the presumption that the patterns indicate causal chains.

All nervous systems by nature desire to process information. Consequently, entities with nervous systems tend to find information everywhere, and on the principle that if some is good a lot is better, we have come up with “Big Data”, which is often suggested as the solution to the problems of one science or another, although it is unclear exactly what counts as big data and how it is supposed to do this. In this paper I will argue (i) that understanding does not and cannot come from larger and higher dimensionality data sets, but from structure in the data that can be literally comprehended; and (ii) that big data multiplies uncertainties unless it can be summarized. In short, data is not knowledge; knowledge is not comprehension; comprehension is not wisdom.

Wednesday 9 October 
NB: Seminar was cancelled

The Science of Barracking – Gender, Race, Pleasure & the Visual

Matt Klugman (Victoria University)

In the late 1800s popular notions of racial science shaped the development of the cultural category of ‘barrackers’ – loud, zealous spectators that would transform the culture of sport in Australia. Over the ensuing few decades newspaper cartoonists played with concerns that Australian Rules football barrackers were risking the fairness and reasonableness which supposedly made Englishmen superior to everyone else. Sport had played a crucial role in the redemption of white masculinity in Australia, but now the behaviour of those who flocked to sporting matches seemed to be threatening the factors that the local ideology of white supremacy rested upon. This paper examines cartoons depicting male and female barrackers in Melbourne newspapers from the 1890s up until the First World War. At issue are popular discourses of science, emotions, and the costs of pleasure, along with the intersections of sport, race, and gender.

Matthew Klugman is a Research Fellow in the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University. His research interests include the cultural meanings and passions facilitated by sports, and the way sporting emotions shape notions, practices, experiences, visual depictions, and attitudes towards race, gender, bodies, sexuality, bodies, migration, and religion.

Wednesday 2 October

Astronomy & Cultural Traditions: Science as a Human Endeavour

Duane Hamacher 

Scientists have often dismissed Indigenous knowledge as myth and legend, with little or no scientific value or application. It is important that we recognise this is not the case, and understand that Indigenous knowledge is inherently valuable without requiring the validation of Western science. Elders routinely state that they are a people of both culture and science, having developed deep and complex knowledge systems over tens of thousands of years through deduction, observation, experimentation and application. This lecture will focus on the the philosophy of science and discussing the complexity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander star knowledge to reconsider the ways we think about orality, science, and the history of knowledge.

Duane Hamacher is Associate Professor of Cultural Astronomy in the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses on Indigenous Astronomical Knowledge, Dark Sky Studies, and the History & Philosophy of Science. He works closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia and works to increase Indigenous representation in the astronomical and space sciences. He earned degrees in physics, astronomy, and Indigenous Studies and is currently writing a book with Gomeroi astrophysicist Karlie Noon, entitled The First Astronomers.

Wednesday 15 September

Discrete physics, quantum measurement, and wavefunction collapse


Martin Leckey

I discuss the “measurement problem” of quantum mechanics and propose a solution based on a modified form of quantum mechanics, which includes a new mechanism for spontaneous wavefunction collapse. This modified quantum mechanics is shown to arise naturally from a fully discrete physics, where all physical quantities, including space, are discrete rather than continuous. I compare the theory to other spontaneous collapse theories and argue that the theory lends itself well to a realist interpretation of the wave function. I discuss issues such as quantum holism, the nature of space and time, and possible empirical tests of the theory.

Martin Leckey is an Associate in History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne. He has a Bachelor of Science with Honours in physics and an MA in history and philosophy of science from the University of Melbourne, and a PhD in philosophy from Monash University. His PhD was on the metaphysics of space and time and quantum theory. He looked at the concept of prespace, the link between space and causation, and the consequences of adopting a completely discrete physics. As well as continuing to work on philosophy of physics, he is interested in the metaphysics of properties and laws of nature. Other philosophical interests include phenomenology, particularly the later Heidegger, and philosophy of disability.

Wednesday 18 September

Ding Dyason Centenary Seminar

This year marks the centenary of the birth Ding Dyason, former head of the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science, and 30 years since her passing.

History and Philosophy of Science has been taught in some form at the University of Melbourne since 1946, making it one of the oldest such Departments in the world, initially in the guise of the Department of General Science and Scientific Method, and renamed to History and Philosophy of Science in 1957. Diana (Ding) Dyason was appointed to be Senior Lecturer-in-Charge in 1958, and led the Department until 1975 when she was succeeded by Rod Home Dyason was also the first President of the Australasian Association for the History and Philosophy of Science (now AAHPSSS) and as a social historian of medicine her legacy was enormous.


The Ding Dyason commemorative seminar will touch on all aspects of Dyason’s life, work and intellectual legacy with a series of short talks and panels from current, former and emerging scholars from HPS.


Panel 1: Ding Dyason’s life

  • Cecily Hunter: The Dyason family

  • Richard Gillespie: Ding as a teacher

  • Elizabeth Hurtt (in absentia): Working for Ding


Panel 2: Ding Dyason’s legacy

  • Janet McCalman: History of Medicine at the University of Melbourne

  • James Bradley: Contemporary state of the discipline

  • Fallon Mody: Looking forward


Other speakers will include an introduction by Kristian Camilleri, Acting Head of HPS, a personal reflection by Howard Sankey, former Head of HPS, and a tribute by Emeritus Professor and former Head of HPS, Rod Home.

Wednesday 4 September
Note – Seminar was cancelled and was rescheduled

The Science of Barracking – Gender, Race, Pleasure & the Visual

Matt Klugman (Victoria University)

In the late 1800s popular notions of racial science shaped the development of the cultural category of ‘barrackers’ – loud, zealous spectators that would transform the culture of sport in Australia. Over the ensuing few decades newspaper cartoonists played with concerns that Australian Rules football barrackers were risking the fairness and reasonableness which supposedly made Englishmen superior to everyone else. Sport had played a crucial role in the redemption of white masculinity in Australia, but now the behaviour of those who flocked to sporting matches seemed to be threatening the factors that the local ideology of white supremacy rested upon. This paper examines cartoons depicting male and female barrackers in Melbourne newspapers from the 1890s up until the First World War. At issue are popular discourses of science, emotions, and the costs of pleasure, along with the intersections of sport, race, and gender.

Matthew Klugman is a Research Fellow in the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University. His research interests include the cultural meanings and passions facilitated by sports, and the way sporting emotions shape notions, practices, experiences, visual depictions, and attitudes towards race, gender, bodies, sexuality, bodies, migration, and religion.

Wednesday 28 August

Playing with Paper Dolls: a history of cancer cytogenetics

Lynda Campbell (HPS, University of Melbourne)

Cancer cytogenetics is the study of chromosome abnormalities in cancer cells. It emerged as a field of study in the late 1950s with the rise of interest in human genetics after the second world war. The first recurrent abnormality linked to a specific type of cancer was the Philadelphia chromosome that was reported in 1960 in patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia. From its inception, many women have been involved in the field. Since the 1960s, cancer cytogenetics has transformed from a research interest regarded by many as of no practical utility to a clinical laboratory specialty. Through oral histories, this transformation, and the role women played in it, will be explored.

Lynda Campbell is a PhD candidate in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne.

Wednesday 21 August

Sorcerer’s Apprentice or Manichaean Devil? A Demonological Understanding of Technological Systems and Digital Media

Jolynna Sinanan (University of Sydney) and Gerhard Wiesenfeldt (History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne)

In this paper, we present a historicized view of the ways in which good and evil, or more specifically, demonic understandings are inherent to the navigation of technological systems and that such culturally shaped cosmologies continue to inhabit contemporary, digital technological systems. In the cybernetic vision as in the demonological vision of technology, we engage in technological systems beyond our control producing moral dilemmas stemming from our inability to clearly discern good and evil demons, while maintaining the same criteria for evils in technology – the invisible control and the irresponsible transgression of our expertise. Our trust in technological systems we engage with, but don’t control, is the trust in a benevolent demon.

Wednesday 14 August

The Myth of Mental Health

Shane Smits (University of Melbourne)

Over the past century the concept of mental health has been evoked in campaigns dedicated to the prevention of mental disease and the better treatment of those affected by it, and remains most commonly used to signify an absence of mental disease. At the same time, mental health has been defined not simply as the absence of disease, but as a positive state of psychological functioning, measured in relation to an individual’s capacity for interpersonal relationships and social adjustment. This paper will examine the origins and consequences of this concept of positive mental health in the development of psychiatry, public health, and positive psychology since the 1970s. It will be shown that rather than describing a clearly-definable biological reality, the concept of positive mental health has instead served as a professional tool to mask the failure to uncover the causes of mental disorders, and to justify the expansion of psychiatric and psychological expertise into wider society.

Shane Smits is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Melbourne.

Wednesday 7 August

Criminality, Insanity and the Politics of Punishment: Victoria, 1880-1939

Georgina Rychner (Monash University)

This paper seeks to build upon scholarship of capital punishment in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Australia. During this period, understandings of insanity increasingly became the legal point on which offenders were spared or executed. Based on a study of 215 capital trials held in Victoria between 1880 and 1939, this paper will demonstrate how mental fitness came to frame cultural judgments of criminal responsibility in Australia’s past.

Georgina Rychner is a PhD candidate at Monash University, researching insanity and responsibility in Victorian capital trials with broader interests covering histories of medicine, gender and law. She has published in Lilith and Health and History.

Wednesday 31 July

What’s a replication?


Edouard Machery (University of Pittsburgh)

This talk presents a new, general account of replication (“the Resampling Account of replication”): I argue that a replication is an experiment that resamples the experimental components of an original experiment that are treated as random factors and that the function of replications is, narrowly, to assess the reliability of the replicated experiments. On this basis, I argue that the common notion of conceptual replication is confused, and that the on-going controversy about the relative value of direct and conceptual replications should be dissolved.

Edouard Machery is a philosopher of science, working primarily on the philosophical issues raised by cognitive science and neuroscience. He is also doing empirical research on moral psychology, semantics, and folk epistemology, often with a cross-cultural focus.

Wednesday 26 June

Contempt for Science and Lack of Expertise in the Trump Administration

David Caudill (School of Law, Villanova University)

Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk (2018) introduces the reader to the phenomenon of wilful ignorance regarding science in the Trump Administration. With respect to science issues, Lewis highlights the effect of political agendas and conflicts of interest. These issues are ripe for analysis under third wave theory, especially as they relate to two chapters in the new collection of essays entitled The Third Wave in Science and Technology Studies (2019)—namely Durant’s essay on ignoring science, and Weinel’s essay on counterfeit scientific controversies. I will draw on these two chapters to put Lewis’s critique in terms of Collins & Evans’ “architecture of expertise” and their book Why Democracies Need Science (2017). My conclusion will be that third wave theory provides timely insights concerning political influences on science.

Dr. David Caudill is a Professor and the Goldberg Family Chair in Law at Villanova University School of Law, where he teaches Evidence and Property law. His books include No Magic Wand: The Idealization of Science in Law (2006, with L.H. LaRue), Stories About Science in Law: Literary and Historical Images of Acquired Expertise (2011), and a recent collection of essays entitled The Third Wave in Science and Technology Studies: Future Research Directions on Expertise and Experience (2019).

Wednesday 12 June

How Bergson Helped 20th-Century Biologists Get Creative About Evolution

Emily Herring (School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, University of Leeds)

When French philosopher Henri Bergson published his metaphysical interpretation of biological evolution, L’Evolution créatrice (Creative Evolution) in 1907, he was already something of a celebrity but he was suddenly propelled to international fame. His ideas were discussed in most intellectual and scientific circles. However, Bergson’s reception among 20th-century biologists has not been subjected to thorough study. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate that, given the wide reception of Creative Evolution among biologists, Bergson can no longer be left out of historical accounts of 20th-century biology.


Bergson provided many biologists with the intellectual tools to reflect on the theoretical boundaries of their own discipline and resist the general trend towards specialisation which is often seen as characteristic of 20th-century science. These biologists believed that the very questions their discipline raised (biological evolution, the nature of heredity, animal minds, etc.) forced them to go beyond the limitations of scientific knowledge. They saw Bergson as raising the status of biology by making it the most philosophical of all sciences.

We will see that taking the biological appropriations of Bergson’s ideas seriously sheds new light on some of the philosophical motivations of 20th-century biologists and more generally, on the complex interplay between science and philosophy.

Wednesday 5 June

Imitating Alan Turing: Queer and feminist histories of computing

Thao Phan (Science and Society Network, Deakin University and Media & Communications Department, University of Melbourne)

Alan Turing occupies a canonical role in the history of artificial intelligence. He is celebrated within the scientific community for his contributions to early electronic computing, his theoretical inquiries into the nature of machine intelligence, and for his work during the Second World War as a codebreaker for the British Government Code and Cypher School (GC&S). In addition to this legacy, Turing is also remembered as a gay icon who lived and died and discriminatory legislation against homosexuality and homosexual acts. His conviction for “gross indecency,” forced acceptance of hormone therapy, and eventual suicide serve as a grim reminder of the inhumane and degrading treatment of thousands of homosexual men by the state. Within many AI histories, however, Turing’s sexuality and mistreatment is often written as secondary to his scientific contributions. In this paper, I examine the relationship between Turing’s lived experience and his conceptualisation of intelligent machinery. Focusing on the Turing test, I analyse Turing’s dualistic approach to the question of intelligent behaviour. His attempts to separate the “intellectual” from the “physical,” both in his conceptualisation of intelligent machinery and in his own life, was an artificial distinction that would ultimately prove untenable—a conceptual failure that for Turing resulted in personal catastrophe. I discuss how this commitment to dualism would ultimately have implications for considering contemporary issues in gender, difference, and AI and explore approaches by queer and feminist scholars to re-evaluate Turing’s legacy to find new potential for radical readings of gender embedded within Turing’s early work.


Thao Phan is a Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation. She is a feminist science and technology studies researcher who specialises in gender, artificial intelligence, and algorithmic culture.

Wednesday 29 May

Indigenous physiology: metabolism, cold tolerance, hibernation and the ‘racial factor’

Emma Kowal (Alfred Deakin Institute, Deakin University)

In 1926 Cedric Stanton Hicks, a New Zealand physiologist with a newly minted Cambridge PhD, turned down a Cambridge post to join Frederic Wood Jones at the University of Adelaide. Soon after arriving, Wood Jones suggested he join the Board of Anthropological Research expeditions to investigate the ‘racial factor’ in basal metabolic rate among Indigenous people in the central desert. The research led him to investigate a remarkable physiological phenomenon: the ability to comfortably sleep naked on the desert floor in below-freezing conditions without shivering. He found their metabolic rate did not increase, as it did in European subjects, and their skin temperature was drastically reduced. Hicks became an expert in cold tolerance and worked on developing military clothing in Washington during his WWII service. After the war, Norwegian/American physiologist Per Scholander again investigated the puzzling desert sleepers, this time funded by the Office of Naval Research and the US Air Force.


A few years ago I was contacted by someone claiming to work for a secret U.S.-based biomimicry company. He said he had discovered the secret of the endogenous cooling observed by Hicks and Scholander and was concerned about the ethics of the original experiments and the potential for harm towards Indigenous people once his discovery was publicly known. He believed the phenomenon was the key to unlocking torpor – a diurnal form of hibernation – in humans, a discovery that could lead to new cancer treatments, enable space travel, and extend human life, but could also allow the transport of biological weapons. This paper tells the story of these strange entanglements between Aboriginal biological differences, 20th century physiology, U.S. defence objectives, a remorseful bioprospector and an anthropologist possibly out of her depth.

Wednesday 22 May

How should we write the history of quantum mechanics?

Kristian Camilleri (HPS, University of Melbourne)

There has been a good deal of attention of late on the historical conditions that led to the dominance of the so-called “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics and the marginalization of rival views after 1927. Perhaps the two most influential works of the past twenty-five years to attempt to deal with this question are James Cushing’s Quantum Mechanics: Historical Contingency and the Copenhagen Hegemony and Mara Beller’s Quantum Dialogue: The Making of a Revolution. Both appeared in the 1990s, amidst of the resurgence of interest in the foundations of quantum mechanics, and both were instrumental in challenging the standard historical narrative of the “Copenhagen orthodoxy”. However, in this paper, I argue that both Cushing and Beller offer deeply problematic sociological accounts of the emergence of the Copenhagen orthodoxy, based on a misunderstanding of what that orthodoxy was. Here I will outline what I see as a more promising approach to the historical question of why there was so little support for alternative views of quantum mechanics until after the Second World War. While most accounts have tended to focus on the epic clashes between Bohr and Einstein, I propose that we gain a deeper insight into the quantum orthodoxy by looking at the social, institutional and pedagogical networks that shaped the practice of theoretical physics.

Kristian Camilleri is a Senior Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Science program in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. His first book, Heisenberg and the interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, was published with Cambridge University Press in 2009. His primary area of research is in the history and philosophy of quantum physics, but he has written on a range of topics including the role of metaphors in science and the epistemology of thought experiments. Kristian is currently working on a book project on the history of the debates over the interpretation of quantum mechanics, provisionally entitled: Quantum Mechanics and its Discontents: The Rise and Fall of an Orthodoxy.

Wednesday 15 May

The Internet of Landlords: Digital Platforms as Rentier Capitalism and Value Grabbing

Jathan Sadowski (Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney)

Digital platforms like Uber and Google have become infrastructural intermediaries that are found everywhere, support other activities, and reside in the background of everyday life. This has made them foundational parts of social, economic, and political domains. This paper aims to make two related contributions to the study of platforms. The first contribution is to a spatial analysis of platforms. I situate platforms within older discussions about landlords, property, and rent in a way that relates to, but contrasts with, recent work that connects platforms with real estate and cities. The second contribution is to a political economic analysis of the operations of capital within contemporary capitalism. I argue that platforms are a form of rentier that is inserting itself into and extracting rent from many places, things, and activities. The links between rentier capitalism and platforms are further fleshed out by directing linking platforms to each of the three traditional areas of research about rentier capitalism: natural resource mining, agrarian issues, and urban ground rent. Each area elicits an important characteristic of rentier platforms: extraction, enclosure, urbanisation. This paper concludes by outlining how the political economic development and implications of platforms might continue to unfold, particularly as platforms and cities co-shape each other in important ways.


Jathan Sadowski is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Smart Cities in the School of Architecture, Design, and Planning at the University of Sydney. In 2016, he finished his PhD in the “Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology” from Arizona State University. His research studies the process of making smart urbanism into a reality, from imagination to implementation. Current projects include an ethnography with a city government about planning smart initiatives and a collaboration with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics about piloting autonomous vehicles.

Wednesday 8 May

An exploration into precision: Historical navigation on the South Atlantic then and now

Gerhard Wiesenfeldt (HPS, University of Melbourne)

The history of celestial navigation is often told as a split story: a great narrative about longitude – sometimes as epic, sometimes as comedy, but usually singling out the triumph of persisting science enabling navigators to mark the position of their ship on the globe in precise detail. The other side – latitude – is usually relegated to a short story on the side, as measuring latitude was supposedly easy and without any of the complex issues that needed to be solved to be done reliably. All measurements required to obtain latitude had been done in astronomy since ancient times, so a successful introduction at sea was straightforward, the main issue would be to improve precision through better instruments and better measurement routines.


This talk will approach the topic of latitude measurements from two angles. It will discuss latitude measurements I’ve done with replicas of historical instruments – an astrolabe, a cross-staff and a kamal – on the Bark Europa during a voyage across the South Atlantic in October/November 2018 and it will trace the history of latitude measurements in European navigation from the middle of the sixteenth until the early eighteenth century, as they were discussed in navigational instructions during that period. In both cases, the categories of reliability and precision were central to assess measurement practices and individual measurements. Yet, it needs to be explored what precision and reliability mean both in the historical narrative and in my own measurements and how they relate to the category of established practice.


Gerhard Wiesenfeldt is a lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science Program. His research focusses on mathematical and physical science in the early modern era, in particular the exchange of knowledge between different cultural groups in the Dutch Republic.

Wednesday 1 May 

Post-truth and dystopias

Darrin Durant (HPS, University of Melbourne)

The term post-truth has been defined in multiple ways, but two main kinds have emerged. The dictionary view says post-truth refers to a situation where emotions rather than facts are more influential in shaping public opinion. The sociological view accepts the historical reality of lies and bullshit in politics but worries about an intensification of such features, to the point where politics devolves to vaudeville and gaslighting. Both attempts to define post-truth are simultaneously efforts to characterize the kind of world in which we now live. But what kind of world is that? Some fear we live or might live in Orwell’s dystopia from Nineteen Eight Four; a world of thought-control. But post-truth is both enemy and saviour when Orwell’s dystopia lurks in the background: enemy if those wielding the dictionary view accidentally create Big Brother in a moral panic about challenges to facts, and saviour if some combination of the dictionary and sociological view upends expert hierarchies. But I suggest we misunderstand the phenomenon of post-truth if we view it through the lens of Orwell’s fear that Big Brother uses monopolies to control. What if we turn to Huxley’s dystopia from Brave New World, where any disjuncture between facts or any disjuncture’s between facts and experiences was managed by drugs. In Huxley’s dystopia, truth was drowned in a sea of irrelevance and passivity was achieved by flooding the citizen with information. Is post-truth a Huxleyan moment in the intensification of neoliberalism?

Wednesday 17 April

Predicting Results in the Social Sciences

Eva Vivalt (College of Business and Economics, ANU)

Rigorously collecting priors of research results across the social sciences can improve our ability to make accurate, policy-relevant forecasts, while also improving research integrity and helping to prioritize different research questions or policy decisions. While several researchers have started collecting forecasts of research results on a small scale, there has been no effort to systematize forecast collection. There is also limited knowledge regarding how to improve the accuracy of forecasts. We are launching a coordinated effort to (i) build a shared platform to facilitate the collection of and access to forecasts for the broader research community, (ii) test the platform using a set of research projects to explore how forecasting and the platform can be improved, and (iii) collect and analyze data on forecasts submitted through the platform.


Eva Vivalt is a Wealth and Wellbeing Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Research School of Economics at the Australian National University. Dr. Vivalt holds a Ph.D. in Economics and an M.A. in Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley and previously worked with the Development Economics Research Group at the World Bank. Dr. Vivalt’s main research interests are in investigating stumbling blocks to generating evidence-based policy decisions, including both methodological issues as well as how evidence is interpreted and used. Dr. Vivalt is also a PI on Y Combinator Research’s basic income study and has other interests in development, behavioural economics, and forecasting research results.

 Wednesday 10 April

Representing Alkaline Hydrolysis

Michael Arnold (HPS, University of Melbourne and DeathTech Research Group)

Burial and cremation are entrenched techniques for the final disposition of the human body, but they are not without their critics, and they are not without alternatives. Some of the criticisms and some of the alternatives will be briefly canvassed, before moving to a more focused discussion of one such alternative – Alkaline Hydrolysis.


Alkaline Hydrolysis proports to be a resource efficient, effective, economical and environmentally sound method of disposition. On these technical grounds it has much to recommend it, but like many new technologies, it flounders as it searches for public representation. How does Alkaline Hydrolysis speak for itself, and how is it spoken for?


Alkaline Hydrolysis speaks for itself in the semiotics of its materiality, which currently takes three forms.


In one of these forms, “Resomation”, the unit’s retort is made to closely resemble a cremator. It is similarly sized, clean-lined, rectangular, horizontally oriented, and front-loaded. This unit is spoken for as “Water Cremation” and is discursively aligned with its main competitor.


In another form, the retort is cylindrical, oriented at 45% in operation, and bristles with visible input and output pipes and vents. Its material semiotics are clearly high-tech, and it is spoken for in terms that distance it from cremation and emphasise its technical superiority.


In a third form, the unit’s material form is horizontal, side orientated, top-loaded, and resembles a casket. It is spoken for as “Aquamation”, in terms that emphasise its continuity with natural processes and long-term traditions.


Currently, all three struggle to name the technology and represent it in a narrative that conveys its differences and captures its competitive advantage. Is the narrative about the environment, natural processes, cost effectiveness, technological progress, or the metaphysics of earth, fire and water? Our paper reports on this struggle.


Michael’s on-going research activities lie at the intersection of contemporary technologies and daily life: for example, studies of technologies associated with death; the postphenomenology of robot-surgery; the implications of digital technologies for domestic life; social networking technologies and community informatics. Michael is also interested in ethical and normative assessments of technologies and philosophical approaches to technologies. Latest book: “Death and Digital Media”, Routledge, 2018.

Thursday 4 April

Is hypothesis testing overused in psychology (and elsewhere)?

Anne Scheel (Eindhoven University of Technology)

A primary goal of the open-science reform movement in psychology and other disciplines is to reduce the number of false positives and increase the reproducibility of results in the published literature. Two of the proposed reforms are preregistration and Registered Reports: Preregistration requires authors to state their hypotheses and analysis plan before conducting their study, which is supposed to prevent twisting the data to fit the narrative (e.g. p-hacking) or twisting the narrative to fit the data (hypothesising after results are known); Registered Reports additionally require editors and reviewers to commit to publishing a study before the results are known, which prevents them from blocking studies based on their outcome and thus mitigates publication bias. Both of these formats have been developed with a focus on the hypothetico-deductive method — they are designed to retain the validity of inferences drawn from confirmatory hypothesis tests.

I want to argue that in practice, preregistration and Registered Reports not only show that taking shortcuts that threaten this validity has been common in the past, but also that hypothesis testing may be a poor fit for the research goals of a substantial proportion of the scientific community in psychology. The conflation of exploratory and confirmatory research that psychologists have been used to may have stifled the development of a framework for high-quality exploratory research, which is paramount for developing hypotheses (and eventually building theories) in the first place. As such, resistance against preregistration and some of the growing pains the format is experiencing at the moment may simply be a consequence of it laying bare the misfit between research goals and the excessive focus on hypothesis testing in psychology. If this is true, psychologists may be well advised to shift this focus and work towards better literacy in the exploratory ground work that precedes confirmatory hypothesis tests, as well as in alternative epistemic approaches outside of the hypothetico-deductive method.


Anne Scheel studied psychology at the University of Heidelberg and psychological research methods at the University of Glasgow, and worked in a developmental psychology lab at LMU Munich for two years. With a background in infant research, since learning about the “replication crisis” in psychology, Scheel has devoted more and more time to discussions around ways to make research more transparent and reproducible (“open science”). Eventually this led Scheel to switch tracks and turn to meta-science as a main research focus: In October 2017, Scheel started a PhD in Daniël Lakens’ project “Increasing the reliability and efficiency of psychological science” at TU Eindhoven.

 Wednesday 27 March

Ferrets Here and There: Global Development of Experimental Practices for Influenza Modelling

Rachel A. Ankeny (University of Adelaide)

Since at least the 1930s, ferrets have been recognized as extremely well-suited models for studying the pathogenicity and transmissibility of both human and avian influenza viruses. Ferrets are attractive mammalian models due to their relatively small size and other physiological features including the similarity of their lungs to humans, but particularly because they evidence numerous clinical features associated with human disease, especially influenza. Ferrets are highly susceptible to the influenza virus, and have become indispensable for elucidating virus-host interactions following influenza virus infection. However, unlike many other more traditional model organisms such as mice, ferrets are not standardized and often are sourced from diverse types of locales. As a result, standardization occurs via the experimental procedures utilized, via complex negotiations amongst the relatively small community of researchers currently studying them. Using published literature and fieldwork, these processes are explored, with special attention to how practices travel (or fail to do so) between labs, and how arguments are made about the generalizability and applicability of experimental results, given the relative lack of standardization inherent in the experimental system.


Prof Rachel A. Ankeny is in the Departments of History and Philosophy at the University of Adelaide, and serves as Associate Dean Research and Deputy Dean for the Faculty of Arts at the University of Adelaide. She is an interdisciplinary teacher and scholar whose areas of expertise cross three fields: history/philosophy of science, bioethics and science policy, and food studies. She also is an Honorary Visiting Professor in the College of Social Science and International Studies (Philosophy) at the University of Exeter. Rachel’s research interests cross several areas and fields: the history and philosophy of science particularly biomedical/ biological sciences, bioethics and science policy, food studies, and migration history. In the history and philosophy of science, her research focuses on the roles of models and case-based reasoning in science, model organisms, the philosophy of medicine, and the history of contemporary life sciences. Her major ongoing projects include Organisms and Us: How Living Things Help Us to Understand Our World which is a comprehensive historical and philosophical exploration of the changing roles and understandings of research with organisms in 20th and early 21st century science. She also has long-standing research on norms and practices in contemporary molecular biology, especially the Bermuda Principles for data sharing.

Wednesday 20 March

Instances and impacts: History, philosophy and social studies of the sciences today

Panel discussion: Andrew Drinnan (School of Biosciences), Fiona Fidler (HPS), James McCaw (Faculty of Science), James Parker (School of Law), Eden Smith (HPS)

The 2019 Seminar series will kick off with a panel discussion on the state of play of HPS scholarship today, and why it is relevant to the academy and society, with contributors who engage with the disciplines of HPS and STS in various ways.

Join us for this lively and interactive session.

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