Past seminars 2021
Wednesday 20 October
Kevin Korb (HPS, University of Melbourne)
I outline a program for developing Artificial General Intelligences (AGIs) while avoiding the anxiety-inducing vision of SuperIntelligences running amok in a world-wide Homo Sapiens Extinction Event. This does not involve turning them into “Friendly AIs”, the preferred current euphemism for Slave Robots. Instead, I suggest that, and how, we can build the first AGIs to be artificial moral agents in a fullblown sense. If our children Robots are fully ethical, they will harm us only if that is the best thing that they can do. That we cannot say the same thing for ourselves, simply reflects the fact that Homo Sapiens are not fully ethical.
Wednesday 13 October
Mathematical Platonism: the dialectic of structure in modern mathematics
John Cleary (School of Culture and Communications, University of Melbourne)
The modern period of mathematics was one of great creativity, seeing an efflorescence of different theories and branches of mathematics. Central to this development was the notion of structure and the idea that mathematics was essentially the theory of structures and the relationships between them. Mathematicians and philosophers often understand this structural core of mathematics through mathematical theories of structure, like set theory or category theory, to name the two most prominent. However, I will argue that to understand the essence of structure in the historical and real development of mathematics, to understand how it grounded mathematical practice and its problems, we should understand structure firstly as an idea. Ideas in mathematics are meta problems that make possible a mathematician’s understanding and orientation within a theory and a set of mathematical problems. They constitute a ground of mathematical thinking and practice in the way they allow us to understand different mathematical theories as solutions to these problems. By understanding structure in this way, we can delineate a kind of dialectical development of structuralism in mathematics and show how the various understandings of structure emerged.
John Cleary is a PhD candidate in the department of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne. His research is about the relationship between mathematics and philosophy, and more specifically developing a form of contemporary Platonism proposed by the philosopher Albert Lautman.
Wednesday 6 October
Whaling, Consumer Culture and Changing Understandings of the Natural World in Early Modern Europe
Sarah Bendall (Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, ACU)
By the end of the seventeenth century, Europeans wore a variety of fashionable garments made from whalebone sourced from the Artic, sprayed on perfumes infused with ambergris from Africa or the Caribbean, and used medicines and cosmetics made with spermaceti from North America. This paper argues that scientific and popular understandings of whales went hand-in-hand with seventeenth-century fashionable consumer culture. While the whale still occupied various contradictory cultural, commercial and scientific spaces in European thought, this century saw a period of transformation where common understandings of whales shifted. These animals went from being monsters to curiosities of the natural world that could be commodified and used in a wide variety of consumer goods, goods that were increasingly used in the everyday lives of Europeans. By focusing on the use of whale products in early modern England, this paper highlights the role that the consumption of fashion and other goods played in fostering wider understandings of the natural world, in both positive and negative ways, during the seventeenth century.
Sarah A. Bendall is a Research Fellow at the Gender and Women’s History Research Centre in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences. She is a material culture historian whose work specialises in the gendered and embodied experiences of dress, particularly those of women, as well as the roles of gender in the production, trade and consumption of global commodities and fashionable consumer goods between 1500-1800.
Sarah’s current research examines the widespread use of whaling products such as baleen in dress and decorative arts between the years 1500-1800 to explore the complex historical relationship between fashion, gender, global trade and the environment. She is also developing projects on women and the garment-making trades during the seventeenth century in England, and on making, experimental history and embodiment.
Wednesday 29 September
Revisiting the Problem of Context
Samara Greenwood (HPS, University of Melbourne)
PhD Confirmation Seminar
In 2008, Peter Galison famously outlined ten key problems for history and philosophy of science. First was the problem of context, “that elusive explanatory structure always invoked, never explained.” Naomi Oreskes calls this the ‘Miasma Problem’. While it is easy to describe the societal contexts surrounding a given science, it is much harder to explain how that ‘miasma’ translates to changes in science. While historians of science such as John Schuster, M. Norton Wise and Theodore Arabatzis have advocated a dual role for context, summarised as ‘resources and constraints.’, my research has identified at least two further functions. In this presentation, I critically assess the ‘resources and constraints’ model and show how broader historical scholarship points the way toward a richer, more multidimensional, understanding of context.
Samara Greenwood is a first year PhD Candidate in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne. Samara’s thesis explores the relationship between social context and scientific practice drawing on methods from Integrated HPS to incorporate a wide variety of scholarship. As well as her PhD research, Samara writes articles for the University of Melbourne research blog, Forum and is a registered Architect.
Wednesday 22 September
A history of metascience
Fallon Mody and Fiona Fidler (HPS, University of Melbourne)
Seminar cancelled due to earthquake
Wednesday 15 September
Between the European zoo and the Australian bush: Solving the riddle of the kangaroo birth (1826-1926)
Joint University of Melbourne, University of Sydney and AAHPSSS seminar
Oliver Hochadel (Institución Milá y Fontanals de Investigación en Humanidades, Barcelona)
How do kangaroos actually give birth? Or asked differently: how does the little joey get into the pouch? This question was much discussed by naturalists in Europe, Australia and beyond between 1826, when Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire raised the issue in a paper, and 1926, when Ellis Troughton published a “definite” account of the debate.
In its first part this paper will look at the research conducted at the European zoo. The advent of kangaroos to Europe since around 1790 made it possible, at least in principle, to tackle the riddle through observation. In the early 1830s Richard Owen enlisted the London zoo to devise a research program. He claimed that the mother put the tiny embryo into the pouch using her lips. Naturalists in other European zoos were eager to confirm Owen’s hypothesis.
In its second part this paper will contrast the European zoo-based investigations with the observations made by zoo directors, naturalists, hunters and farmers in Australia. Around 1900 the riddle of the kangaroo birth had become a question much debated in the Australian public sphere. A new theory proposed by August Goerling claimed that the joey travelled by itself into the pouch.
The riddle of the kangaroo birth allows to address a number of overarching questions: How were observations validated in different sites such as the zoo and the bush? How did the information on kangaroo reproduction circulate (or not) between different continents? What were the epistemological hierarchies between metropolitan and colonial science and how did they affect the production of knowledge?
Oliver Hochadel is a historian of science and since 2012 a tenured researcher at the Institució Milà i Fontanals for research in the humanities (CSIC, Barcelona). Most recently he worked on the urban history of science and would like to write a global history of zoos in the long nineteenth century.
Wednesday 8 September
Is Science Self-Correcting? The Case of Social and Personality Psychology?
Simine Vazire (School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne)
How a field responds when its credibility comes under serious threat is an important marker of its commitment to scientific values. The 2010s were a turbulent decade for the field of social and personality psychology. Failures to replicate, fraud, and evidence of questionable research practices all contributed to a crisis of credibility. What has the field done in response to this crisis, and what would a true reckoning with this crisis look like? I propose two markers of a commitment to self-correction. First, we should undertake careful metascientific studies of the field and change our norms and practices to address any problems identified. I describe one such study, my lab’s Surveying the Past and Present State of Published Studies in Social and Personality Psychology (SPPSPSSPP) study. Second, we should reimagine our quality control systems – namely, peer review – to prevent future crises. I describe another ongoing project to transform peer review in psychology. I describe our plans to develop and validate a Quality Factor (QF) — a quantitative rubric incorporated into peer review to publicly share experts’ (updatable) scores of individual papers on a range of qualities.
Simine Vazire’s research examines whether and how science self-corrects, focusing on psychology. Simine study the research methods and practices used in psychology, as well as structural systems in science, such as peer review. Simine also examines whether people know themselves, and where our blind spots are in our self-knowledge. Simine is editor in chief of Collabra: Psychology, one of the PIs on the repliCATS project, and the co-founder (with Brian Nosek) of the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science.
Wednesday 1 September
Exploring the possibilities of bioplastic and other matter
Jessie French (HPS, University of Melbourne)
Scientific and artistic practices are commonly assumed to be seperate endeavours – and in many ways they are – but weren’t always so seperate. Artistic practice has influenced scientific discovery throughout history, but how does history and philosophy of science influence artistic practice?
I’m an artist and experimental designer specialising in algae-based bioplastic. Over the past two years, I have developed novel recipes and world-first techniques for moulding with these polymers. My studio practice is informed and anchored by knowledge gained through study in history and philosophy of science. In this seminar, I will introduce my work, its wider applications and the way HPS informs my work.
Based in Naarm/Melbourne, Australia, the work of artist and experimental designer
Jessie French explores speculative futures through algae-based bioplastic and water-based ecologies. Housed within an ethos of consumption, sustainability and regeneration, her practice invites others to engage with the possibilities of a post-petrochemical world. Through experimenting with other materials, she explores the potential of closed-loop systems of (re)use and conscious consumption and interaction with objects. In 2020, French founded OTHER MATTER, an experimental design studio working with algae-based bioplastics which engages others in the possibilities of new materials though objects, experiences and futures.
Wednesday 25 August
The fluctuating fortunes of David Bohm’s theory
Kristian Camilleri (HPS, University of Melbourne)
The last three decades has witnessed a resurgence of interest in alternative interpretation of quantum mechanics. After a long period during which the ‘Copenhagen orthodoxy’ went virtually unchallenged, we now find a number of competing interpretations vying for ascendancy. Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of David Bohm’s hidden variables theory, which he first proposed in a now-famous two-part paper in 1952. After being ignored for the better part of three decades, it only began to attract renewed attention in the 1980s. Today the de Broglie-Bohm theory, as it is often called, enjoys widespread support, and remains an active area of ongoing research. In 1993, Peter Holland wrote the first textbook on the theory, which signified a major turning point. But how did this turn around in the fortunes of the Bohm’s theory come about? Who was responsible, what were their motivations, and what made the difference? Drawing on historical sources, private correspondence, and interviews with several of the key protagonists, this paper attempts to address these questions. I show that interest in the theory was reignited at Birkbeck College by new generation of younger PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, who made calculations with the theory using computer visualizations. Interestingly, Bohm, who was at Birkbeck at the time, played little role in this development, having largely abandoned his theory some twenty years earlier. This provides a fascinating case study in how a theory’s fortunes can depend crucially on wider intellectual, social and technological contexts.
Kristian Camilleri is a Senior Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Science Program in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, having taught there since 2007. After studying physics as an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne, but in his first year he discovered history and philosophy of science, and never looked back. After completing his Bachelor of Science, he completed a PhD in HPS at Melbourne University. Since then Kristian has established himself as one of a leading scholar in the history and philosophy of modern physics, and has published extensively on the history of quantum mechanics. He has also written on the role of metaphors in science and the epistemology of thought experiments. Kristian coordinates and teaches a range of subjects at undergraduate level in the HPS program. He has also supervised several Masters and PhD theses. He is currently working on a book project with the working title, Quantum Mechanics and its Discontents: The Making of a Scientific Orthodoxy,.
Wednesday 18 August
The value of scientific expertise: History and Philosophy of Science (Science Festival seminar)
Joan Leach (CPAS, ANU), Jason Chin (UoS Law School), Darrin Durant (HPS, UoM)
The ‘Value of Science’ is often considered to reside in the reliable knowledge that it produces or a unique method that produces that knowledge. Yet determining the reliability of knowledge is harder than it seems and nor is there a unique ‘scientific method’. Instead, the generation of scientific knowledge is a complex and contested process. Understanding, communicating and acting on the messy practices of science is hardly straightforward.
Given these difficulties how do we understand the value that science can bring to society? How does scientific expertise contribute to decision making in practice and what can we reasonably expect? Join us for a panel discussion where scholars explore the application of scientific expertise to a range of institutions within society and approach these questions from a range of perspectives within the History and Philosophy of Science.
Professor Joan Leach is Director of the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science and has expertise in ethical science communication, and communicating science-in-the-making. Dr Jason Chin is a legal scholar at the University of Sydney working the intersection of science and law with particular interest in the processes that lead to some research affecting the legal system while other research does not. Dr Darrin Durant is Senior Lecturer in Science and Technology Studies in HPS at the University of Melbourne and has written extensively on science and public expertise.
Wednesday 11 August
Aiming for ugliness: ‘Non-discovery’ and transformations in high energy experimental physics at the Large Hadron Collider
Sophie Ritson (HPS, University of Melbourne)
After a discovery claim is established, the world is reported to be different; by contrast, when something is lost which was never had, seemingly nothing has changed. This paper explores how the absence of direction in research strategies, following the negative results at the LHC, is transforming the epistemic strategies of experimental particle physicists in the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC, in an effort to generate “ugly” experimental results. Prior to the start of data collection, many in the high energy physics community strongly expected that evidence for supersymmetry would be observed at the LHC. I will show that whilst the negative results have not transformed the ontology of particle physics, the violated expectations have resulted in transformations in epistemic strategies away from targeted searches for evidence of supersymmetry (and other beyond standard model physics) to attempts to find evidence for “ugly” results and ‘unconceived alternatives’ (Stanford, 2006).
Epistemic strategies that aim at ‘unconceived alternatives’ are apparent in the shift toward ‘model independent searches’ and standard model measurements, such as the attempts to measure the self-coupling of the Higgs boson. These attempts are in part motivated by the possibility that the measured result will disconfirm the value predicted by the standard model, thereby providing a path to unconceived and alternative new physics.
Stanford (2019) has recently argued that, due to conservative attitudes, today’s scientific communities are “less effective” than their predecessors “in developing fundamentally novel theoretical conceptions of nature in the first place” (p.3931). The current situation in particle physics makes for an opportunity to examine the creativity of the highly collaborative experimental particle physics community, where the transformation in epistemic strategies indicates direct attempts to find evidence for ‘unconceived alternatives’, or for disconfirming and “ugly” experimental results, that could provide fundamentally novel concepts.
Ritson’s research focuses on the epistemology of contemporary scientific practices, with an emphasis on changing modes of research, scientific methodology, and science and values. In examining contemporary practices, Ritson’s research seeks to develop a deeper understanding of the changing conditions and contexts of knowledge in 21st century science. Ritson has examined the string theory controversy, which is driven by non-empirical constraints. A further subject of their research is high-energy experimental particle physics at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland, which, following a crisis in theory and an absence of new results, is now looking for new direction and is increasingly drawing upon machine learning techniques.
Wednesday 4 August
The social-network lives of non-biomedical knowledge
Dang Nguyen (HPS, University of Melbourne)
PhD Completion Seminar
This thesis investigates the performance of non-biomedical knowledge as situated knowledge on the internet. Non-biomedical knowledge is defined as medical knowledge that exists in separation, but not isolation from, biomedical knowledge. Using a mix of quantitative computational and qualitative digital methods, the thesis examines the influences of digital technologies on the propagation of knowledge that exists in the margin of scientific knowledge and the implications of technology on non-biomedical cultures as living practices. All empirical findings are contextualised in Vietnam.
Dang Nguyen is a doctoral candidate at the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. She was also a 2019-2020 Fox Fellow at Yale University. She holds a Master of Science in Social Science of the Internet from the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
Wednesday 12 May
Goal-directed Uses of the Replicability Concept
Eden T. Smith (HPS, University of Melbourne)
The replicability of a research claim is often positioned as an important step in establishing the credibility of scientific research. This expectation persists despite ongoing disagreements over which practices are required to demonstrate replicability in various contexts. In this paper, we explore how these disagreements contribute to Metaresearch discourse, as well as to the fields of historical, philosophical, and social studies of the sciences (HPS). In doing so, we extend accounts of goal-directed uses of concepts within investigative practices to reflectively interrogate concepts we use to study the conditions within which such investigative practices contribute to broader fields of scientific knowledge. Therefore, rather than attempt to explain or resolve conflicting characterisations of replications, we propose that these can be understood through a view of the replicability concept as a tool used in pursuit of context-specific goals. This view also suggests that the variable uses of the replicability concept within Metaresearch and HPS contexts can contribute complementary insights about when and how replications are practiced within specific fields of scientific knowledge.
Eden Smith is a research fellow in the MetaMelb Lab at the University of Melbourne. Eden’s research focuses on investigating the reasoning involved in expert assessments of the replicability, reproducibility, and robustness of scientific claims, as well how concepts such as replicability are used within open-science communities. Eden is also collaborating on a digital-ethnography project exploring the sociotechnical dynamics involved in the open-source development of decentralised technologies by distributed communities. These projects build on Eden’s PhD (2018) research on the historical interdependence of two scientific concepts and their current uses as independent tools in neuroscience experiments.
Wednesday 5 May
Demanding characteristics: psychology, psychiatry & the therapeutic practices of Martin T. Orne
James Bradley (HPS, University of Melbourne)
Martin T. Orne (1927-2000) has a number of claims to notoriety. Most famously he was the sometime therapist (1956-1964) of the Pulitzer-prize winning confessional poet Ann Sexton and was a major factor in her taking up poetry in the first place. Controversially, many years after her death he released the tapes of his therapy sessions with Sexton to her biographer, Diane Middlebrook, triggering a debate about medical ethics and patient confidentiality. In the darker recesses of the internet, he is a shadowy figure identified with the MKULTRA project; while he also became something of a patron saint for the False Memory Foundation, with all the attendant controversy. He was, as well, the expert witness who debunked Kenneth Bianchi’s defence of Multiple Personality Disorder in the Hillside Strangler case (1979).
Accounts of Orne’s life have concentrated upon his role in the life and work of Sexton. These have generally described Orne as practising within the dominant psych-paradigm of his era – Freudianism. I will argue, however, that his psychiatric practice is better understood as a pragmatic translation of the results of his celebrated social psychology experiments (one of which involved a Red-bellied black snake in a University of Sydney laboratory).
Using this as a platform, I will contextualise Orne’s therapeutic practices within the overall framework of post-war US psychiatry, challenging some of the deeply-held historiographical narratives about this period; narratives that are themselves artefacts of the victory of the neo-Kraepelinians in the great instauration of DSM-III.
James Bradley lectures in the History of Medicine and Life Sciences in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. He is currently researching the history of the nervous system. His recent publications include ‘Darwin’s Delay: A Reassessment of the Evidence’, Isis, 2017.
Monday 26 April
Special event: Joint University of Sydney/University of Melbourne/AAHPSSS HPS Seminar
Rene Dubos, the Autochthonous Flora, and the Prehistory of the Microbiome
Nicolas Rasmussen (School of Humanities & Languages, University of NSW)
Only recently characterised by high-throughput sequencing methods that enable the study of microbes without lab culture, the human ‘microbiome’ (the microbial flora of the gut and various other parts of the body) is said to have revolutionary implications for biology and medicine. We must now understand ourselves as ‘holobionts’ like lichen or coral, multispecies super-organisms that consist of animal and symbiotic microbes in symbiotic combination, because normal physiological function depends on them. In this talk I look at the 1960s research of biologist Rene Dubos, a forerunner figure mentioned in some historical accounts of the microbiome, and argue that he advanced the super-organism concept 40 years before the Human Microbiome Project was conceived. Furthermore, scientist contemporaries valued this research and understood his views. This raises the questions of why the concept was not welcomed as revolutionary at the time and why Dubos is not remembered for this contribution.
Nicolas Rasmussen is Emeritus Professor in the School of Humanities. He has higher degrees in history and philosophy of science, developmental biology, and public health.
His research has dealt with the role of instrumentation in shaping scientific knowledge, the history of biotechnology, molecular biology and its cultural and intellectual history, the history of drug abuse and pharmaceuticals in the United States since 1900, and the influence of industry sponsorship on biomedical research. He has been principle investigator on several NSF (USA) and ARC grants.
His current major project concerns obesity research and public health policy in the 1950s USA. His monograph on the history of genetic engineering with Johns Hopkins, entitled Gene Jockeys: Life Science and the Rise of Biotech Enterprise, was published in 2014, and another monograph entitled Fat in the Fifties: America’s First Obesity Crisis is forthcoming in 2019 from the same press.
Wednesday 21 April
Science, Time, and the Interwar Search for Global Prehistory
Emily Kern (University of New South Wales)
How and why did research scientists and government officials in the 1920s and 1930s attempt to correlate prehistoric and paleoanthropological discoveries in Asia, Europe, and Africa across both time and space? With radiometric dating in its infancy and of limited precision on human cultural timescales, researchers instead built their comparisons by correlating fossilized fauna, Paleolithic tool industries, and the shapes of the skulls of prehistoric humans to attempt to bring the prehistory of the world into one timeline. Critically, much of this work on human evolutionary history was underwritten by the exigencies of colonial resource management and economic geology—enabling the study of humanity’s deep history between geos and bios.
Emily Kern is a historian of modern global science who specializes in the history of human evolution and paleoanthropology. She is currently at work on a book about the long history of the African origins hypothesis and the search for the cradle of humankind. Her research focuses on the relationship between the production of scientific knowledge about the human species and the production of global political power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Wednesday 14 April
Translating, Narrating and Communicating Wen bing: Pandemic Outbreak in Melbourne, Australia is Ushering in a Transmodern Spacetime World Order
Together with the concepts of Yin 陰 and Yang 陽, Five Elements 五行, I see qi 气, qi 氣 and qi 炁 as ontological entities or imaginaries. They can be seen as an ‘imaging figures, metaphors or a narratives that has realness achieved in the emergence of gradually clotting and eventually routinized, sets of embodied, in-place actions.’ [Helen Verran. (2005)]. Imaginaries, imaging figures and narratives can be seen as similar to Foucault’s epistemes, Kuhn’s paradigms, Callon, Law and Latour’s actor-networks, Hacking’s self-vendicating constellations, Fujimura and Star’s standardized packages and boundary objects and Knorr-Certina’s ‘reconfiguration’, David Turnbull’s ‘assemblage’, and Donna Haraway’s ‘vision metaphor.’ And an assemblage is a translation medium . Viewed from this perspective, an ‘incubating qi’ 伏氣 can be seen as an expression of the natural yin and yang order of the flow and metamorphoses of ‘life’ embedded in specific time and place i.e. the life of the influenza virus or coronavirus embedded within the human body. The ‘outbreak narrative’ of wenbing (influenza) ‘as seen by contemporary practitioners of Chinese medicine is a collective term for disorders that Western biomedicine classifies as acute febrile diseases. These are primarily characterized by high fever and by their infectious nature, as with typhoid and typhus. In premodern China however, wenbing were seen as encompassing a range of illnesses from the common colds, to high fevers and epidemic diseases, all of which were characterized by acute fevers and hot sensations in the patient’s body. Chinese medical doctrine attributes these disorders to pathogenic heat of varying quality from warm (wen 温) to hot (re 熱), which is characteristic of the climate in spring and summer respectively (Hanson, 1998). This era of unprecedented global climactic weather changes places tremendous pressure upon the human internal environment to adapt to these dire changes in the external environment. It places tremendous pressure upon our inner guardian qi (wei qi 衛氣) as well as in the air or atmosphere da qi 大氣 which the Chinese martial artist Lu Ji-tang 吕继唐 referred to metaphorically as similar to our guardian/protective qi i.e. the human anti-pathogenic qi (zheng qi 正氣). And as COVID-19 spreads globally, and as we act in accordance with the ‘seasonal, geographical and personal factors,’ how should we in Australia and the rest of the world deal with it (coronavirus) in our local real time situation? According to the late Joseph Needham we should use acupuncture or chronoacupuncture’s ‘immunological’ and ‘cortisone-like effect’ to fight the invading organism by strengthening the patient’s body resistance.
Dr. Rey Tiquia is an independent researcher from the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, the University of Melbourne and an AHPRA registered practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). He took his BA from Manuel Luis Quezon University, Manila, Philippines, Bachelor of traditional Chinese medicine from the Beijing College of TCM (Beijing, China) and his MSc and Ph.D. degrees in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Melbourne. His dissertation was entitled, Traditional Chinese Medicine as an Australian tradition of health care (2005) wherein he proposed the construction of a symmetrical translating knowledge space between traditional Chinese medicine and Western scientific medicine in Australia. He has lectured on the history and philosophy of TCM at both University of Melbourne and Victoria University of Technology. In 2000, the Wellcome Trust invited him to facilitate a workshop for the Closed-Door Research Conference on Complementary and Alternative Medicine in London, UK. Since 1997, he is an Honorary Professor at Shanxi College of TCM, Taiyuan City, China.
Wednesday 7 April
Metascience as a scientific social movement
David Peterson (Department of Sociology, UCLA)
Emerging out of the “reproducibility crisis” in science, metascientists have become central players in debates about research integrity, scholarly communication, and science policy. The goal of this article is to introduce metascience to STS scholars, detail the scientific ideology that is apparent in its articles, strategy statements, and research projects, and discuss its institutional and intellectual future. Put simply, metascience is a scientific social movement that seeks to use the tools of science- especially, quantification and experimentation- to diagnose problems in research practice and improve efficiency. It draws together data scientists, experimental and statistical methodologists, and open science activists into a project with both intellectual and policy dimensions. Metascientists have been remarkably successful at winning grants, motivating news coverage, and changing policies at science agencies, journals, and universities. Moreover, metascience represents the apotheosis of several trends in research practice, scientific communication, and science governance including increased attention to methodological and statistical criticism of scientific practice, the promotion of “open science” by science funders and journals, the growing importance of both preprint and data repositories for scientific communication, and the new prominence of data scientists as research makes a turn toward Big Science.
David Peterson is a sociologist who studies the practices and politics of social science in laboratories, in the broader academy, and in society. Research interests include metascience, the crisis of expertise, and the intersection of artificial intellgence and science. Current postdoctoral projects are, with Jacob Foster, on a study of a new field of science called Diverse Intelligences, and, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, an “adversarial collaboration” experiment in which scientists who back competing theories about consciousness are brought together to create an experiment that could adjudicate between them in order to shed new light on the nature of persistent scientific controversies.
Wednesday 31 March
From Grub Street to the Colony: George William Francis and an early Victorian scientific career
Hsiang-Fu Huang (Nankai University)
This talk focuses on the early scientific career of George William Francis (1800–1865), a London-born botanist who later emigrated to Australia and founded the Adelaide Botanic Garden. Most scholarly works about Francis emphasize his botanical contributions or life in Australia, yet overlook his career before middle age in England as a versatile popular writer, editor and lecturer. His involvement in the venture of ‘commercial science’, or the display and exploitation of knowledge, reflects a career route for a non-elite practitioner to earn a living and build scientific reputation in early Victorian gentlemanly science. The venture included his establishment of the popular journal The Magazine of Science and School of Arts (1839–1852). He also associated himself with the network of the scientific elites by communicating to the learned, such as the pre-eminent botanist William Hooker. By examining the distinctive trajectory of Francis’s career, this essay explores the potential and limits of such strategies to gain institutional recognition from the scientific community in the pre-professionalized period.
The full paper from this talk can be seen at: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2020.0002
Hsiang-Fu Huang is Associate Professor in the Faculty of History at Nankai University, in Tianjin, China. Research interests include the history of popular science, history of modern science (astronomy, geology and natural history since the 18th century), science and culture in 19-20th centuries Britain and China, the practices of popular science writing and science communication. Hsiang-Fu’s PhD was awarded by University College London in the Department of Science and Technology Studies for the thesis thesis “Commercial and Sublime: Popular Astronomy Lectures in Nineteenth-Century Britain”.
Wednesday 24 March
Rethinking sex, brain and gender: Beyond the binary
Daphna Joel (School of Psychological Sciences, Sagol School of Neuroscience, Tel Aviv University)
Are the brains of women and men the same or different? Or maybe it’s the wrong question? There are group-level differences between women and men in specific measures of brain and behavior. These differences are often taken as supporting the existence of ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains. Yet the specific formulations of these concepts range from arguing that the typical male brain is different from the typical female brain to claiming that brains are typically male or female because brain structure can be used to predict the sex category (female/male) of the brain’s owner. I will review the development of the binary conceptualization of the relations between sex and the brain in response to challenges posed by animal studies of sex effects on the brain, and the ‘mosaic’ hypothesis, which builds on these studies. I will also present the results of recent studies, using large datasets and machine learning algorithms, that attempt to understand the relations between sex and the brain beyond the binary.
Daphna Joel is a professor of Neuroscience and Psychology, at the School of Psychological Sciences and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel-Aviv University. She studies questions related to brain, sex and gender. In her research, Joel uses various analytical methods to analyze diverse datasets, from large collections of brain scans to information obtained with self-report questionnaires. In a series of papers, she has described and tested the ‘mosaic’ hypothesis – the claim that sex differences in the brain do not add-up consistently in individuals; rather, most brains are composed of both features more common in females and features more common in males. Other studies focused on the perception of gender identity and its relation to sexuality. Ongoing studies attempt to characterize the relations between sex and brain structure and function. She is also the author of Gender Mosaic: Beyond the Myth of the Male and Female Brain (Little Brown, NY; Octopus, London).
Wednesday 17 March
Assetization and the transformation of personal data into an asset
Kean D. Birch, Science & Technology Studies Program, York University
Technoscientific capitalism is based on the asset form. And almost anything nowadays can be turned into an asset – that is, something that can be controlled, traded, and capitalized as a revenue stream. Objects, experiences, life forms, bodily functions, intellectual outputs, and much more can be an object of this transformation, or assetization. Although assets can be bought and sold, the point is to get a durable economic rent from them rather than sell them in a market. Analysing assetization helps us to unpack and understand the contingent nature of this process, thereby providing us with insights into how to intervene and at what points this intervention might be most helpful.
Kean Birch is interested in understanding technoscientific capitalism and draw on a range of perspectives from science & technology studies, economic geography, and economic sociology to study it. Kean’s research focuses on the restructuring and transformation of the economy & financial knowledges, technoscience & technoscientific innovation, and the relationship between markets & natural environments. Current research addressed how different things (e.g. knowledge, personality, loyalty, etc.) are turned into ‘assets’ & how economic rents are then captured from those assets, in processes of assetization and rentiership. New project is “From entrepreneurship to rentiership: The changing dynamics of innovation in technoscientific capitalism”.