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S3 - Samara and Carmelina Transcript

Samara Greenwood: Welcome back everyone to the HPS podcast. I'm your host, Samara Greenwood, and I'm thrilled to kick off our third season. 


Today, I've got some exciting news. We've got a new addition to our team. Joining us is Carmelina Contarino, an Honours student in HPS here at the University of Melbourne. Carmelina will be helping produce the podcast as well as hosting several of the episodes.

In today's episode, Carmelina and I also dive into what has become a bit of a theme of the podcast, ‘Seeing Science Differently’. 


Science isn't always as neat or as sterile as it is often portrayed. Instead, HPS shows it to be much more interesting. It's a little bit messy, sometimes unpredictable and full of unexpected twists.


In this podcast, we love exploring this much more dynamic and human side of science. The trial and error, the messy labs and the uncharted paths that sometimes lead nowhere, but often lead somewhere. 


First, let's get to know Carmelina a little bit better.


Samara Greenwood: Welcome to our new podcast team member, Carmelina Contarino. It's great to have you with us. 


Carmelina Contarino: Thanks, Sam. It is an absolute pleasure to be here and to be part of the team. 


[00:01:17] 


Samara Greenwood: Now, I am sure that everyone would love to hear a little bit about you. Can you tell us how you're connected to history and philosophy of science?


Carmelina Contarino: After a long, long break from study, I came back to do an arts degree and took a couple of HPS subjects in my first year. It's been a mad, crazy love affair ever since. 


Samara Greenwood: What was it about HPS that drew you in? 


Carmelina Contarino: I think for me it was the fact that there's so many ways to approach it. There is an interdisciplinarity to it that just isn't really tangible in other subjects.

It's open, it's accessible, it is a very, very broad church and allows for a lot of different ideas and ways of seeing things. 


[00:01:58] 


Samara Greenwood: I thoroughly agree with that. I really like that term, the broad church. At the same time, we're focused on one thing, which is science. Even that's a broad church in itself, as we've found on the podcast. But at least we have this central focus that we can then bring all of these other ways of thinking about things, ways of researching to it. I can totally see how that would draw you in. 


Now you are an honours student here at the moment, so could you tell us a little bit about what your honours thesis is about? 


Carmelina Contarino: My thesis looks at how we create scientific knowledge, specifically looking at how scientists view exploratory research and how they engage with it and integrate it within their research practices.


Samara Greenwood: Fabulous. And you interview a number of scientists, don't you, as part of your research. How have you found that? 


Carmelina Contarino: It's been great. Getting the chance to talk to different people and getting so many different responses about what they think exploratory research is, how they use it, whether or not they think they are using it, and I suppose exploring why things are the way they are. 


Samara Greenwood: So you're doing exploratory research on exploratory research? 


Carmelina Contarino: I am doing exploratory research on exploratory research. 


[00:03:09] 


Samara Greenwood: Well, we will have to, at some point, do a dedicated podcast on exploratory research. What else would you like to tell us about yourself? 


Carmelina Contarino: Okay. I am part of CAIDE, which is the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Ethics.


I've been working there since 2021 as a research associate and since 2022 as a tutor teaching digital ethics in the law school and in computer information systems. 


I'm also a business owner and a former candid street photographer. Nothing untoward, I assure you. I just really enjoyed capturing, I guess what the original magnum photographers would call that ‘moment of truth’.


So, there's a lot of expression and emotion that people carry with them and display as they walk around day to day that we tend to not notice. 


This relates back to my interest in HPS, where it's about looking for things in a different way that sit out in the open and are readily available to us all. But quite often we are either too busy in our own world or too readily accepting of the vision that's been put before us. So, we don't necessarily look deeper into it. 


To tie it back in, that is why I really enjoy HPS  - because I get to pull things apart and question things that we're not meant to question or that we're told this is as it is. And we get to say, but why? 


I guess it's my inner two-year-old coming out and just asking, ‘but why?’ for everything. 


[00:04:41] 


Samara Greenwood: Now we are, of course, launching season three - with a bang. Today's episode with Lorraine Daston and Peter Harrison is a great one on historians and scientists, which I'm very excited about.


What are you looking forward to with season three? 


Carmelina Contarino: So much. I don't even know where to begin. There's a lot more STS coming into this season, which is very exciting. 


There are also themes emerging, I've noticed, Samara. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

 

Samara Greenwood: I've already prepared a few interviews, and I have noticed that there is a tendency, I think also from the previous seasons as well as this season, about ‘seeing science differently’.


Seeing science differently than perhaps our classic ideas of science, about objectivity, about rationality, that this is some sort of core way that science is practiced without anything else. Without values, without emotion. Of course, objectivity and rationality are essential parts of science, but these other parts tend to disappear or even be completely excluded from science when actually they're vital parts as well.


I think that's a theme that I've certainly come across in my own study of HPS. I'm glad that that's also coming through in our interviews. And that seems to be coming through in the interviews that I've done for this season as well, which is very exciting. 


Carmelina Contarino: So that idea of science as having ‘a view from nowhere’, it is untainted as it goes in to do what it needs to do.


Samara Greenwood: Yes, that classic view and then the alternate view, which has certainly developed very much from the 1970s, that ‘no, there's a view from somewhere’. Science is always done from some certain place, whether it is down the road in a lab here, or overseas in field work, perhaps. Those things matter, the context matters. 


Of course, that's my topic of my thesis, but other kinds of contexts as well. Geographical contexts. Time, is it done in the 15th century or is it done now? These things matter to how science is done. There is not just one universal blueprint for science that we can place over it and explain it all. It changes and it morphs, even as it has things that are also consistent and travel with it over time.


Is that something you've found in your own work and in your own experience in HPS? 


Carmelina Contarino: Yes, definitely. Obviously, science is a human endeavour and we are very, I'm going to use the term messy. This is not about cleanliness, but we are convoluted and complex. And because science is a social construct, that is, it's something that is done by many people, you've got many different complexities coming into play.


It's not even that we all think and do things uniformly. We're all working with our own complexities within a very complex system. That, for me, has really come out strongly in the research that I've been doing, in the ways that different people, even though they're working in the same fields, and they're taught in very similar manners, have very different approaches to the work that they do.


[00:07:39] 


Samara Greenwood: That is interesting that it's coming through so strongly as you're interviewing people. 


You touched on there as well, something that comes through a lot in the interviews is that - it isn't just a solo enterprise, science, right? And it never has been. 


There's a great interview that's coming up where we revisit the figure of Isaac Newton. Yes, he does plenty of work on his own, but at other times he's very much engaged with the other scholars in his environment. He's reading other scholars all the time. He's working on a variety of projects. 


It is about getting a more nuanced understanding of how scientists have worked throughout time. That it is this social enterprise. Even when we're doing it on our own, we're still carrying with us the society that we're doing it as a part of - our scientific community, the scientific ideas, as well as the broader society. 


Not only is it a vision that's more accurate to what actually happens, but it's really exciting. I think one thing that I hope to get across is that this gives some sort of juice to science. That it’s a little bit more lively, I think, than perhaps traditional, more classic views that seemed to pull something out, that kind of dried up science. You know, science had to be formalized and very cold. Whereas I don't think that's how it works in a majority of cases. 


Carmelina Contarino: Yes, exactly. Even if a scientist is working on something that has not been done before and they've got new research coming through, it's still based on understanding of what's come before, which is based on understanding what's come before that. And it's turtles all the way down.

 

We don't ever start from ground zero, even though we might feel like we're starting from a blank page. There is always that knowledge and that influence that's come in before to make us look at what we're looking at through a scientific lens, but also why we're questioning what we're questioning, which is informed by, as you know, so many other things.


[00:09:29] 


Samara Greenwood: That very much ties into Hasok Chang's podcast episode from last year where he talked about that idea that ‘we start from where we stand’. We can't see everything. There's no God's eye view of nature. We are humans on the planet. What is the title of that fabulous book by Steven Shapin, Never Pure?


It's about that. About being humans with limited understanding and limited capabilities, we do the best that we can with what we've got. So, yes, that means building on past knowledge, even if it means challenging things from the past or adapting things to better suit the future. But it also means that we pick up on things in our current environment. So, there might be new ideas being developed in parallel scientific domains, but it also might be ideas developed outside of scientific domains in other areas, whether it's in political areas or whether it's in a new social movement that's coming up.

 

I think that's a really exciting thing too, to look at science as, yes, it's a fairly definable industry in some sense, but at the same time, it is very much interacting with all of the other elements of human life.


Carmelina Contarino: Very much so. And also constrained. Not only interacting with the elements of human life, but constrained by it.


There's that great quote by Arthur Ashe, which is, “start where you are, use what you have and do what you can”. 


We think of scientists as, okay, we've got all of this knowledge, we've got all of this capacity, these tools, all of these things, but they may not have the tools that they specifically need. Even something as simple as not having a specific type of equipment yet because it hasn't been developed or it's not accessible to you can impact how you do the work that you do and therefore the results that you get. All of this comes into play, but the external world certainly does not sit separate to science. It is very much integrated with it in so many ways. 


[00:11:27] 


Samara Greenwood: Our discussion reminds me a lot of that quote on day science versus night science. You don't happen to have that there, do you? 


Carmelina Contarino: The quote by Francis Jacob, where he says, 


“When you look more closely at what scientists do, you might be surprised to find that research actually composes both the so called day science and night science.

Day science calls into play arguments that mesh like gears, results that have the force of certainty. Conscious of its progress, proud of its past, sure of its future, day science advances in light and glory. 


By contrast, night science wanders blind, hesitates, stumbles, recoils, sweats, wakes with a start, doubting everything. It is forever trying to find itself, question itself, pull itself back together. Night science is a sort of workshop of the possible. Where what will become the building material of science is worked out, where hypotheses remain in the form of woolly impressions… Where thought makes its way along meandering paths and twisting lanes, most often leading nowhere.”


[00:12:29] 


Samara Greenwood: Such a good quote, isn't it? That ‘wandering blindly’ kind of sense. Although it doesn't fit our traditional idea of the scientific method, which follows certain stages and develops in a very orderly fashion, this is a much more messy and disorderly image, but practicing scientists have told me that it just so much more captures the process. There are parts of the process, obviously, that are a lot more regular. 


I know Kristian Camilleri, my supervisor and a lecturer here, talks about that process of getting from ‘not knowing’ to ‘knowing’, in some sense. You might not know everything, but you go from ‘knowing that you don't know’ to feeling like you at least know something.

And that process has to be messy, right? You are starting from not knowing something and no one knows that thing. You're not being taught it by others. You are having to find that out yourself. So, of course, the process is not going to be linear. It's going to be convoluted. 


Carmelina Contarino: That line in the quote about meandering through the garden and being lost and kind of wandering and stumbling and waking up in the night. I mean, I'm sure, regardless of who you are listening to this right now, we've all woken up in the middle of the night with a thought. It doesn't matter what it relates to, but it's hit something that we've been thinking of for a long time and haven't been able to make head or tails of. It's that kind of thing that you never know when inspiration is going to hit.


[00:13:51] 


Samara Greenwood: Also, one thing that has come through with my own experience is that scientific research, in the sense of searching for new knowledge or revised knowledge about some particular phenomena, is not so drastically different to humanities research, or even, in my background, architectural design.


There are certain factors about going from a place of uncertainty to more certainty - and that there is a creativity involved in that, a directed creativity towards a particular goal. I'm finding similarities there that I think are again, exciting. It doesn't mean they're the same activity, it doesn't mean they're the directed towards exactly the same thing. But there are patterns there that I think are worth highlighting and acknowledging because I think, again, it makes science less seeming to be something separate from the rest of the world, but more something that we all do to some extent. Even when we're doing any kind of small creative activity, cooking or something like that, where there is experimentation involved, where there is bringing things together with the goal of achieving some particular outcome, that's starting from a place of uncertainty. 


That was a bit of a ramble, but they were just some thoughts.


Carmelina Contarino: No, it makes perfect sense to me. I know in terms of management, when you've got a problem to solve and you're not sure how to solve it, you gather your data, you assess what's going on. You see what is going to fit because there might be multiple different interpretations of what you're looking at that might fit into what you're doing. You look at different ways in which you can apply this to get the solution. And then you gauge the result. It really isn't that different.


I wonder if we look at things and go, ‘Oh, we're applying a scientific approach to this’ or if this is just a humanistic approach. Here's something we don't know, and as humans, we just want to understand and make something work.


[00:15:51] 


Samara Greenwood: I know what you're saying. And I think that's where that term inquiry is really nice. That more umbrella term that captures science, that captures humanities and captures a whole lot of other activities that humans do. The act of inquiry can range from very micro cases to macro cases.

 

Science, as you say, is a special case of this and it does have its own qualities that are different to other kinds, but at the same time we can also see similarities.I think that's where we're kind of sitting.

 

So, our plans. One new thing we're doing this year is we are going to release a hopefully weekly, let's call it a loosely weekly blog post, giving news from the HPS department. What kind of things do you think we'll be covering there, Carmelina? 


Carmelina Contarino: We'll be including items such as the upcoming HPS seminar. Hope you can all attend. We'll be putting in any announcements relating to the podcast and general news items relating to HPS here at Melbourne and also a little bit broader.

 

[00:16:50] 


Samara Greenwood: Another thing I wanted to mention is that Bluesky is our preferred social media platform at the moment, and it is now open to everyone. You no longer have to have a special invite to join. 


Again, I want to encourage people, academics of any stripe, but also anyone that's just interested in the kind of things that we're talking about on this podcast, to join, because there is a lovely community there. There seems to be some social norms developing that are a lot kinder and friendlier than what has been found on the other place that we shall not name. 

It is definitely a great spot to get in contact with us. If you have any questions or comments or thoughts, that's a lovely place to engage with everybody out there.


There's another thing that I wanted to talk about, which is both Carmelina and I are on the committee for AAHPSSS. Can you explain what AAHPSS is Carmelina?


Carmelina Contarino: Sure. So AAHPSSS is the Australasian Association for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science. Worth looking into. AAHPSSS has also recently joined Bluesky, so give them a follow if you haven't already. Don't worry, this won't become AAHPSSS heavy. We won't be pushing AAHPSSS. 


Samara Greenwood: I feel like you've said AAHPSSS enough to be characterized as a pusher. <laugh> 


Also, as part of my job on the committee, I'm currently on the hunt for HPS and STS PhD students in the Australasian region. We are currently putting together an AAHPSSS Postgrad Network, so please do get in contact. The best way is emailing us via the form on our website, but also via social media is also perfectly fine. We're going to be organizing several activities and we really want to get a nice strong network going. 


So that is our introduction to the season. Are you looking forward to season three?


Carmelina Contarino: I'm really looking forward to this season. Can't wait to get started. I look forward to hearing from all our listeners with their feedback, their comments on our social media accounts, and just generally getting to interact with them in a deeper way.


Samara Greenwood: I think that's an excellent place to finish our introduction to the season.

We will see you back here again next week.


Samara Greenwood: Thank you for listening to season three of The HPS podcast. If you're interested in the detail of today's conversation, you can access the transcript on our website at hpsunimelb.org


Stay connected with us on social media, including bluesky, for updates, extras, and further discussion. We would like to thank the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne for their ongoing support. And thank you for joining us in the wonderful world of HPS. 


We look forward to having you back again next time.

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