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The HPS Seminar Series

The HPS program at the University of Melbourne conducts a weekly seminar series each academic semester. Seminars vary across a broad range of topics and are presented by local and international scholars. Click below to subscribe to the seminar mailing list.

Seminars 2024

The current schedule for the HPS Seminar Series for Semester 1 2024 is shown below, but is subject to change. If you wish to be notified of upcoming seminars, please subscribe to the HPS Seminar mailing list. If you have suggestions or requests for speakers, or any other questions contact or

Wednesday 6 March
12pm - 1pm
Location TBC

Trust, Explanation and AI 

Sam Baron (Philosophy, University of Melbourne)


The use of AI systems for decision-making is widespread. Many of these systems are opaque: no one understands how they work. This has led to a call for explainable AI. One of the reasons cited in favour of explainability is trust: explainability is thought to be necessary for trust in AI. I argue against this claim: for a range of different types of trust, either explanation is not necessary or, if it is, the type of trust that calls for explainability is not appropriate for AI.

Wednesday 13 March
12pm - 1pm
Location TBC

The Two Truths: "Harmonizing" Catholicism and Science

Sarah Walsh (History, University of Melbourne) 

This paper examines the interconnections and relationship between Catholicism and eugenics in early-twentieth-century Chile. Specifically, it demonstrates that the popularity of eugenic science was not diminished by the influence of Catholicism there. In fact, both eugenics and Catholicism worked together to construct the concept of a unique Chilean race, la raza chilena. It will argue that a major factor that facilitated this conceptual overlap was a generalized belief among historical actors that male and female gender roles were biologically determined and therefore essential to a properly functioning society.

Dr Sarah Walsh is Lecturer in History in the School of Historical & Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. She received her PhD in Latin American history from the University of Maryland, College Park. She specializes in the history of the human sciences in Latin America with an emphasis on race/ethnicity and gender. Dr Walsh has held positions at the University of Sydney, the Universidade de Lisboa, and Washington State University and her book The Religion of Life: Eugenics, Race, and Catholicism in Chile was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2022.

Wednesday 20 March

VY-Bayes: A robust Bayesian approach to statistical hypothesis testing

Geoffrey Robinson (CSIRO, retired)

I believe that the foundations of statistical inference have been in what Kuhn (1970) would call a "crisis" for approximately 100 years. I believe that current approaches to statistical hypothesis testing are unsatisfactory in most situations, even the most mundane. My suggested way forward is first to argue that Bayes factors are not a reliable measure of strength of evidence, particularly when we have little prior information. Instead, we should use what I call "VY-Bayes factors".  These can be regarded as an answer to the question "What is the expected strength of evidence contributed by the current data in the context of other likely data?"  I consider that this new method of assessing strength of evidence is better than the methods advocated by the classical school of inference, is better than relying on interval estimation, and would be useful as a standard method for assessing what has been called "statistical significance" (although this term is becoming unfashionable).  I have only recently become confident that I know where I am going.


Two situations will be discussed in detail. The first is where a single random variable with unit variance is observed and we wish to test whether the population mean might be zero. The second is a large longitudinal study of the effects of hormone replacement therapy where we are interested in testing whether hormone replacement therapy might increase the rate of coronary heart disease.

Wednesday 27 March


Rebecca Mann (HPS, University of Sydney)



Wednesday 10 April

Indigenous Knowledge as Complementary Science?

Gerhard Wiesenfeldt (HPS, University of Melbourne)


Wednesday 17 April 

Using Large Language Models to identify genetic essentialist biases 



Ritsaart Reimann, (Macquarie University & University of Sydney)

Philosophers, Social Scientists and Psychologists have converged on the idea that genetic information is interpreted and communicated through a particular conceptual lens. When traits are thought to be caused by genes, people tend to succumb to essentialist and deterministic thinking, which does not occur when traits are thought to be caused by environmental factors like lifestyle and diet. Using corpus analysis and machine learning classification we investigated whether Australian print media outlets were communicating about genetics in an essentialist and deterministic way. Here, I present some preliminary findings from our study.

Wednesday 24 April

Anti-medicine, historiography and the reform of biomedicine

James Bradley (HPS, University of Melbourne)

In this presentation I want to explore the impact of ‘anti-medicine’ (the word is Thomas Osborne’s) on biomedicine and historiography. Anti-medicine was a resistance to biomedicine that not only rejected its institutional forms and its perceived scientific reductionism, but also altered the way medical history was written. In turn, once many medical historians adopted anti-medicine as an explanatory framework, historiography itself played a signficant role in the dialectic between biomedicine and anti-medicine.


Anti-medicine emerged in the second-half of the 20th century, challenging the authority of biomedicine by arguing it had contributed little or nothing to the transformation of general population health (the McKeown thesis), often caused disease (Illich’s Medical Nemesis), and cared more about professional status than the well-being of its patients (Freidson’s Profession of Medicine). In historiographical terms, one of its clearest expressions was Nick Jewson’s ‘Sick-man thesis’, which, with its argument that medicine had reduced patients to diseased body parts, shaped the perspective of a generation of medical historians.


Biomedicine’s response to the challenges of anti-medicine were manifold, but generally tended towards accommodation (at least at the level of rhetoric). This included: the incorporation of patient-rights groups into a broader institutional framework; the partial acceptance of alternative medicine as an adjunct; the emergence of the Biopsychosocial model as the dominant form of medical education; and, the promotion of Evidence-Based Medicine to buttress biomedicine’s scientific credentials alongside these other more humanistic moves. This in turn has led to the incorporation of anti-medicine into biomedicine itself through its growing integration in the medical humanities. Whether or not this is a good thing will be the subject of my conclusion.

Wednesday 1 May

After Haraway: Re-examining Feminism & Primatology in 1970s USA


Samara Greenwood (HPS, University of Melbourne)

A longstanding concern for philosophers, historians and sociologists of science is to assess the ways in which broad contextual changes, such as the rise of social and political movements, come to impact science (Oreskes, 2014). One well-known study is Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions (1989), which in part examined interactions between feminism and primatology in 20th Century USA . Haraway’s key claim was that second wave feminism played a pivotal role in destabilising established narratives around female primates and gender within the discipline. Haraway’s explicit aim was not to provide a disinterested or objective account of events but rather to playfully blend multiple genre’s, including science fiction, cultural studies, and political activism to further challenge conventional Western accounts of primates, science, and gender.


In re-examining this case, my purpose and approach differ. My aim is to systematically assess the impact of second wave feminism on both the practices and products of primate science. i specifically focus on the first phase of engagement, spanning 1970 to 1975. In analysing this initial phase, I first outline primatology’s ‘research repertoire’ (Ankeny & Leonelli, 2016) before the influence of feminism. I then examine interventions produced by four central feminist-scientists, reviewing the motivation, production, and reception of their work. I also demonstrate how, over time, the outcomes of their interventions lost connection to their feminist roots as they became normalised into the revised repertoire of the discipline. From this analysis, I make two key claims. First, I argue that, despite being primarily viewed as a social and political movement, second wave feminism’s intellectual, epistemic, and cognitive dimensions must be fully appreciated to understand its impact on primatology. Second, I contend that, contrary to expectation, there is substantial empirical support for Haraway’s most controversial claim - that second wave feminism impacted primate science in more profound ways than even its central actors have claimed.

Wednesday 8 May


Lucia Neco (Philosophy, University of Western Australia) 


Wednesday 15 May


Cordelia Fine (HPS, University of Melbourne)


Wednesday 22 May




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