2009-2010 Colloquium Archive

Fall Quarter 2009

October 5, 2009

Jennifer Croissant

Associate Professor, Women's Studies/Department of Materials Science and Engineering
University of Arizona
Agnotology and Error: Privatives and Asymmetry

Agnotology as constituted by Proctor and Schiebinger faces two major problems. The first is that it recapitulates the problem that Bloor identified with the vernacular “sociology of error” and its asymmetry. In general, we can generate explanations for false beliefs but summarily exempt validated knowledge from symmetrical analysis. The second problem concerns the complexity of studying privatives, concepts or ideas which are known only in their absence. For example, technically speaking, cold is the description of an absence of thermal energy, not a thing in itself. So, as a privative, is ignorance nuomenon or phenomenon? Or, more to the point, recognizing the work that ignorance does, what does agnotology gain or lose by consideration of issues of symmetry and privatives? This paper is thus an exploration of the concept of agnotology in relation to studying other privatives, such as silence, in the context of a symmetrical approach. It will allow for a more systematic approach to studying the lacunae of knowledge production across disciplinary fields.


October 12, 2009

Caren Kaplan

Chair of the Cultural Studies Graduate Group
"Twitter Terrorists," "Cellphone Jihadists," and citizen Bloggers: The global Matrix of War and the Biopolitics of Technoculture in Mumbai

The 2008 attacks in Mumbai demonstrate the different vested interests in digital information technologies in the globalized context of the so-called 'war on terror': from the actual use of mobile technologies by various groups and individuals to the discursive politics and culture of technology reporting. The 'new' threat of mobile technologies in security culture serves as a good example of the way biopolitics can be situated in discursive frameworks of knowledge.


October 19, 2009

Robert Richardson

Charles Phelps Taft Professor of Philosophy
University of Cincinnati
Matters of Chance: Drift and Selection in Evolutionary Explanations

Natural selection and drift can explain the dynamics of populations, how gene frequencies, or genotype frequencies, or gene frequencies change with time. Given an initial distribution of genes, or genotypes, or phenotypes, with realistic parameter values for the population, we are able to project a probability distribution of the relevant frequencies over time. In the absence of selection, models for drift project specific patterns of change. These can be readily illustrated using the classic work on blood types by Cavalli-Sforza, in which the theoretically predicted patterns are exhibited in groups of human populations. These are, in the first instance, properties of ensembles of populations. In looking at specific populations, the problem needs to be understood in terms of how likely an observed change would be under drift, and this is a fundamentally probabilistic question. In both cases, the explanations are demonstrably autonomous, in the sense described by Hacking.


October 26, 2009

Mieke Boon

Associate Professor in Philosophy of Science and Technology
University of Twente
How models give us knowledge

The wider project context of this paper is "Philosophy of science for the engineering sciences". This research project is funded by the Dutch National Science Foundation (NWO). It stands in the tradition of "Philosophy of science in practice", which aims to address concrete (e.g. epistemic) problems and questions of current research practices such as the engineering sciences. This paper is in collaboration with Tarja Knuuttila of the Universtity of Helsinki. Our concern in this paper is in explaining how and why models give us useful knowledge. We argue that if we are to understand how models function in the actual scientific practice the representational approach to models proves either misleading or too minimal. We propose turning from the representational approach to the artefactual, which implies also a new unit of analysis: the activity of modelling. Modelling, we suggest, could be approached as a specific practice in which concrete artefacts, i.e., models, are constructed with the help of specific representational means and used in various ways, for example, for the purposes of scientific reasoning, theory construction and design of experiments and other artefacts. Furthermore, in this activity of modelling the model construction is intertwined with the construction of new phenomena, theoretical principles and new scientific concepts. We will illustrate these claims by studying the construction of the ideal heat engine by Sadi Carnot.


November 2, 2009

Professional Development Workshop

SSP Faculty and Students only


November 9, 2009

Robert S. Westman

Science Studies Program Director, Professor of History
UC San Diego
Copernicus and the Astrologers of Cracow and Bologna: Some Science Studies Themes

Nicolas Copernicus’s hypothesis that the earth is a planet revolving together with five other planets around a stationary sun is one of the best known claims in the history of science. First announced publicly in print in 1543, historians often describe Copernicus’s proposal as the beginning of the Scientific Revolution. But what was the question to which Copernicus’s hypothesis was the answer? In this talk, Robert S. Westman suggests that crucial clues lie in the late-15C controversy about the status of astrology--although not a single word about astrology exists in any of Copernicus’s extant writings.


November 16, 2009

Scott Kirsch

Associate Professor of Geography
University of North Carolina at Chapel
The national map and the republic of knowledge in late nineteenth-century America

From 1884 to 1886, the U.S. Congressional Allison Commission convened to address the administrative organization and escalating costs of the major federal scientific agencies, and to establish new modes of accountability to ensure their proper conduct. Much of the commission’s attention turned to the Geological Survey’s plans for the production of a geodetically accurate, national topographic map (in 2600 sheets), and the national geologic map that would follow the topographic work. While critics saw the national mapping program as an immense and inefficient scientific boondoggle, its advocates,notably its author, Survey Director John Wesley Powell, saw instead a tangible reflection of science’s republican virtue – a vision of the body politic founded on both the production and the democratic and geographical distribution of useful scientific information. This lecture explores the scientific nature of territoriality in late nineteenth- century America by revisiting a moment when both the technical requirements and fiscal expenses of America’s new national mapping program were called into question. Through a close reading of the conflicts between Powell and the Alabama Representative, commission member, and future US Secretary of the Navy Hilary Abner Herbert, the paper examines the hearings as a complex hybrid of public sphere and formal legislative arena. The outcomes of these debates would have profound implications for the politics of scientific expertise amidst the rising American Leviathan, and for the changing dimensions of modern state territoriality and sovereignty.


November 23, 2009

Charles Thorpe

Associate Professor of Sociology
UC San Diego
Participation as Post-Fordist Politics: Demos, New Labour, and Science & Technology Studies

The extension of public participation has been a key goal in relation to which STS scholars have influenced public policy. In the UK in recent years, public engagement has been promoted by elite science institutions and as part of government science policy. What has led to this acceptance of the goal of participation among science and policy elites? I will argue that public participation in science is one aspect of a broader adoption of participation initiatives within British policy, especially social policy. The extension of participation across the policy field was an important element of the New Labour program following the 1997 election. The Demos think-tank was influential in the 1990s in promoting participation as a component of Third Way politics, presented as necessary for the left to adapt to a new social context. Demos’ take on contemporary politics grew out of the earlier formulation of ‘New Times’ in the pages of Marxism Today. The argument was that the left had to adapt to the realities of post-Fordism and that the character of the post-Fordist public required and made possible the extension of participation. In this paper, I will trace this intellectual and policy trajectory and its relationship with STS. I will argue that post-Fordism is the terrain on which STS and policy have come together in the UK.


November 30, 2009

Jacob Stegenga

Graduate Student in Philosophy & Science Studies
UC San Diego
Varieties of Evidential Experience

Contemporary philosophical accounts of evidence explicate the notion in terms of probabilities. Instead, I describe the features of evidence which scientists appeal to in practice, which include general features of methods, such as quality and relevance; general features of evidence, such as patterns in data, concordance with other evidence, and believability of the evidence; and disciplinary- or method-specific features of evidence. Examples from biomedical research will help illustrate these features. I argue that there is no privileged ordering of the relative importance of these features of evidence, and so given some particular evidence there can be competing rational determinations of the likelihood of that evidence.

Winter Quarter 2010

January 4, 2010

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP Faculty and Students only


January 11, 2010

Douglas Kahn

Founding Director and Professor of Technocultural Studies
UC Davis
Experimental Music, Cold War and Counter-Culture

Imagine: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Chuck Berry, David Rosenboom on the television studio floor of the Mike Douglas Show in 1972, electrodes clinging to their heads, making music with their brains. Draw the historical curtain back and find Norbert Wiener and John Cage, mentors of the physicist Edmond Dewan and composer Alvin Lucier, respectively. Dewan had already performed his brainwaves on national television with Walter Cronkite in 1964, and Lucier composed his "brainwave piece", Music for Solo Performer the following year. For each, brainwaves formed but one flank of an audible and naturally-occurring electromagnetic spatiality, the other being on a geophysical scale, with the intervening space caught between Cold War and Counter-Culture.


January 25, 2010

Jane Maienschein

Director, Center for Biology and Society
Arizona State University
What is an Embryo and how do we know?

The history of embryology reflects changing definitions of what counts as an embryo, and changing epistemological standards for how we know. This matters a great deal when science impacts society. Legislation and policies regulating embryo research depend on somebody's definition. This talk will explore changing understandings of embryos in scientific and social contexts.


February 1, 2010

William Bechtel

Professor of Philosophy
UC San Diego
Thinking Dynamically About Biological Mechanisms: Explaining Circadian Rhythms

The new mechanistic philosophy of science has emphasized the same explanatory endeavor that most biologists themselves emphasize: the /decomposition/ of mechanisms into component parts and operations. In both fields there has been much less attention to the converse endeavor: the /recomposition/ of those components into a mechanism organized so as to produce the phenomenon targeted for explanation. Philosophical accounts of mechanistic explanation typically acknowledge that mechanisms are organized, but give little attention to the impressive range of tools for understanding their spatial and temporal organization or to the proposals that emerge from their use. Our focus here is on temporal organization. The tendency, among both philosophers and biologists, is to think of operations as occurring sequentially so that scientists can trace operations “start or set up conditions to finish or termination conditions" (Machamer, Darden, & Craver). But real biological mechanisms exhibit complex orchestration of operations in real time, often involving one or more feedback processes and non-linear interactions among operations. Computational biologists have made it their business to provide accounts of the complex dynamics of living systems. A typical model in computational biology is a system of differential equations whose variables correspond to selected properties of the parts and operations of the target mechanism. The tools of dynamical systems theory can elucidate such models, and often are explicitly called upon. I refer to the explanations resulting from integrating mechanistic research and dynamical modeling as /dynamic mechanistic explanations/. I will illustrate such explanations using recent endeavors to employ computational models to understand the mechanisms responsible for circadian rhythms. Moreover, I argue that a crucial next step in developing the new mechanistic philosophy of science is a widening of its scope to encompass this important type of explanatory project.


February 8, 2010

Jennifer Reardon

Associate Professor of Sociology
UC Santa Cruz
The Post-Genomic Condition: Technoscience at the Limits of Liberal Democratic Imaginaries

In the opening years of this millennium, a new social contract for human genomics formed: human genomics can and should occupy an autonomous space; however, to do this it must give back some of its power to “the people” —in particular, it must grant people new powers to govern genomic research. In recent years, this new social contract has generated remarkable changes in the conduct of human genomic research. Far from a science run by experts, today institutions that support human genomics—from public agencies, to private companies, to non-governmental organizations—seek to include people in the design and regulation of their research. Organizers of the International Haplotype Map Project (HapMap) included research subjects in decisions about how Projects samples would be labeled and used. The new personal genomics company 23andMe seeks customer input on which lines of research to pursue. Generation Scotland organizers have worked to find ways to integrate findings from public consultations into the design of their initiative. Drawing upon a five year ethnographic study of such efforts to ‘democratize’ genomic practice, this talk explores the new opportunities and dilemmas presented by efforts to explicitly articulate genomic and liberal democratic practices.


February 22, 2010

Bart Simon

Associate Professor of Sociology
Concordia University
Playing with Simulated Animals: Nintendogs as Companion Species

At the level of popular imagination it would seem that research programs in artificial intelligence, computer graphics, and robotics have demonstrated that believably simulating human beings is a difficult if not impossible task. This has spawned philosophically informed side programs aimed at the simulation and reproduction of lower orders of intelligence or if not “lower orders” than at least less fraught ones. No matter how advanced the neural network learning and fuzzy logic processing of artificial brains becomes a culturally situated “uncanny valley” separates humans from their machine pretenders. Machines pretending to be animals however, are an altogether different story.

This paper explores the case of machines pretending to be dogs not as a matter of ‘true’ AI or robotics but rather as popular interactive simulation. The machine platform in question is the ubiquitous Nintendo DS handheld digital game system and the animal simulation is Nintendogs, the best-selling pet simulator developed by Nintendo as a launch title for the DS in 2005. The platform and software together constitute a puppy-machine in interaction with a human player as owner and trainer. It is no accident that the assemblage composed of Nintendogs software, the portable DS hardware and player (as owner/trainer) bares a family resemblance to Donna Haraway’s relationship with the dog Cayenne Pepper in her accounts of agility training in When Species Meet (2008). My analysis is constructed this way in order to consider Nintendog agility training as an intriguing if not scandalous case of what Haraway describes in terms of a “becoming with.” In this case the companion species in question is not the dog-human relation Haraway is concerned with, but rather the strange machine-human relation that obtains when the machine pretends to be a dog and the human pretends to be a dog owner and trainer. I am not ready to argue that the stakes of this are particularly cosmopolitical but it does raise questions about the possibility of forms of popular digital play to mess with the otherwise hyper-rationalized conditions of its production.


March 1, 2010

Carolyn Merchant

Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy and Ethics
UC Berkeley
Controlling Nature: Francis Bacon and the Origins of Experimentation

In an era when environmental awareness over loss of forests and depletion of soils was in its infancy, Francis Bacon’s goal of the betterment of humankind through the control of nature was especially significant for the advancement of science. But the degree to which Bacon advocated violence toward nature through experimentation has been debated. This talk examines Bacon’s experimental vision in three contexts--the courtroom, the anatomy theater, and the laboratory--as precursors of the contained, controlled experiment. It argues that Bacon’s language as interpreted by his early followers as well as modern translators is harsher than some scholars would admit.


March 8, 2010

Carolyn de la Peña

Associate Professor of American Studies
UC Davis
Making More Out of Less: Artificial Sweetener Entrepreneurs in the 1950s

Producing and promoting artificial sweetener in the 1950s was no easy task. Saccharin had been branded a "danger" and "imposter" when it first appeared in the nineteenth century. Even with the sugar shortage during World War II Americans were loathe to reach for artificial sweets. It took innovative entrepreneurs, gifted self-promoters, and techno-translators in food science and food marketing to create a product that could appeal to the masses and a message that could convince them to use it. Taken from Empty Pleasures, my forthcoming history of artificial sweetener, this talk will feature two of them, Ed Mitchell, Chief Technologist of the California Canners and Growers and Tillie Lewis, "Tomato Queen of the San Joaquin." Together they help us understand the profound impact that technologists with entrepreneurial vision have had on our definition of the "healthy diet."

Spring 2010

March 29, 2010

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP Faculty and Students only


April 5, 2010

Kyle Stanford

Associate Professor of Logic & Philosophy of Science
UC Irvine
History, Taphonomy, and Bush's Nightmare: Further Thoughts on Unconceived Alternatives

In this talk I will explore some reasons for both optimism and pessimism about what I have elsewhere called the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives. I will first use a specific historical example to suggest that although this problem does not arise in the same way or with the same force in all scientific contexts, our vulnerability to it is better understood as a function of the kind(s) of evidence we have available to us than the field of science in which a particular theory arises or the sorts of entities and processes it examines. I will then go on to point out some aspects of contemporary professionalized scientific inquiry that would seem to render it systematically more vulnerable to this problem than the scientific enterprise has remained for most of its history in the modern era.


April 9, 2010

2009-10 Student's Choice Speaker: Michelle Murphy

Associate Professor of History
University of Toronto
Avertable Life, Investable Life: A Cold War Story of Economy and Reproduction

This talk examines two remarkable phenomena of the second half of the twentieth century: the enormous growth in population control and family planning programs; and the ascension of economic planning as a central tool and goal of governance. It suggests that the stories of "population" and "economy" as objects of knowledge are deeply entangled. By tracing circuits of US and South Asian research, I show that population control belongs at the heart of the history of "economy" itself, and that studying cold war/postcolonial projects to reduce human fertility offers new insights into how life was valued and devalued after the decline of eugenics. The phrase "economization of life" describes the processes by which the value of life came to be calculated in terms of national and global economic growth. Many common neo-liberal practices used today in public health and transnational development – from social marketing to calculations of "human capital" – have their origins in this earlier history of family planning and population control.


April 12, 2010

Kathryn Olesko

Associate Professor of History
Georgetown University
Water in the Prussian Frontier

The abundant water in the North German Plain was both a nemesis and an ally to early modern Prussians. Kathy Olesko will examine how the challenges of water management shaped Prussian attitudes about nature, Poles and Slavs, and the role of technical expertise in the state. Her presentation will address the long term social, political, and intellectual consequences of eighteenth-century hydraulic engineering.


April 19, 2010

Kelly Gates

Assistant Professor of Communication
UC San Diego
The Pursuit of Automated Face Perception

The abundant water in the North German Plain was both a nemesis and an ally to early modern Prussians. Kathy Olesko will examine how the challenges of water management shaped Prussian attitudes about nature, Poles and Slavs, and the role of technical expertise in the state. Her presentation will address the long term social, political, and intellectual consequences of eighteenth-century hydraulic engineering.


April 26, 2010

David Serlin

Associate Professor of Communication
UC San Diego
Touching Histories: Disability and Personality in Sex Studies of the 1930s

"Touching Histories" investigates a set of psychological and anatomical studies conducted by Carney Landis, a colleague of Alfred Kinsey's, on a group of young disabled women living in the New York City metropolitan region during the late 1930s. The results of Landis's studies, which were published in 1942 under the title The Personality and Sexuality of the Physically Handicapped Woman, arguably set the stage for psychological studies in the postwar era that linked the psychic properties of personality deficiency together with those of sexual deficiency. Using unpublished data collected from Landis's files deposited at the Kinsey Institute, this presentation uncovers the role that the affective category of touch – touching others, touching one’s self, and both fearing and desiring being touched by others – played in the lives of Landis's research population and their caregivers. By making a deliberate shift away from Freudian models of psychosexual development, one discovers that touch and tactility defined these disabled women's sexual subjectivities in ways that Landis could never ultimately imagine.


May 3, 2010

Garland Allen

Professor of Biology
Washington University in St. Louis
Culling the Herd: Eugenics and The U.S. Conservation Movement, 1900-1940

In our modern political context, it has been customary to think of eugenics and environmental conservation as two opposed and ideologically incompatible views. In the period after World War II eugenics, "the improvement of the human race by better breeding," and its lingering associations with fascism and ingrained elitism, seemed the height of right-wing reactionary politics. On the other hand, conservation of our natural environment, "The collective use and preservation of forests, waters, soils and minerals," has emerged as the focus of liberal, progressive politics, from Earth Day to the recent debates over global warming. Whether this political dichotomy is as real as it might be thought of today is a point that is controversial. But what is possibly most surprising is that historically these two views – eugenics and environmental conservation – emerged in the early decades of the twentieth century as contemporary social and political movements whose ideologies were not only compatible, but for those who adhered to them, were mutually reinforcing. The talk will focus on two individuals out of dozens, who were involved actively in promoting both movements: New York lawyer and naturalist, Madison Grant, and California real estate magnate and founder of the National Parks Ranger Programs, Charles M. Goethe. Through these two examples we can explore the meanings of "conservation", the imagery and metaphors employed to advance both ideologies.


May 10, 2010

Gregg Mitman

William Coleman Professor of History of Science
University of Wiconsin-Madison
Latex and Blood: Science, Markets, and American Empire

During the twentieth century, the United States developed a unique kind of empire, one bound together less by military conquest and direct political administration than by the expansion of markets, corporate influence, and cultural exchange. The political and economic ties between the United States and the Republic of Liberia, cemented in the 1920s when the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company successfully established a major rubber plantation in the country, exemplify this new imperial relationship. Yet, the transformation of Liberia into America’s rubber empire depended on new tools of seeing and new forms of scientific and medical expertise. Through a focus on the Harvard African Expedition to Liberia in 1926, the motion picture record it gathered, and the place of rubber as a precious commodity in the global economy, this talk investigates the relationships among science, business, and the state in the economic transformation of nature and a nation.


May 17, 2010

Morana Alac

Assistant Professor of Communication
UC San Diego
What can multimodal aspects of interaction tell us about scientific practice?

Since the 1990s, the field of STS has been importantly occupied with policy and governance in public and political institutions, emphasizing global and normative aspects of science. The interest in the practical and local of the early laboratory studies has been largely replaced by research more readily engaged with scientific texts, larger communities, and societal phenomena. Yet, some features of the early work still call for our attention. With the use of digital video they can now be tackled in an alternative manner. In providing moment-by-moment descriptions of the activities through which scientists engage technologies and each other to accomplish their everyday work, I focus on gestural and multimodal aspects of interaction. I show how this approach may allow us to deal with kinds of entities and agencies that would otherwise remain largely invisible. My examples come from research practices of brain imaging.


May 24, 2010

Katherine Hayles

Professor of Literature and Information Studies, Information Science
Duke University
Teach-TOC: Complex Temporalities in Digital Media

Drawing from the work of Simondon, MacKenzie and Latour on the nature of the technical object, this talk will propose a model for how digital technologies affect subjects in contemporary cultures on both conscious and unconscious levels. Temporal foldings, epigenetic changes in attention mechanisms, and historicity are among the issues considered. To illustrate how these changes manifest in contemporary cultural production, the talk with conclude with an analysis of Steve Tomasula's multimodal digital novel TOC.