2012-13 Colloquium Series

Fall Quarter 2012

October 1, 2012

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only


October 8, 2012

Norton Wise

Distinguished Professor, Department of History, UCLA
The Steam-powered Gardens of Potsdam and Berlin: Projecting Industrial Culture into the Landscape

The naturalistic beauty of the large landscape gardens in and around Berlin is well known. Today, however, it is not often remarked that many of the gardens were built or rebuilt during the nineteenth century with steam engines at their heart, nor that their aesthetic quality derives in part from the engines that powered them. Originally the engines were intended to be celebrated by a wondering public, who visited them in their sometimes splendid houses. Over the course of the century, as industrialization developed, ownership of landscape gardens continually expanded, from the royal family to individual entrepreneurs to bourgeois colonies to the larger public. The gardens and their engines, therefore, can provide a view of the social history of industrialization literally on the ground, by making the now-invisible technology visible once again and by reuniting it with the aesthetics of the gardens.


October 15, 2012

Rachel Washburn

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Loyola Marymount University
Rethinking the Disclosure Debates: The Multiple Meanings of "Useful Information" in Environmental Exposure Assessment

It is now possible to measure trace levels of environmental chemicals, their metabolites, or other byproducts in human fluids and tissues through a process called human biomonitoring. Over the past decade, scientists using this technique have detected hundreds of chemicals in the bodily fluids of individuals living all over the world, ranging from pesticides and plasticizers to flame-retardants. While biomonitoring has, at least according some, “revolutionized chemical exposure detection,” making it far easier to measure low-level exposures in human fluids and tissues than ever before, its use has also raised a variety of scientific, social, and ethical questions. For example, scientists are uncertain about how to interpret the health significance of biomonitoring data given that most of the chemicals measured through this process have not undergone thorough toxicological evaluation. There is also considerable debate about whether and how to communicate individual-level exposure data to research participants in light of these and other uncertainties. To date, these debates have been framed as stemming principally from differing interpretation of bioethical principals. In this talk I offer an alternate explanation. I suggest that at the heart of debates about the communication of biomonitoring data to research participants are fundamentally different ways of evaluating the meaning, significance, and “usefulness” of biomonitoring data. Across social settings, the data are invested with different meanings, which in turn shape different positions on questions of whether and how to communicate the data to research participants. I describe three frameworks currently used to evaluate the meaning of biomonitoring data with the aim of demonstrating that ethics are inextricably linked to contexts, practices, and objects and the ways in which we define these.


October 22, 2012

Peter Davidson

Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Global Public Health, UCSD School of Medicine
Trust, Payment, and Consent: Bioethical Research Regulations Meet Young People who Inject Drugs

Like all research conducted with "human subjects" in the United States, epidemiologic and behavioral studies of disease transmission among people who inject drugs is regulated by Federal law. This presentation examines the historical and regulatory framework of research with human subjects in the United States, and describes some disjuncts between the ways 'ethical research' is understood by regulation and by a group of young people recruited into a long running longitudinal study of hepatitis C transmission in San Francisco. The presentation draws on the experiences of the author while working on the study over an eight year period, as well as more recent fieldwork in San Francisco among the same population.


October 29, 2012

Rob Iliffe

Professor, Department of History, University of Sussex
Truth, Testimony and the Self: Newton's 'Social' Epistemology

It has long been established that English empiricist natural philosophy drew from legal sources in order to bolster knowledge claims about matters of fact. In this talk I examine Isaac Newton's hostility to this practice, and show how his attack on the use of witnesses in natural philosophy was linked to his demand for a private audience for his writings, and his frequently voiced lament that natural philosophy was becoming litigious. I go on to show that in private, he was an expert litigator who wrote extensive tracts putting a number of long dead people on trial for crimes against religion and morality. The moments when he feared that philosophy was becoming litigious were precisely those times when he turned his forensic techniques on contemporaries such as Robert Hooke and Gottfried Leibniz.


November 5, 2012

Stephen Collier

Associate Professor, Graduate Program in International Affairs, The New School for Public Engagement
Economizing Catastrophe: Two Forms of U.S. Flood Security

Recent reflection on catastrophic risk has focused on technical challenges of assessment and mitigation. But the economization of catastrophes also raises problems of political philosophy: What is the role of government and what is the role of individuals in managing catastrophe risks? What values should be taken into account in government interventions? And who has the right to define these values? In the U.S. tradition, two distinct “political technologies of catastrophe”—both developed to address flood security—have answered these questions in different ways. One, with origins in the New Deal, focused on government provision of security through the construction of protective works and the provision of relief. In the other, based on proposals in the 1960s for risk-rated catastrophe insurance, individuals are made the center of calculative choice. In examining them, we see how technical instruments for pursuing the ends of government also re-constitute the aims, objects, and norms of government.


November 12, 2012

No Colloquium


November 19, 2012

Nicolas Rasmussen

Professor, Departments of History, and Philosophy of Science, University of New South Wales
Medicating Fatness in Cold War America

In an episode neglected by historians, around 1950 obesity was declared the leading health problem of the United States, and remained thus in many eyes until displaced by drug abuse in the late 1960s. Through an analysis of discussions of obesity in major American newspapers, the medical literature, and pharmaceutical advertising in the immediate postwar period, I document the shift in thinking about overweight and obesity in psychiatry and public health, and explore the relationship of that shift in expert thought to popular understandings of fatness and American Cold war culture more generally. These events cast doubt on the received view of fatness as subject to decreasing stigma and increasing medicalisation over the course of the twentieth century, and raise more general issues about medicine's social role in this era.


November 26, 2012

Michael E. Lynch

Professor, Department of Science & Techonology Studies, Cornell University
Science Studies Expertise and the Contingencies of Witnessing: Notes on the Interrogation of Expert Witnesses

The authority ascribed to experts is a major topic of interest in science and technology studies (STS). With some exceptions, STS scholars tend to be skeptical of experts, and to emphasize the necessity to enhance public engagement in technical decisions that have broad social and political implications. Once in awhile, however, STS scholars are themselves asked to play the role of expert – for example, to appear as expert witnesses in litigation. Although recognition as an expert provides a scholar, as well as the scholar’s field, with a degree of public legitimacy, it can also be a source of practical trouble and intellectual confusion. Such trouble and confusion can be revealing about the distinctive relationship between STS and expertise. In this case, I describe one domain in which such trouble and confusion has arisen – Federal trials involving disputes about the status of creation science/intelligent design as science and/or religion. After examining excerpts from testimony as well as scholarly debates about such testimony, I shall draw some lessons about expertise as a topic and resource for STS.


December 3, 2012

Eileen Crist - Cancelled, Speaker TBD


* No Colloquium on November 12 (University Holiday)

Winter Quarter 2013

January 7, 2013

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only


January 21, 2013

No Colloquium


January 28, 2013

Tilman Sauer

Senior Research Associate, Department of History, California Institute of Technology
Einstein Out of Context

In the winter of 1922/23 Einstein leaves Berlin for a half-year long trip to the Far East. He leaves behind a hectic city, scientifically one of the centers of the emerging quantum mechanics but also a focus of political and economic turmoil. Before his trip, the city had witnessed the brutal murder of Walther Rathenau, Germany's foreign minister and Einstein's good friend. On his way to and from Japan, Einstein spends several weeks on board a steamer without direct contact to any of his scientific colleagues or access to a library. In the solitude of his marine travels, Einstein pens a paper on a unified theory of the electromagnetic and gravitational fields. A draft manuscript, calculations in the back pages of his travel diary, and further correspondence give direct insight into the working of his mind. Beyond its biographical interest, the episode highlights the question of a historical and systematic assessment of the program of formulating a unified field theory in the 1920's.


February 4, 2013

Cory Knobel

Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Informatics, UC Irvine
Disentangling Infrastructural Narrative: Ontic Occlusion and Exposure in Sociotechnical Systems

Our relationship with infrastructures, particularly as they grow, change, and break down, plays out through discourse and narrative. That said, any infrastructural narrative is a composite view, coordinating multiple perspectives, power relationships, and Rashomon effects. This talk introduces ontic occlusion and exposure - an explanatory mechanism to disentangle competing accounts and representations of sociotechnical change.


February 11, 2013

Michel Janssen

Associate Professor, Department of History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, University of Minnesota
Kuhn Losses Regained: Van Vleck from Spectra to Susceptibilities

Janssen follows the trajectory of the American theoretical physicist John H. Van Vleck (1899–1980) from his 1926 NRC Bulletin on spectra in the old quantum theory to his 1932 book on susceptibilities in the old and the new quantum theory. He pays special attention to the checkered history of a numerical factor in the so-called Langevin-Debye formula for the electric susceptibility of gases such as HCl. Classical theory predicts that this factor be equal to 1/3. The old quantum theory predicted values up to 14 times higher. Van Vleck showed that quantum mechanics restores the classical value 1/3. The Langevin-Debye formula thus provides an example of what is sometimes called a "Kuhn loss," after Thomas S. Kuhn, one of Van Vleck's students (Ph.D. 1949). A Kuhn loss is a result obtained under one paradigm that does not carry over to the next, although, as the Langevin-Debye formula illustrates, it can eventually be regained. Kuhn was interested in Kuhn losses mainly because they highlight discontinuities in the development of science. This particular example of a Kuhn loss, however, also illustrates a striking continuity in one of Kuhn's favorite examples of a scientific revolution, the quantum revolution of the mid-1920s.


February 18, 2013

No Colloquium


February 25, 2013

Doug Maynard

Conway-Bascom Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin
Autism Assessment: A Science & Technology Studies Perspective

This presentation concerns clinical, psychological testing for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and draws STS implications for experimental studies involving Theory of Mind (ToM), which is the ability to impute mental states to others or to “mentalize” {Baron-Cohen 1993; Frith 2001). Children and others with ASD are hypothesized to lack or have diminished abilities to mentalize, and there is experimental research supporting this deficit hypothesis. A Science & Technology tack is that, because both psychological and experimental instruments are “mobilized” (Latour 1999) on behalf of ASD, looking closely at the instruments and the interactions by which clinicians and experimentalists implement them will increase understanding of the social organization by which the phenomena of autism become consolidated. We will inspect the interactional structures of psychological testing, and then extrapolate our findings to two of the more well-known ToM experiments (as stand-ins for other experiments as well): “Sally-Anne” and “Deception-Sabotage.”


March 4, 2013

Elizabeth Wilson

Professor, Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Emory University
Co-adaptations of Gender: Mutuality, Darwin, Lamarckianism

Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection (in The Descent of Man 1871) has long been the object of feminist criticism. Right from the beginning there was concern that the mechanisms of sexual selection, as described by Darwin, kept women and men locked in asymmetrical, conventionalized roles. In the section in Descent on ‘Differences in the mental powers of the two sexes,’ for example, Darwin famously notes that “man has ultimately become superior to woman” (Part II, p. 328). In this paper I look at Darwin’s use of co-adaptation, and what value this might have for feminist uses of Darwin. I argue that there is more traffic/mutuality between the characteristics of men and women (less separation, less stasis) than many feminist critiques have noticed in the theory of sexual selection. In particular, I argue that a revaluation of Darwin’s Lamarckianism may be an effective tool against the regressive uses of Darwin in the contemporary scene.


March 11, 2013

Kevin Elliott

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of South Carolina
Financial Conflicts of Interest and Criteria for Research Credibility

The potential for financial conflicts of interest (COIs) to damage the credibility of scientific research has become a significant social concern, especially in the wake of high-profile incidents involving the pharmaceutical, tobacco, fossil-fuel, and chemical industries. Policy makers have debated whether the mere presence of financial COIs should count as a reason for treating research with suspicion or whether research should be evaluated solely on its merits, regardless of its funding source. This talk examines a recent proposal to develop “direct” criteria for evaluating the credibility of research (specifically chemical safety studies) solely on its scientific merits. It concludes that proposals of this sort are likely to be either ineffective or impractical in many cases. Nevertheless, this does not mean that all research funded by those with an interest in the outcome must be placed under a cloud of suspicion; there are conditions under which research is at much more serious risk of being corrupted than in other cases, and attention to these conditions can guide productive responses to financial COIs.


* No Colloquium on January 21 or February 18 (University Holidays)

Spring Quarter 2013

April 1, 2013

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only


April 8, 2013

Nancy Nersessian

Regents' Professor and Professor of Cognitive Science, Schools of Interactive Computing and Public Policy, Georgia Intitute of Technology
Modeling to discover: Creative strategies in the bioengineering sciences

The philosophical literature on modeling tends to focus on modeling in the context of established theory. This talk will address how models are constructed and used in discovery processes that lack this resource. My analysis draws from twelve years of empirical research on modeling practices in pioneering bioengineering sciences research laboratories, where basic biological research is conducted in the context of application problems. An interesting feature of research in these domains is that because ethical issues or control considerations rule out the possibility of experimenting on the target phenomena, a major creative strategy involves researchers building physical and computational simulation models to serve as analogical source domains for target problems. The standard notion of analogy assumes a source domain from which one retrieves a ready-to-hand solution that can serve as the basis of inference. However, in these (and many other ) areas of creative research, the base representation itself needs to be constructed. Information from a source domain is not mapped directly to the target problem; rather, constraints drawn from both domains are used for constructing intermediary hybrid models, which possess their own model constraints. The problem solver thinks and reasons through these intermediary models. I will examine in depth a two-year episode in an interdisciplinary neural engineering lab where the cross-breeding of two simulation models – one bio-engineered and one computational – that involved the interaction of three graduate student researchers, led to significant conceptual innovations that enabled interventions in physical systems. I consider implications of this “modeling to discover” practice for the philosophy of science and cognitive science more broadly.


April 16, 2013

2011-12 Student's Choice Speaker

Donna Haraway

Distinguished Professor Emerita, Departments of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies, UC Santa Cruz
Cosmopolitical Critters: Companion Species, SF, and Staying with the Trouble

Doing STS through SF (string figures, science fact, speculative fabulation, speculative feminism, science fiction, so far), "Cosmopolitical Critters" asks how and why the Anthropocene and Multispecies Becoming-with emerge as foci of attention at the same time and for many different knowledge communities. Working in close contact with artists, scholars, and biologists, the lecture argues for sympoesis and multispecies cosmopolitics as critical approaches to staying with the trouble of rampant extinctions and exterminations and to working toward modest recuperation and flourishing on terra.

**This talk will take place in the San Diego Supercomputer Center Auditorium**


April 22, 2013

Janet Shim

Associate Professor, Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences, UC San Francisco
The Optics of Homogeneity-Heterogeneity: Genes, Environment, and Etiologic Complexity in the Post-Genomic Era

This talk explores the current thinking and practices around the logic of difference in gene-environment interaction (GEI) research in the post-genomic era. Shim argues that homogeneity-heterogeneity act as optics for GEI scientists and are therefore useful ways to analyze how attention to difference is changing in U.S.-based contemporary genomic research. Rather than conceiving populations to be strictly or inherently homogeneous or heterogeneous, and only in terms of race and ethnicity, GEI scientists think about and use these qualities as situational properties, in prismatic and kaleidoscopic ways, that are held in dynamic tension and relationship with one another. Much like a prism or kaleidoscope can be held in different ways to reveal new patterns, researchers refract their data across many dimensions of difference and similarity, holding homogeneity along one dimension in order to productively reveal heterogeneity along another dimension. There are two main ways in which they do so: first, homogeneity and heterogeneity are properties to be leveraged and as empirical questions in and of themselves; and second, they are qualities to be produced—and therefore objects of extensive social and scientific work in order to produce them. This paper shows how homogeneity and heterogeneity are being re-conceived and re-worked in the shifting terrain of 21st century genomic science, highlighting the growing acknowledgement of tensions among population diversity, etiologic complexity, and the continued scientific need for data integrity, replication, and validity.


April 29, 2013

Marianne de Laet

Associate Professor, Departments of Anthropology and Science, Technology, and Society
Harvey Mudd College
Counting Calories: Calculatory Logics at Work

What is a calorie? One might say, following physics (and Wikipedia), that a calorie is 4.18400 Joules, or the amount of energy necessary to heat a gram of water by one degree Celsius. It is a big step from this description to the calorie that circulates in our daily lives – where, after all, it holds much more than this tiny amount of energy. And yet, it is precisely this step this paper takes: from the notion that, because we know how to define it, we know what a calorie is, to the exploration of what a calorie does – all in support of the claim that a thing is what it performs. This lecture proposes praxiographical set of questions to find out what comes with, what is in, and what comes out of, the calorie, to get a handle on what it is.


May 6, 2013

Susan Greenhalgh

Professor, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University
Bio-bullies in Our Midst: Does Fat Shaming Work?

For the last decade, America has been in the midst of a national War on Fat to save the nation from an “epidemic of obesity” that, according to obesity science, public health, and government authorities, is undermining America’s competitiveness by harming health, boosting health care costs, and eroding economic productivity. Failure to win the War on Fat has led to renewed debate about fat shaming, with prominent bio-ethicists calling for intensified stigmatizing of fat people to force them to lose weight. Will more fat shaming finally work to reduce the weight of Americans? In this talk, anthropologist Susan Greenhalgh uncovers the convoluted scientific and ethical controversies over fat shaming. Drawing on the voices of those with no voice in the debates –- the heavyset people who are the targets of the War on Fat -- she shows that not only does fat shaming not work to reduce weight, but it is imposing terrible human costs on these people, consigning them to virtual social death. She argues that the War on Fat itself -- which pathologizes two-thirds of adults and one-third of young people – is unjust and that human scientists have an obligation to add their critical voices to the conversations about fat in America today.


May 13, 2013

Phillip Clements

PhD Candidate, History and Science Studies, UC San Diego
Science in Extremis: Portrait of a Himalayan Expedition

Underwritten by federal Cold War institutions, the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition sought to climb Earth’s tallest mountain and leverage its extreme environment for scientific research. This talk examines the varied fortunes of these performances, and illustrates why the conduct of AMEE’s geoscientific, physiological, sociological, and psychological research programs were shaped by local circumstances. Battling physiological, psychological, and logistical stressors inherent to the
extreme Himalayan environment, AMEE scientists, their Sherpa assistants, and alpinist test subjects, were forced to deviate from their normal disciplinary practices, and formulate on-the-fly solutions to
unpredictable variables which destabilized normal data-collection methods. Analysis of these sometimes-harrowing events reveals the power that an extreme locale can have over the conduct of research, which raises questions about the universality of scientific knowledge produced in such field conditions.


May 20, 2013

Katrina Petersen

PhD Candidate, Communication and Science Studies, UC San Diego
What do you mean by disaster? Mapping the 2007 San Diego Wildfires

This talk presents a study of the materiality of disaster politics that focuses on the production and use of maps to understand, and differentially constitute, the 2007 San Diego Wildfires. It explores the politics and technicalities of map-making to explain how different mapping practices put forward very different disasters. There were two different mapping efforts of these fires: one by the county government using GIS and the other by an ad-hoc coalition of media and academic institutions using Google My Maps. The first was focused on jurisdictional boundaries and responsibility, the second focused on where the flames went and what was affected. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including interviews, official documents, media communications, and mapping technologies, this discussion traces the networks of production for each map. By exploring the interplay of diverse data needs, gathering techniques, and technologies of representation it becomes possible to see a range of definitions of disaster at play. Even within the same disaster response, these maps enact different delimitations of what counts as part of a disaster, different notions of the burning space, and different disaster timing, with consequences for the epistemology of wildfire as well as the conceptualization of disaster preparedness and response.


May 27, 2013

No Colloquium


June 3, 2013

Alistair Sponsel

Assistant Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
2013 Ritter Fellow, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
What is an author, and how did Darwin become one?

The geologist Charles Lyell's greatest claim to fame is that his theories of gradual change are supposed to have been the model for Charles Darwin's geological and evolutionary theories. This influence is primarily seen as a consequence of Darwin having read Lyell’s three-volume Principles of Geology (1830-1833) during his voyage on the Beagle. This lecture has two aims: the first is to argue that historians have failed to recognize how the structure of the personal relationship between Lyell and Darwin after the voyage resulted in the younger man’s work being presented explicitly as subsidiary to Lyell’s. Second, it examines how Darwin sought to transcend this relationship by establishing himself as the author of his own ideas.


* No Colloquium on May 27, 2013 (University Holiday)