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2008-2009 Colloquium Archive

Fall Quarter 2008

September 29, 2008

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP Faculty and Student Only

October 6, 2008

Christian Wuthrich

Assistant Professor of Philosophy
UC San Diego
Who wants to take a ride on a time machine?

Is time travel possible? Does logic prohibit time travel by rejecting contradictions? Does metaphysics halt the time traveller as it declares backward causation conceptually incoherent? Does physics permit time travel? In my talk, I will address (and answer) all these questions, with an emphasis on the physics. There is an important sense in which time travel is compatible with general relativity, viz. if one defines time travel as the existence of closed timelike curves in spacetime. The question then arises whether the operation of a time machines, i.e. of a device that produces closed timelike curves where none would have existed otherwise, is permissible in general relativity. The physics literature contains various theorems which purport to establish that, under physically plausible assumptions, the operation of a time machine is impossible. While no conclusive, no-go theorem of this kind exists either in classical general relativity or in various semi-classical approaches, I hope to convince the audience that the topic is far from merely entertaining as it allows insights into foundational issues at the intersection of classical and quantum gravity.

October 13, 2008

Hannah Landecker

Associate Professor of Sociology at the Center for Society and Genetics
UC Los Angeles
The In Vitro Condition: Nutritional Epigenetics and the Human Milieu

How do the social and the biological go together in new life science models of epigenetic plasticity? This talk discusses the way in which cells, nutrient media, people, and food are connected in experimental settings, as nutrition comes under scientific scrutiny as a determinant of gene expression.

October 20, 2008

Jessica O’Reilly

Postdoctoral Scholar, Science Technology and Environmental Policy Program
Woodrow Wilson School
Samples and Specimens at Antarctic Biosecurity Borders

On the continent and its waters, indigenous Antarctic plants and animals are hardy survivors in an extreme environment, symbols of a last wilderness, and undiscovered life forms for scientists to discover and study. When these species arrive or are brought to other continents, though, they may threaten the species native to that place—they might be ecological intruders. Antarctic species, in light of nascent management and conceptual frameworks called biosecurity, are contingent species—possibly interlopers or authentic nature—depending on which borders the species pass through.

This paper tracks the emerging issue of biosecurity—a policy term that addresses non-native species introductions and management—in relation to Antarctic scientific samples as they travel transnationally and pass through national borders, sometimes getting stuck. The transnational space of Antarctica and the biosecurity borders that form along more traditional national boundaries articulate Antarctic species and scientists as sources of knowledge-making,

October 27, 2008

Professional Development Workshop: Academic Placement

SSP Faculty and Student Only

November 3, 2008

Cori Hayden

Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and History
UC Los Angeles
== Postponed ==

November 10, 2008

Joel Braslow

Postdoctoral Scholar, Science Technology and Environmental Policy Program
UC Los Angeles
Consuming Patients: Schizophrenia in the Age of Psychopharmacology (1950-2000)

Psychiatric patients disappeared sometime at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the new millennium. Family groups (such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), former “psychiatric survivors,” and nearly every major county and state department of mental health self-consciously avoid the use the word patient and, instead, use “consumer” to denote those who suffer from severe disorders of thought, behavior and will. Not coincidentally, the pharmaceutical industry has followed suit, logically marketing their wares to “consumers” rather than to patients and, in the last decade, increasingly cutting out the physician as the middleman and positioning the consumer as the autonomous expert on self management. Of course, psychiatric illness itself has undergone no such vanishing act, a simple fact attested to daily for those who live major metropolitan areas. The huge numbers of mentally ill homeless on the streets or incarcerated in jails mock any conceits that we have humanely vanquished psychiatric illness as effectively as we have the category of patient.

For most who have self-consciously purged patient from their vocabulary, this transformation of the mentally ill into consumers represents much more than a simple name change. They see their use of the word “consumer” as signifying a new vision of what it means to suffer from severe mental illness. To these practitioners, policy makers, and family members, “consumer” has taken on emblematic qualities and, by simple usage, proclaims a radical break with an imagined past. They attribute dismal patient outcomes over the last half-century directly to the doctor-patient relationship. In particular, the psychiatric naming of those in distress as “patients” condemned their suffering to incurable diseases of body and soul. In contrast, being a consumer means not only that one’s mental illness can be cordoned off and isolated, but also that illness does not prevent full participation in the production and consumption required of advanced capitalism.

My talk examines the clinical circumstances that made this transformation of psychiatric patients into consumers possible. I begin my history of the psychiatric consumer in the 1950s and end it in the present. By examining how psychiatrists and, to a lesser extent, patients struggled with making sense of the incomprehensible and then transformed this understanding into therapeutic action, I argue that the exile of patient from the vocabulary of modern-day policy and discourse (at least for patient-rights and family groups) does, indeed, signify something of great import. However, we would be horribly misled if we see this as a radical break with the past. Admittedly, there have been far-reaching changes over the last fifty years in the clinical, social, and cultural context of mental illness. This last half century has witnessed the massive disgorging of state psychiatric hospitals, the abandonment of a psychodynamic/psychoanalytic psychiatry, the rise of a biological neuropsychiatry reinforced by ubiquitously employed categorical nosology, and, perhaps most importantly, the meteoric rise of a multibillion dollar, transnational psychopharmaceutical industry that has stamped its heavy footprint on all of the aforementioned changes. However, the creation of consumers out of patients required a fundamental change in the meaning of illness and of treatment in the everyday clinical encounter between doctor and patient. It is this encounter, rooted in the growing dominance of psychopharmacology, that my talk charts and in which I argue that newly created consumers represent not a break with the recent past but an affirmation of the clinical practices ushered in by deinstitutionalization, the biological revolution, and the penetration of consumer capitalism into the most intimate regions of psychological life.

November 17, 2008

John Tresch

Assistant Professor of History of Science
University of Pennsylvania
Bad Weather: On Planetary Crisis

Auguste Comte's sociology was based on an organic conception of the "great being" of humanity; his work has been seen as a turning point in the development of a qualitative social science. Nevertheless, Comte's sociology emerged from many of the same sources as the quantitative, "astronomical" approaches to society of Quetelet and others. At the Ecole Polytechnique, where Comte and other social prophets were trained, students learned to map and choreograph flows of various phenomena operating at different rates; such techniques, I suggest, underwrote many of the schemes of historical development and social engineering in early socialism. Comte's Religion of Society made the intersections among mathematics, engineering, human history and cosmology striking visible. Rather than a scheme of formalist reductionism, positivism was a revolutionary project for the coordination of series, operating at multiple rates, on a cosmic scale; the new "spiritual power" Comte announced was a power of temporalization.

November 24, 2008

Joseph Masco

Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Chicago
Bad Weather: On Planetary Crisis

How, and when, does it become possible to conceptualize a truly planetary crisis? The nuclear arms race of the Cold War installed one powerful concept of planetary crisis in American culture. The science enabling the U.S. nuclear arsenal, however, also produced unintended byproducts: notably, a radical new investment in the earth sciences. Cold War nuclear science ultimately produced not only bombs but also a new understanding of the earth as biosphere. Thus, the image of planetary crisis in the U.S. was increasingly doubled during the Cold War -- the immediacy of nuclear threat matched by concerns about rapid environmental change and the cumulative effects of industrial civilization on a fragile biosphere. This paper examines the evolution of (and competition between) two ideas of planetary crisis since 1945 -- nuclear war and climate change. In doing so, the paper offers an alternative history of the nuclear age and considers the U.S. national security implications a shift in the definition of planetary crisis from warring states to a warming biosphere. Using visual cultural analysis, the essay tracks how weather effects (from atmospheric nuclear tests through Hurricane Katrina) are positioned within U.S. national security discourse, and interrogates the challenges climate change presents to traditional notions of American national security.

December 1, 2008

Barry Brown

Associate Professor of Communication
UC San Diego
Sightings and Seeing: Public Discussions of NASA's UFO Footage

How, and when, does it become possible to conceptualize a truly planetary crisis? The nuclear arms race of the Cold War installed one powerful concept of planetary crisis in American culture. The science enabling the U.S. nuclear arsenal, however, also produced unintended byproducts: notably, a radical new investment in the earth sciences. Cold War nuclear science ultimately produced not only bombs but also a new understanding of the earth as biosphere. Thus, the image of planetary crisis in the U.S. was increasingly doubled during the Cold War -- the immediacy of nuclear threat matched by concerns about rapid environmental change and the cumulative effects of industrial civilization on a fragile biosphere. This paper examines the evolution of (and competition between) two ideas of planetary crisis since 1945 -- nuclear war and climate change. In doing so, the paper offers an alternative history of the nuclear age and considers the U.S. national security implications a shift in the definition of planetary crisis from warring states to a warming biosphere. Using visual cultural analysis, the essay tracks how weather effects (from atmospheric nuclear tests through Hurricane Katrina) are positioned within U.S. national security discourse, and interrogates the challenges climate change presents to traditional notions of American national security.

Winter Quarter 2009

January 5, 2009

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP Faculty and Students Only

January 12, 2009Thomas Waidzunas

Graduate Student in Sociology/Science Studies
UC San Diego
Drawing the Straight Line: Scientific Knowledge Struggles over Corrective Treatments for Homosexuality

In 2008, the American Psychological Association deployed a task force to revise its position statement on therapeutic responses to homosexuality. Like those of all other national mental health organizations, this position statement presently asserts that there is no scientific evidence for the efficacy of conversion therapies. However, a revision was deemed necessary, not only because of the public visibility of the ex-gay movement, but also because of the emergence of new research, based on self-report data, that purportedly demonstrates the efficacy of corrective treatments. One of these conversion studies was conducted by influential psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer, often known as the psychiatrist responsible for removing homosexuality from the DSM. But more influential researchers on the ex-gay side of this debate include theology-based scientists, such as Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, who draw on science studies theorist Thomas Kuhn to argue for dissolving the fact/value dichotomy in support of Evangelical psychological research and practice. Pro-gay detractors have called for physiological “truthing” measurements of sexual orientation taken directly from the body such as penile plethysmography, seizing on the authority of scientific objectivity to demonstrate the inefficacy of reparative therapy.

Contemporary epistemic controversies over the measurement of sexual orientation are part of a history of shifting hierarchies of evidence deployed within a complex “field of conversion therapy,” situated within a broader constellation of therapeutic practices. Using interviews with key actors in these controversies and analyses of claims-making, this paper will illuminate contingent factors that have governed hierarchies of evidence for demonstrating efficacy and inefficacy of conversion treatments in the United States in recent history. Such factors include the influential dynamics of opposing social movements, the efforts of various professionals in establishing professional jurisdiction, and the boundary work efforts of scientists. Moreover, the paper will show various consequences of attempts to create evidence within this domain. As a process of co-construction of technologies and humans, such practices have resulted in the consolidation of cultural understandings of sexual subjectivities, as well as numerous technical means for revealing these sexualities.

January 26, 2009

Robert McCauley

Director, Center for Mind, Brain and Culture
Emory University
The Role of Maturationally Natural Cognition in Science and Religion

Pondering the /cognitive/, as opposed to the metaphysical or epistemological, foundations of science and religion offers reasons for highlighting humans’ maturationally natural knowledge. By the time that they reach school age, human beings seem to have knowledge about many important matters that is automatic, that is intuitive, that is based on little, if any, evidence that they can articulate, that does not seem to depend on any culturally distinctive support, and that is, in part, virtually definitive of what constitutes normal human cognitive development. This maturationally natural knowledge plays very different roles in science and religion, whether the focus is on the cognitive /products/ of each or the cognitive /processes/ that each engages. It is not only that science traffics, usually sooner but always later, in representations and forms of inference that do not rely on the deliverances of maturationally natural capacities. Finally, the sciences yield verdicts that largely overthrow the deliverances of these capacities, however persistent and ineradicable they prove in human thought. By contrast, religion, with respect to both the cognitive representations and the inferential processes it engages, depends overwhelmingly on such maturationally natural cognitive systems. Religious representations reliably involve only minor variations on the conceptions that maturationally natural knowledge offers, which renders those representations attention grabbing, memorable, and easy to deploy. Such a comparison of the cognitive foundations of science and religion points to many startling consequences -- from the inevitability of theological incorrectness to the recognition of the fragility of science, its current cultural prestige, notwithstanding.

February 2, 2009

Nick Dyer-Witheford

Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies
University of Western Ontario
== Postponed ==

February 9, 2009

Professional Development Workshop: Writing Reviews and Abstracts

SSP Faculty and Student Only

February 23, 2009

Monte Johnson

Assistant Professor of Philosophy
UC San Diego
Aristotle's Explanation of the Halo

In Meteorology book III, Aristotle offers an explanation of why the halos that occasionally appear around the sun and moon are perfectly circular. His explanation is remarkable in that it involves what is probably the oldest surviving lettered geometrical diagram. Modern commentators have criticized the explanation itself as being empty or circular (in the wrong way). In this talk I will try to show that is a misunderstanding, and that the explanation shows an interesting quantitative side of Aristotle's scientific method that is often ignored or denied to exist. Further, the explanation is clearly superior to all other explanations of the same phenomenon offered by his predecessors, and has had a direct influence on all successive explanations of the halo, including those found in modern textbooks of atmospheric optics.

February 25, 2009

Science Studies Program Students' Workshops

SSP Faculty and Student Only

March 2, 2009

Jonathan Sterne

Associate Professor, Department Chair, Art History and Communication Studies
McGill University
Sound Reproduction After Noise: Perceptual Coding and the Homology of the Fields, 1955-1979

MP3s get their small file size through a process called “perceptual coding.” An MP3 encoder scans a sound file, estimates which parts of the recording will be inaudible to the ear, and disposes of those parts, thereby making the resulting MP3 file considerably smaller than the “same” song on a compact disc. In this talk, I will trace the origins of the ideas behind perceptual coding, and show how they traveled from psychoacoustics to communications and computer engineering in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the key insights of psychoacousticians and engineers during this period carry strange and interesting parallels to key writings on music and sound in the humanistic tradition, most notably by Roland Barthes and Jacques Attali. The paper considers what Pierre Bourdieu calls “the homology of the fields” among psychoacoustics, engineering, aesthetics, architectural acoustics and political economy in an attempt to explain why perceptual coding emerged when it did, given that the technology and the theory were available for at least a decade before the process was first realized.

March 9, 2009

Cathy Gere

Assistant Professor of History
UC San Diego
The Neurology of Regicide: Decapitation, the brain, and the problem of revolutionary violence, 1664 and 1803

Experimental investigations of the nervous system have always awarded a central role to the ‘lesion experiment,’ in which an anatomical structure is removed – surgically, chemically, or by means of disease – in order to study the functional deficits that result. Decapitation – the separation of the whole head from the body – could be described as the ultimate lesion experiment, and a vigorous research tradition in experimental physiology did, indeed, study its effects on a variety of different animals. These decapitation experiments operated within a rich framework of metaphors about the loss of central authority and control. Just as society was imagined as a ‘body-politic,’ with the king at its head, so the body was imagined as a community of individuals, acting in a network of influence and authority, under the control of the brain. This paper explores two episodes in the history of the neurosciences in which decapitation experiments carried a particularly heavy freight of political significance. The first episode narrates the beginnings of the discipline of neurology in seventeenth century Oxford in the wake of the execution of Charles I; the second details the electrical stimulation of the bodies and heads of twenty guillotined criminals in French-occupied Mainz during the last year of the French Revolution. Both cases illustrate how the experimental investigation of the nervous system became a site for the reinvention of the human condition in times of violent political upheaval.

Spring 2009

March 30, 2009

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP Faculty and Students Only

April 3, 2009

Ian Hacking

Emeritus University Professor of Philosophy
University of Toronto
Where Homeostasis Comes From And Where It Should Go

This is a philosopher’s, rather than a historian’s, tour of the idea of homeostasis, starting with its origins in physiology (1925). It proceeds through the glory days of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener (1948) and W. Ross Ashby’s “homeostat” (1948). Then to the core of the talk, poultry breeding. I mean the brief flourishing of I. M. Lerner’s “genetic homeostasis” (1950, 1954), motivated by his observations about return to former equilibrium after high selection pressure. Richard Lewontin (1957) critically developed the idea for adaptive stability in new environments (1957). These are the most forthright applications of homeostasis to biological species. They should serve as an ideal logical model, at which all uses of homeostasis in explaining the species should aim. By an ideal, I mean that they have the right structure to serve as explanations, even if the details were soon to be abandoned.

This ideal will be maintained in the second part of the talk, which is a mere corollary to the first.

The philosopher Richard Boyd (1989), completely unaware of the idea of genetic homeostasis, proposed “homeostatic property cluster kinds” as a type of natural kind. His intention was metaphysical, to show that certain epistemological and moral concepts are homeostatic in nature, and “therefore” grounded in natural kinds. He then used the species as an example of a homeostatic classification. Boyd deemed species to be natural kinds; they are sets whose members are organisms with properties that cluster together in equilibrium. These sets have no essential property. The Ghiselin/Hull picture of species as individuals (and “therefore” neither sets nor natural kinds), was plain wrong. Another philosopher, Paul Griffiths (1997), said that picture was plain right. Species are natural kinds, but they are historical lineages, not sets. Their essence (in a metaphysical and supposedly post-Kripkean sense) is their ancestry. Boyd’s use of homeostasis is also to be employed: “the causal homeostatic mechanism [of a species] is descent.” Griffiths refers to this, all too aptly in my ironic opinion, as squaring the circle (2000). Some systematic biologists are now (2009) referring to, and making use of, some mix of the immiscible Boyd and Griffiths. The talk concludes by applying the rigorous 1950s ideal of Lerner and Lewontin to the present state of play.

April 6, 2009

Mark Hineline

Sixth College Practicum and the Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies
UC San Diego
Three Perspectives on an Event of Middling Importance: The Transcontinental Excursion of 1912

In the late summer and early autumn of 1912, William Morris Davis, a self-identified geographer trained as a geologist, newly retired from his endowed chair at Harvard University, led an excursion of European and American scientists twice across the North American continent, covering more than 13,000 miles in fifty-seven days by private train. The extended outing was organized ostensibly for the benefit of the Europeans. Davis held the conviction that they would benefit from seeing the United States in his company.

The Transcontinental Excursion of 1912 of the American Geographical Society of New York was an event of middling importance. An event of greater significance might have yielded some theoretical synthesis or a “discovery” of some kind; nothing of the sort issued from the excursion. But the excursion is not unimportant, either for geographers (who will reenact it in 2012) or for science studies. Indeed, it is a rich source for new directions in science studies.

In this presentation I provide three perspectives on the excursion. In the first, I offer the excursion as a visual narrative: a “comic book” hoist out of the deep well of graphic or visual primary sources from which I am drawing. In the second, I present the narrative as a framework for reconstructing a synchronic, nonretrospective environmental history of North America. In the third and final perspective I examine the materials from a science studies perspective (as though the first two are not!). What is the role of organized field trips and excursions in the prosecution of the field sciences?

April 13, 2009

Scott Curtis

Associate Professor, School of Communication
Northwestern University
Photography and Medical Observation

This presentation explores the reciprocal relationship between photography and medical observation during the nineteenth century. While most discussions of scientific or medical illustration emphasize photography's "objectivity"– particularly the special relationship between camera and object that underwrites photography's rhetorical authority–-I would like to suggest that this relationship is only part of the reason for the success and legitimacy of medical photography. The relationship between image and observer is equally important. What aspects of the photographic image per se appealed to emerging practices of modern medical observation? This presentation will point to certain observational strategies that find purchase in formal aspects of the photographic image (e.g. its abundant detail). That is, I will argue that the photograph facilitates, encourages, and amplifies certain patterns of observation that are emerging in nineteenth-century medicine. Or, to put it another way, the training in observational methods that physicians undergo finds in photography an amiable partner. To make this argument, I will chart the advantages and applications of photography in medicine and place them in the context of discussions about the methods and goals of medical observation in the nineteenth century. What was medical photography during the nineteenth century? How was it used? What hopes did its proponents have for it, and how did these hopes express the needs of the discipline? How did the use of photography conform to–-and shape-–ideals of medical observation?

April 20, 2009

W. Patrick McCray

Professor of History
UC Santa Barbara
Of Futures and Fringes: California's Technological Enthusiasts, 1970-1990

The idea that America and other industrialized societies faced limits to their power and future economic growth helped define the 1970s. The unveiling of the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth Report in 1972 articulated this mood in a most sensational fashion. While scientists and economists roundly criticized its methodology, the report’s Malthusian conclusions stimulated fierce debate about the need to adopt a steady-state economy and lifestyle. “Limits” – to resources, energy, wealth, even life itself – became a staple theme for movies, television shows and fiction. As California governor Jerry Brown said when he addressed the nation in 1976, “We are entering an era of limits.”

This motif of impending doomsday, however, was only one possible future that scientists, social critics, and – most importantly – young adults embraced. Gov. Brown, in fact, followed suit. A year after Brown’s pessimistic “limits” speech, space colony advocate Gerard O’Neill, counterculture icon Stewart Brand, and Apollo 9 astronaut and gubernatorial advisor Russell Schweickart organized a lavish celebration of California's role in the Space Age. Space, Gov. Brown told the crowd, “will inaugurate a new era of possibilities for the planet.”

This talk explores alternative and competing visions of the technological future - much of it originating from California - that was just as widely debated in the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, futuristic technologies such as space colonization, nanotechnology, manmade biospheres, early internet-based commerce, and even life extension captured the public’s imagination. These California-based, pro-technology movements also stimulated the creation of privately funded research institutes and investment from high-tech entrepreneurs. Whereas utopian crusaders of the nineteenth century were inspired by a broad wish to perfect society, the technological visions my talk examines were motivated by a desire to make a fortune and overcome inherent biological limits.

As a historian, I am fascinated by the failed or unrealized visions of the future that litter the past. While futures depicted by the people my talk examines did not happen as predicted, their visions still captured the public’s imagination and stimulated dialogue between politicians, scientists, and business leaders. As such, my talk treats the technological future itself as contested rather than neutral temporal space and focuses on the interconnected community of researchers, futurists, and businesspeople who worked at the border between scientific fact and fiction in the 1970s and 1980s. By examining the political and social context of several exploratory or fringe technologies– the distinction often rests with the beholder – and the communities of the scientists, technologists, and futurists who advocated them, a clearer understanding of how we view modern technological utopias emerges.

April 27, 2009

Cori Hayden

Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology
UC Berkeley
The same and not the same: Generic medicines and the pharma-politics of similarity

From Mexico's ubiquitous pharmacy chain Farmacias Similares to the rise of debates over biosimilar drugs in Europe and the U.S., the notion of the similar has come to occupy an important place in debates over ensuring access to affordable pharmaceuticals, north and south. In Mexico, debates over Farmacias Similares, their charismatic cartoon mascot (Dr. Simi), and their slogan (“the same, but cheaper”) have unleashed complex commercial, political, and regulatory contests over what shall count as adequate forms of same-ness, equivalence, and similarity. Yet such complex iterations of the “proper copy” are not solely the outcome of struggles over drug access. The second part of this paper places these questions in the context of a long and continuing history of what we might call simi-semiotics in pharmacology and chemistry more broadly. As chemist Roald Hoffman writes in his popular book, The Same and Not the Same, chemistry’s core technical and philosophical question revolves precisely around the tension between sameness (or identity) and difference – and the tricky matter of how one tells them apart. Indeed, as the philosophical attention to chemistry in STS has shown, these matters are central to the philosophy and rhetoric of chemistry more broadly, and to drug discovery and testing in particular. This paper thus looks to pharmaceuticals to think simultaneously about chemically-configured notions of similarity and difference, and their implication in and for politics “at large.”

May 4, 2009

Sheldon Smith

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy
UC Los Angeles
The Misguided Sociology of Causal Action in Classical Physics

In response to Bertrand Russell’s argument that causation does not appear in physics, Mark Steiner (1986) has claimed that though causation is not found in the laws of physics, it is nonetheless part of the lore of physics. Where it allegedly enters the lore is in the rejection of certain equations (or of solutions of equations) as “violating our ordinary conception of causality.” Like Steiner, Mathis Frisch (2005) has claimed that “…physicists themselves appear to be guided by causal considerations in their assessment of [a] theory.” Since the equations in question do not violate Einstein’s theory of relativity, physicists are sometimes thought to be appealing rather directly to an extra-theoretical constraint having to do with our concept of causality. To many philosophers of science, these claims of Steiner and Frisch will undoubtedly seem merely sociological considerations that by themselves give us no good reasons to think that there are genuine, well-motivated “causal constraints” on physical theorizing. In this talk, I will examine what worries physicists with respect to situations that are declared “acausal” by exploring when they make such declarations and when they do not. In so doing, we shall see that there genuinely are good reasons in certain circumstances to either worry about or even rule out the situation dubbed “acausal.” But, once we see what those reasons are, it is doubtful that they have much to do with violations of our ordinary conception of causality. Since these genuine reasons are typically known to physicists, I think that even as a purely sociological matter the claims above do not capture the actual motivating factors.

May 11, 2009

Rebecca Lemov

Assistant Professor, Department of the History of Science
Harvard University
New Encyclopedias Will Appear: Mid-Twentieth Century social-science archives of human materials

Beginning in the 1930s and at an accelerating pace in the 1940s and 50s, American social scientists at the crossroads of psychology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, and sociology built encyclopedic data-storage devices to hold the “all” of human societies. The shared goal was to make filing and storage systems capable of holding knowledge about all aspects of human existence and experience, from the most solid parts of life (material culture) to the most fleeting (dreams, fleeting thoughts, brief wishes). Innovating with data-gathering techniques and mixing old and new methods of collecting and processing information--from the punch card to the typing pool, from the ethnographic to the cybernetic--these emergent data banks seemed to fulfill techno-guru and MIT president Vannevar Bush’s now-famous 1947 prediction: “Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear….” The object of this talk is to look at how these part-anthropological, part-psychological proto-databases and the knowledge projects of which they were a part came into being. Where were the instruments, technologies, and practices of fact-gathering by which bits of information and experience were “processed,” transported, stored, worried about, and used or not used? Of special interest are projective psychological tests that allowed access to the inner life, and a routinized procedure to extract it in the form of data. My talk is part of a larger project on the history of social data; here, I would like to focus on the turn in post-World War II data banks to attempt to capture the most elusive parts of human experience in tangible form as a science of subjectivity. Second, I ask about what arose as a result of this enthusiasm for the neo-encyclopedic: these ‘pioneers of data’ experienced the now-familiar problem of data-related epistemological angst—how to preserve it and its tendency, despite the best efforts of all concerned, to disappear.

May 13, 2009

Professional Development Workshop: Grant Proposal Preparation

SSP Faculty and Students Only

May 18, 2009

Mary Terrall

Associate Professor of History
UC Los Angeles
Following Insects Around: The Practice of Natural History in 18th-Century France

This paper is part of a sprawling project on the daily practices of observation and experimentation that made up natural history in the 18th century. It draws inspiration from recent work on scientific travel, long-distance networks of exchange, and local dynamics of communities where science was produced. Extending the sensibility of local studies to a network of practice that engaged geographically dispersed localities, I am exploring the dynamics of natural history networks of correspondence, collaboration and competition. In this paper, I examine a few cases taken from the correspondence of René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur. I show how these sources can give us a rather close-grained picture of people observing insects and making knowledge about them. Among other things, I aim to destabilize the center-periphery model that assumes a flow of raw material (data? specimens? measurements? maps? sketches?) toward a center like Paris for processing (the “center of calculation”). Although my examples for this paper exemplify a canonical center-periphery situation – Paris and various provincial locations – I show how the movement of objects and people and ideas belies the notion of a single center of calculation, even in the case where a dominant figure like Réaumur was managing collections and producing authoritative texts in the capital. Further, the provincial settings entailed local contingencies and motivations for naturalists. Réaumur was indeed managing the flow of observations, letters, and specimens from his privileged vantage point in Paris; but he was not the only one doing the processing, and the objects and knowledge flowed in both (or all) directions. My title refers to the activities of naturalists, who had to follow insects around in order to observe them, and to my own activity in following the traces of the insects through letters, conversations, specimen jars, drawings, texts and experimental set-ups. My research depends on the accumulation of endless details about experimental and observational practice, culled from the masses of letters that moved continually around Europe, much as the science of insects depended on the accumulation of endless details about insects – their physiology, their habits, their structure, their metamorphosis, their place in the human economy and the economy of nature. Ultimately, I suggest that microhistorical cases can illuminate the larger landscapes of natural history.

June 1, 2009

Kelly Gates

Assistant Professor of Communication
UC San Diego