A Message from the President July 21, 2009Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
Tags: Bernard Lightman, George Smith, Graeme Gooday, Jane Maienschein, Jed Buchwald, John Lynch, Steve Fuller, Steven Shapin
HSS members have just been alerted that the new e-newsletter is out. First off, I think it’s good the newsletter is only online, but their new floating table of contents is not working for me, because it obscures the text on my computer at work even when the window is fully expanded. You can shrink the screen contents by hitting Ctrl-minus, and that clears it up. Or you can just access the pdf version. This year’s HSS preliminary program is included (look for my session Saturday morning!)
What I want to post about real quick before I take off to Colorado on vacation until next week is Jane Maienschein’s message as outgoing president of HSS. First off, a tip of the hat for the following: “We have to embrace a range of scholarly products, including well-crafted blogs that have more impact and reach a larger audience than the typical academic book, public presentations, and collaborations with scientists.” Quite true, although I would emphasize the possibility for having real-time, open scholarly conversations rather than audience reach.
Second, an important and possibly controversial point: Maienschein observes that a major priority for her was getting the history of science to reconnect with…. the history of science! “I worried that the profession had become so diverse and diffuse that it lacked the energy to carry the field forward. In particular, I saw too much of a swing toward a version of the social history of science that seemed to forget the science. I imagined I might help bring back a balance of interests – science at the core, along with plenty (more…)
Historians as Methodologists (Isis, Pt. 4) July 29, 2008Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
Tags: Alan Richardson, Edgar Singer, experimentalism, Jane Maienschein, Manfred Laubichler, Russell Ackoff, West Churchman, William James
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Jane Maienschein, Manfred Laubichler, and Andrea Loettgers, in “How Can History of Science Matter to Scientists?” offer a number of cases in which the study of past experiments or chance encounters with historians have led scientists to examine their methodology and do things like question key assumptions, leading to productive scientific research. The chance encounter is a frequent spur to innovation, whether or not it is historical. These encounters can be substantive, such as reading about research in an unrelated field, or trivial: Richard Feynman told the story about how he was inspired to new research by seeing a student toss a plate in the air in a cafeteria, which led him to think about the physics of its wobble, which led to, um, magnificent things (Feynman didn’t say).
Anyway, if inspiration can come from the chance encounter, maybe the real question is how this benefit can be systematized. The reform of methodology and the questioning of assumptions reminded me of a couple of mathematician philosophers turned operations researchers I ran into in my dissertation work: West Churchman (right) and Russell Ackoff, who were students of Edgar A. Singer, who was a student of William James and a proponent of a little-known philosophy of science called “experimentalism” (which will be the subject of a talk at HSS this year by Alan Richardson; update: he’s also on the PSA program, which is joint with HSS this year, talking about Churchman and Ackoff as well: good times).
Before their turn to OR around 1950, Churchman and Ackoff proposed establishing Institutes of Experimental Method or Methodology Departments in universities, which would train multi-disciplinary “methodologists” and subject current experimental methods to systematic scrutiny to make sure they (more…)