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Odds and Ends June 24, 2009

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.

I’m off to Minnesota to visit family for a week, and will probably not be posting.  I think Chris has something planned for Hump Day History, which will probably go up later.

For any readers with an interest in science policy, the blog Prometheus is being discontinued.  I originally had Prometheus on the blog roll because I enjoyed David Bruggeman’s attention to a well-parsed variety of issues concerning science in the federal (and occasionally British) governments.  Bruggeman’s new blog is Pasco Phronesis, which takes Prometheus’ place on the blog roll.  Prometheus’s main contributor, Roger Pielke, Jr., is primarily intested in climate change issues, and he also has a new blog.  His analyses of policy issues and public pronouncements are detailed, frequent, and pointed, but are a little far afield of what we do here.  So no new link, but I encourage readers with any interest in the issue to check him out if they haven’t already.

Finally, I thought it might be interesting to do occasional “what am I reading?” posts.  I read different books in different ways.  Some books I read in detail from cover to cover.  For Hump Day History I read books in enough detail to do a competent summary of the subject matter, but don’t really absorb the whole thing.  A whole stack of others sit on my shelf or coffee table seemingly eternally half-read, and sometimes I actually finish them.  A couple selections I plan on taking to Minnesota with me, plus short commentary, after the jump.

Guy Stever’s autobiography, In War and Peace: My Life in Science and Technology.  As readers of science biography well know, the quality varies wildly.  I’m sticking with this one, because it’s really good, and covers a wide ground.  As a member of the OSRD London Mission during World War II, as a professor of aeronautics and dean at MIT, as president of Carnegie Mellon in the ’60s and ’70s, and as director of the NSF and science adviser to Nixon and Ford, Stever has had multiple perspectives on the history of science and technology in America.  Fascinating if you know a lot about this; a good read in any case.

Bruce Caldwell, Hayek’s Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F. A. Hayek.  Ever since the scholarship of Phil Mirowski concerning operations research rightfully forced me to engage at least briefly with the history of economic thought, I’ve been meaning to jump in more deeply when the opportunity permitted.  This has gone slowly since much of my official work is in physics and 20th-century polar research these days.  Nevertheless, I really enjoy the deeper intellectual history prevalent in that profession and the interesting clashes of perspectives between the scholars there.  Plus Chris and I are trying to jump start a project on mid-century politics and critiques of scientism, and the relationship between Hayek’s, Popper’s, and Polanyi’s criticisms is a good place to start.  Also, between the Cowles Commission stuff I deal with (too) briefly in my OR work, and the business-cycle stuff in the recent Forrester paper, I have a whetted appetite for a deeper understanding of the differences between strands of economic thought, the “Austrian School” being among these.

Peter Galison and Lorraine Daston’s Objectivity is partially profession-related, and partially blog-related.  In the age of the epistemic imperative, there are only a handful of books that scholars in the history of science really have in common, and most reviews seem to agree that this will be one of them.  While the reviews all acknowledge that the book is detailed and erudite, a number also exhibit a deeper methodological unease with its arguments that is surely worth exploring.  The book’s methodology and material also fit in nicely with discussions we’ve been having here about historical coherence as a methodological criteria, and the emphasis on histories of practice.  It’s going to take a few preliminary posts (and a more detailed reading!) to work up to a post explicitly about Objectivity, but it’s on the docket.

I was given an absurd amount of time to write a review for Bruce Kaufman’s Managing the Human Factor: The Early Years of Human Resource Management in American Industry, so naturally it got kicked to the back of the line until now, just before the due date.  In addition to the history of economics, I’m developing a fondness for business history, which is a discipline with few pretensions.  Based on what I’ve read in previous attempts to do my homework early, it’s shaping up to be a good meat-and-potatoes history of employee-relations as a professional discipline.



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