Tuesday, February 09, 2010

More from ScienceOnline2010

Janet Stemwedel has a nice post giving some further thoughts on Eric's and my presentation "An Open History of Science." It's encouraging to hear that she's still thinking about the presentation almost a month later. Her post arrived just in time for me. I was getting to the point in my after-event neuroses where I was beginning to have serious self-doubts: Was trying to do history at a science conference a bad idea? Did I embarass myself in front of all those smart people? Will I ever be able to show my face at that conference again? The answers, at least as far as I can tell from a sample of one, are "no," "not during that part of the conference,*" and "probably."

Dr. Free-Ride mentions the important questions that lie at the place where her field (philosophy of science) intersects with history of science. Who does science? Where is science done? What is the purpose of sharing scientific information? Is science democratizing force, or a closed practice? While philosophy of science deals with the actual state of things and their implications for the larger society and for the future of scientific practice and that society, history of science deals with how that state of affairs came to be. It should be obvious that any societal construct--and "science" is a societal construct--is merely one point on a moving arc of its own history. However, the same processes that divided science into the separate disciplines we know, pulled history away from science and put it in a different pidgeon-hole. For over a century, certain activities of human endeavor were designated "historical" and others were deemed not historical. Occasional histories of scientific things have been written over the years--modern physics, the impact of disease and weather on history--but the idea the science, as a general enterprise,has a history is soething that has only recently gained acceptance.

I'd better stop here. I've already said "societal construct;" if I go any further I'll be forced to say "paradigm" or "text" and, at that point, all of the science people will run screaming from the room leaving only a few humanities and social science nerds who will begin talking about how the white, patriarchal power structure forces heteronormative strictures on the disempowered. And it just goes downhill from there.

* There was that business in the bar, but I don't think anyone involved wants to mention it, so I'm safe on that.

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