December 3, 2008

Non-Tenure Track Instructors

There is an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed today about contingent, that is, non-tenure-track faculty: Nearly Half of Undergraduate Courses Are Taught by Non-Tenure-Track Instructors.

I was particularly struck by the quote from Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (2008): "Most people who are paying tuition are shocked to discover the actual numbers of people who are teaching on a contingent basis, and they're shocked to discover the actual salary that they're being paid."

Really? Do undergraduates care if the prof. is tenure-tracked?

The article is essentially a write-up of the American Federation of Teachers' report "Reversing Course: The Troubled State of Academic Staffing and a Path Forward."

November 19, 2008

Huygens & Leeuwenhoek

Check out this audio file with the Dutch pronunciations for Huygens and Leeuwenhoek. Now you've got a semester to practice before Michel gets back.

October 20, 2008

I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic conference in New York in September entitled, Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy. Any conference that features both Martha Nussbaum and Peter Singer has to be truly amazing. The podcast of the conference is now available at

Or try this one and click on podcast on the left side of the screen.

A monograph is coming out in 2009.

September 28, 2008


To Nathan and Stephanie, two of this blog's most prolific posters, who were married last weekend. We wish them the very best, and hope they are currently making the most of their hiatus in the northeast.

September 11, 2008

DSB - now available electronically

The Dictionary of Scientific Biography is now available as an eBook through the library.

Join the group on LinkedIn

I've created a group for graduates, and future graduates, of the HST, HMed, and HSTM Programs at the University of Minnesota:

Let me know if you can think of something in the public domain that we can use for an image.

August 22, 2008

Making the "Big List"

Hello all. It's been a quiet summer for this blog but that's alright, many of us have been frantically traveling, researching, studying for prelims, and working for various professors, institutions, and the like. However, the summer "break" is almost over; I know this because the Great Minnesota Get Together has started and I'm beginning to see the tell-tale signs of wide-eyed teenagers with bookstore bags walking around campus. It's sad to say, but soon our quiet summertime campus won't be so quiet anymore. The lines will be longer at the convenience stores and God only knows when the bathrooms will be accessible again on the first floor of the Social Sciences building. This blog was only recently started in the spring semester and by the time it got rolling at all the summer had started. Hopefully, beginning with this fall, this blog will become a more active place filled with things other than pictures of fine graduate students cataloging their virtually non-existent free time.

On to some news.
You may all be interested to know that John Lynch from Arizona State developed a "big list" of HSTM blogs recently and I'm happy to say that we've made the list! If you interested in staying abreast with the hip and happenin', you might want to add these blogs to your daily reading list. Note that Suzanne Fischer's blog also made the list (and her blog is the reason I know about us making the list). Speaking of Suzanne Fischer, we all should give her a hearty congratulations on her new job as "Associate Curator of Technology" at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich. Congrats Suzanne!

July 2, 2008

Okay, Kate has shamed me into finally posting the long promised end-of-year picture post. Here is a small sampling of photos from assorted

convivialities celebrating the end of the 2007-2008 academic year. Click any picture for a larger version:

HARG Retreat, O'Brien Observatory

Adrian is in his element.

There were deer. We wanted to share our beer with them, but they ran away.

The fruit was still good.

Sara and Maggie supervise the grilling.

Final ŒLSM Meeting - BBQ Wines

I believe this reaction was in response to Sid's tales of great personal peril.

Vincent and Sara hover over The Lineup.

Have you ever seen such unbridled enjoyment?

In this picture, Adrian and Barbara aren't speaking.

Sara works the grill.

John Eyler's End-of-Year Party

Surly bunch. They just sat there and scowled all night.

Rumors of my survival have been greatly exaggerated.

June 16, 2008

The Saints Game

Here are some pictures of the us at the Saints game.

May 12, 2008

Party like it's the end of the semester

Hey all, long time no post. It's been very busy the past month and I hope everyone out in the HTMS blogosphere is doing well. As a celebration of the end of the semester, I will be organizing a trip to the St. Paul Saints game. Actually, I've already oranized it. Everyone who would like to attend is welcome. We'll be heading over to the game on Wednesday, May 21st. The Saints will be playing their consummate rivals, the Sioux City Explorers. Game starts at 7:05. We'll just be getting General Admission tickets (5$ at the gate) and sitting in the bleachers along the 3rd baseline. Come early, or come when you can. Come and celebrate the beginning of the summer with cheap beer and a turkey leg (or Minnesota cheese curds, your choice).

April 10, 2008

Library search bar

Frazier mentioned something about this to me several weeks ago, but I finally found and installed the U of M library search bar into my Firefox browser. At first glance, it looks like a great project. The search bar is unobtrusive and allows you to search the library catalog without going to the library homepage. You can search by keyword, title, subject, author, or ISBN/ISSN. For my own purposes, I'd like to see a call number search, too, but that doesn't exist at this point.

The LibX extension works with both Internet Explorer and Firefox, and there have also been versions created by a number of other libraries as well - so if you're not at the U, you might be able to find this extension at your own library.

Go to to install the University of Minnesota version.

April 7, 2008

Junto - a critical commentary

Well, for those of you who did not attend the 51st annual Midwest Junto for the History of Science held here at the University of Minnesota this past weekend, I can only say that you missed out on one hell of a conference. Jole Shackelford did a fantastic job organizing the conference this year (with help from Jacob Steere-Williams and supposedly from me too, but I really don't deserve any thanks since I didn't do much more than say "yea, that sounds good"). Jole made sure that there were two things present throughout the weekend: good coffee and plenty of alcohol. Even if every paper had been horrible (and that was by no means the case), I would have considered this a good weekend just for those two reasons. Oh, and banquet on Saturday night at The Bakken was incredible. Cafe 421 catered and completely outdid themselves. The food was amazing, the company was great, and atmosphere was elegant.

So far in this Junto commentary I've complimented the coffee, the alcohol, the food, and the environment. As a grad student, I'm not sure what else really matters, but luckily we had great presentations and a large turn out to boot. I believe that the final number of attendees was 71 with sessions being well attended all day on Saturday and most of Sunday. Of course, the usual faculty suspects were all there, plus a good group of graduate students from various universities. A good cohort of Iowa State students made the road trip up from Ames, many of them presenting and the rest were familiar from last year when they hosted the event. We also had a good group of University of Oklahoma students make the trip up from Norman (stipends must be good down there in Soonerville, they all flew instead making it a roadtrip). Guest appearances also occurred by grad students from University of Wisconsin, Missouri, Eastern Illinois, and Missouri University of Science and Technology. We also had great presentations from what us graduate students would call "professionals" from Linda Hall Library and Duke University. I would discuss the papers that I most enjoyed, but that would just show how prejudice I am towards the history of biology....

In general, it was a lively and successful Junto. There was even a graduate student party on Saturday night after the banquet in which our carefully manufactured home brew was unveiled. It turns out, if this grad school thing doesn't work out, a few of us in the department could have a future in the brewing industry....see our new label here.

Next year's Junto is being held at the Linda Hall library in Kansas City. I've never been to Missouri or Kansas, so I look forward to seeing familiar faces in a new place next year!

April 5, 2008

Cross-posted from FHSA: News and Views

The history of American science as a field has certainly grown by leaps and bounds since the 1970s, but how much has that history filtered into the public consciousness?  
I've been pondering this question because Isaac Newton just came to my small town as part of his latest FMA Live tour.  Who knew that "Newt" was so cool?  
His website is great fun, including a brief history of Newton's career that ends with "Thanks, Newt.  Props to you for being the Man Behind the Motion!"   This program is sponsored by Honeywell and is aimed at getting middle-schoolers excited about science.  

My question for you Minnesotans is which American scientist should be next to go on tour?  And, more importantly, which instrument should they play since Newton already has a lock on lead guitar?   Feel free to post ideas at the FHSA blog.

March 10, 2008

Colloquium Review of Brian Woodcock's "Quantum State Collapse Along a Light Cone: History and Objections"

This past Friday Brian Woodcock, a visiting professor at Carleton College in Northfield, presented his latest work "Quantum State Collapse Along a Light Cone: History and Objections." Needless to say, if you are an avid philosopher of 20th Century Physics, you missed a good one. Now, as someone whose knowledge of quantum physics probably hurt his cause more than helped it, I found Dr. Woodcock's talk to be very engaging. First of all, there were many pretty, geometrical pictures to keep my mind stimulated. Secondly, Brian also did a very nice job of giving a "prep-talk" to the quantumly-challenged in the audience that went over - pictorially even - the general ideas presented in a space-time diagram; a diagram he used extensively in the rest of his talk. This pre-lecture was very informative and it certainly set the stage for the rest of his talk. I won't go into specifics because it would basically be just restating his abstract, but I do want to talk briefly about his conclusions, particularly the type of conclusions that he, and other philosophers make in general.

Overall, Woodcock's talk did include some good historical segments, though it was primarily philosophical. He discussed 3 main attempts to understand the quantum collapse over the years, dating back to the early 1960s. For the historians in the audience, these types of descriptions and analyses are familiar. However, like many of the philosophy of science talks that occur during colloquium (including last week's talk on philosophy of race and the use of it in statistical work), the speaker's conclusions tended to be prescriptive rather than descriptive. I think this is where philosophers and historians of science really differ. There are many approaches in the history of science that utilize conceptual and intellectual approaches that touch on many of the issues that philosophers attempt to deal with. Historians, however, do not make any conclusions about how science should work now. Though I have been spending a lot of time over in the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science lately, and have been thinking much more about the philosophical aspects of biology, I realize that this descriptive/prescriptive distinction is one that will always keep me registering for HSS rather than PSA when they are having their joint meeting.

March 5, 2008


Harvard just launched a database that might be useful or interesting for some of you. It's called "Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics" and "contains more than 500,000 pages of digitized books, serials, manuscripts, etc...designed to offer historical perspectives on epidemiology." (from

The database is located at

February 28, 2008

New Library Service

I thought you all might want to know about this new library service starting next week. Let me know if you have questions:

Starting March 3, 2008, requesting a book from a Twin Cities campus library will be a one-stop process for University of Minnesota faculty, staff and students. The “Get It” link in the availability page of the MNCat library catalog consolidates book requesting services currently found in 4 places:

* Recall –changing the due date of a book that has already been checked out for earlier pickup at any convenient campus library
* Point-to-Point - for delivery of books not checked out, to be picked up at a more convenient campus library than the owning library
* Libraries to U – for delivery of books to on-campus faculty/staff offices
* MLAC Paging - for MLAC deliveries

An additional service is now being offered with the “Get It” link:

* Paging – pulling books from the shelves of a library to be held for users at the Circulation Desk of that same library

Get It will also provide an additional route for users to request In Process and On Order items. These requests will be directed to Technical Services for processing.

Users will no longer have to fill out web forms, but will have user and book information pre-populated when they initiate a request after logging into their account. All the user will have to do is make a menu choice indicating where they would like the book to be sent for pickup! This will include an on-campus office for UM faculty and staff. Once a book is either returned or found on the shelf, shipping will take place within 48 hours on weekdays; most requests shipped within 24 hours.

February 19, 2008

Broomball Photos

G'day folks. I'd imagine you'd like nothing better to see pictures of us floundering about on the ice. Fortunately the IM sports department exists solely to make your wishes a reality. I was going to caption all of these with inanely flip comments, but it really mucks with the formatting and makes for about a thousand-yard post, so instead I'll let them speak for themselves (clicking on the photo will enlarge the photo, and decrease our dignity in equal proportion):

February 5, 2008

Congratulations to Sally Gregory Kohlstedt who will become director of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine Department on July 1, 2008. Many thanks to Alan Shapiro for his many years of service and dedication.

January 31, 2008

Minnesota Grad wins Nathan Reingold Prize

Congratulations to Hyung Wook Park, who was awarded the 2007 Nathan Reingold Prize for "'The Thin Rats Bury the Fat Rats': Animal Husbandry, Caloric Restriction, and the Making of a Cross-Disciplinary Research Project."  He is featured in the current issue of the History of Science Society newsletter.  The Nathan Reingold Prize (formerly known as the Ida & Henry Schuman Prize) is awarded each year to the best graduate student essay on the history of science and its cultural influences.  Park is the first graduate student from Minnesota to be awarded this prize in the over 50 years of the competition's existence.  Let's hope that he is starting a trend!  

January 30, 2008

A closer look at Evolutionary Psychology - A B.I.G. event

Last semester after John Jackson presented his work involving Evolutionary Psychology (EP), many of you expressed interest in understanding why EP has caused such a ruckus in both the scientific and philosophical communities. Well, never fear, B.I.G has volunteered to devote the next few meetings to the subject. Below is the B.I.G. schedule for the next few weeks (it's also posted online at the Minnesota Philosophy of Science website)

Topic 2: Evolutionary Psychology

February 1: Leda Cosmides & John Tooby, "Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer" online publication,

February 8: John Dupré, "The Evolutionary Psychology of Sex and Gender", chapter 4 of Human Nature and the Limits of Science, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001, pp. 44 - 69.

February 15: John Dupré, "The Charms and Consequences of Evolutionary Psychology", chapter 4 of Human Nature and the Limits of Science, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001, pp. 70 - 92

Since many of you expressed interest in attending such a discussion, I hope you will be able to find some time over the next three weeks to attend. As usual, B.I.G. meets at 10:45-12pm in Heller Hall rm 737. It's an informal group, so feel free to come late or leave early. I look forward to seeing you there!

January 27, 2008

Congrats Bart!

From all the HSTM graduate students, I would just like to say congrats to Bart Moffatt on his new job as Philosopher of Biology at Mississippi State University. He will be joining what is becoming a vibrant community of historians and philosophers of science, one of which is our own Susan Rensing. As Susan is fond of saying, "The South is the new Midwest." Being from the east coast, I really don't know exactly what that means, but I figure it's a good thing.

Bart, you've been in the philosophy department for 8 years now, but it's like we hardly knew ya. Good luck!


The HSTM broomball team for Spring 2008 is rapidly taking shape. If I have not already contacted you about playing, and you would like a spot on the team, please email me (UMN email ID: mart1901) as soon as possible with your ID number.

Games will take place at Ridder arena. Times are to be determined, but if there are any nights of the week you absolutely cannot play, let me know and I will try to accommodate as many people as possible.

The rules PDF is available from the IM sports website. The team registration fee will be $90, so it shouldn't be more than $10 per person, and likely less if we can get some numbers. To that end, if you know anyone else who might like to play, please have them send me their info.

No prior experience or equipment is required.

As a final order of business, I am also taking suggestions for a team name.

January 26, 2008

The Strevens talk - a Michel reaction

Though I had volunteered to write up a quick review/reaction to the Strevens talk yesterday, Michel has beaten me to it (to my delight I must say). Michel has not entered the blog world as of yet, so I have posted his review below. Enjoy.

I thought I'd type up my reaction to yesterday's talk, focusing unsurprisingly on the exchange Antigone and I had with the speaker in Q&A. Here is a handout I have used in my COI class to deep-six instance confirmation. That may be helpful to those who weren't familiar already with the ravens. In what follows I assume everybody is.

So Strevens avoids some of Hempel's problems by recasting all ravens are black as a causal claim. That's a steep price to get out of trouble. As John Norton never tires of pointing out, it's not much help to cast your account of confirmation in terms of concepts that are even more poorly understood such as explanation or causation. But since IBE (inference to the best explanation) is my favorite account of confirmation, that objection doesn't carry too much weight with me (though bringing in causation would presumably set Hempel spinning in his grave).

The main problem with the account, it seems to me, is that the sliver of confirmation that he's looking at is just not where the action is in real science. Antigone put it very nicely in Q&A. In real science, you're not interested in confirming that all ravens are black, but in confirming some causal story about how raven-ness causes black-ness. And that claim is only indirectly confirmed on Strevens' account. He conceded when I asked him that that's not instance confirmation but something like IBE. In that case, IBE does all the interesting work. I think, however, that he was too quick conceding that point and later in discussion he actually had a better line of defense. Suppose you have two competing causal accounts of how raven-ness causes blackness. As long as they both entail that all ravens are black, the observation of yet another black raven indirectly confirms both of these accounts equally well. Other confirmation mechanisms (Bayes, IBE), it seems, need to be brought to distinguish between them. But, as Strevens pointed out, that's not necessarily true. These causal accounts correspond in real science to high-level theories which entail other laws subject to instance confirmation besides the one about ravens. So even though it may be a draw as far as the ravens are concerned, one may beat the other on some other entailed law that is subject to instance confirmation. So instance confirmation plus the indirect confirmation of higher level theories can capture more than one would think just focusing on the ravens. Still, the typical situation in science is probably NOT the one where you have two perfectly good competing accounts, but one in which you barely have the beginnings of one reasonable account. In that situation, the real work is done by IBE.

It was a strange experience listening to this talk about instance confirmation. It was a bit like someone telling me, after I thought I'd decisively overcome it at the age of 15, that there's something to Catholicism after all. So, I was very focused on what Strevens would say about the problems that killed instance confirmation for me. To me the white shoe is really indicative of two much more general problems with Hempel's account. The first is that it shows that it's hopeless to have a purely syntactic criterion of confirmation (of course, the grue paradox drives that point home even more forcefully). Strevens avoids that one by bringing in causation. But there's another problem that Strevens doesn't address. He's still assuming that the empirical domain of the theory can be carved up into instances independently of the high-level theory that is being tested. The white shoe illustrates that problem very nicely. The mechanism through which the white shoe seems to confirm that all ravens are black is what at Pitt back in the days we called "content cutting." If you spell out the set of instances in advance, the white shoe confirms because it eliminates a potential falsifier (an instance that could have been the dreaded non-black raven turns out to be another innocuous non-raven). Strevens' response to that one was that the hypothesis subjected to instance confirmation does the individuating of the instances. I don't believe that. It's the high-level theory that does that. That seems obvious in physics (but maybe that's because I'm a diehard Kantian), so I asked Ken Waters whether he could give me an example from the biological sciences. He mentioned ecology, which sounds like a great example to me. For these reasons I remain skeptical about instance confirmation.

Respectfully submitted,

January 23, 2008

Job Talk - Paola Bertucci - Friday

Just a reminder, Paola Bertucci will be giving her job talk this Friday (to try and fill the shoes of Michel next year while he is on sabbatical).

Her talk is entitled "Silk and Sparks. A story of a journey between science and espionage in mid-eighteenth-century Italy" and will be in Vincent Hall, Room 20 from 11:15-12:15pm. Afterwards, Dr. Bertucci will be joining the current graduate students for lunch between 12:15 and 1:15pm. Please get in touch with Sara, who is coordinating the lunch, if you are a grad student interested in attending.

January 22, 2008

MyLibrary - from Stephanie, CBI Assistant Archivist

Hello from your friendly neighborhood archivist! Nathan has kindly invited me to contribute to your HSTM blog. I just wanted to let you all know of a new service the U Libraries have just rolled out, called MyLibrary. It's accessible through your MyU portal and through the library:

You need your UMN ID and password to log in.

Here's a snippet from library tech whiz Shane, who can summarize this better than I can:

Some of the features of myLibrary include librarian resource suggestions and recommended libraries for users based on department or discipline affiliation, the ability for users to save databases and ejournals to the page, easy access to MNCAT account information, and links and access to some of most popular services and tools offered by the libraries. All of these personalization and customization services are also available to our users through the myLibrary tab of MyU ( The myLibrary page can be accessed by saving a resource using the "Add To myLibrary" buttons located throughout the site, and at the top of the main web site header in the "myLibrary" toolbar link.

Good luck! Also, don't forget to visit CBI's blog. It's linked on the sidebar.

So I hear they have the internet on computers now

This thing is pretty handy, thanks Susan and Nathan.

In the interest of using it in the spirit in which I believe it was intended, here's a retrospective of this weekend's US Pond Hockey Championships, in which Maggie C, Jake, and I participated (along with a couple ringers) representing HSTM as "Maxwell's Demons".

Unfortunately, we came out of the weekend 0-4, do largely to a skiing injury that left Maggie on the IR, and the rest of us skating with no subs. Other than that, I think we acquitted ourselves and the program quite well on the ice, with both our perseverance and our snappy dress. Here is some photographic evidence that we were, in fact, out on the pond freezing our asses off at sparrow fart this weekend. You can click on any of these for a larger version:

This is the warming tent (actual warming subject to availability). We found out the full force of that disclaimer Saturday morning when we arrived and the gas had frozen overnight, leaving it a balmy -10° F or so inside. But then again, it's not the heat so much as the humidity that gets you.)

To you this might represent a crisp winter morning down by the lake where ruddy-cheeked little boys and girls play game in its purest form. To us it represents the crippling horror of having to shovel off several thousand square feet of rink before actually getting to play.

The jersey of our fallen comrade. Stay tuned for details of the number retiring ceremony to be held before next year's tournament.

When I asked this guy what he was up to, he simply mumbled that he dug it out, so it was his goddamn parking spot, and he'd be hog-tied and whipped with a bike chain before he let some snot-nosed, free-loading punk with a metastasized sense of entitlement take it from him.

Here's some in-game action, and a rare display of offense on our part.

This is Jake streaking up the wing. Come to think of it, an honest to goodness streaker could really have been an excellent tactical option for emergency situations. If you're willing to fill that role next year, get in touch.

I can't think of anything even remotely amusing to say about this picture.

This is a perfect example of why while the scoreboard might lead you to believe we were outclassed, closer examination reveals quite the opposite. I mean, look at those slobs. The bouncer must have been napping.

Despite our outlandish getups seeming restrictive, we found that coattails provide some loft, and result in increased stride frequency. We are negotiating with Easton Sports over licensing tweed-based performance technology (patent pending).

I'm providing a bit of extra scroll space here, because the next picture contains Cloverfield spoilers. You have been warned.


Thanks to Maggie for the photography, and for hanging around on the sidelines, freezing much more than we were, despite being unable to play.

January 21, 2008


Welcome to the new blog for the program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine! This blog is meant to be a forum for any number of HSTM related subjects. I would hope that this blog can be a place where current faculty and grad students can discuss weekly colloquia, where alumni and others can post about upcoming articles, books, and general updates (both personal and professional), and where general HSTM ideas, events, and discussions can be posted on a regular basis.

This blog is very new and I would welcome any suggestions of content to include on the side bar at any time. Right now there is a small list of links and a few upcoming 2008 events. I would hope that both of these will expand over time. Also permanently on the side bar is the weekly colloquium series schedule. If you have any questions specifically about the schedule you should contact Barbara Eastwold, the administrative assistant for the program, as I am merely a blog administrator/graduate student and wield no real power.

Again, please feel free to post at any time. Anybody is welcome to post. If you have serious doubts about the inception of this blog or great praise for its creation, all flattery and blame should be directed to Dr. Susan Rensing as this was her brain child. Enjoy!