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, http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html

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: https://www.lib.umn.edu/mylibrary/

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 (https://www.myu.umn.edu). 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. http://blog.lib.umn.edu/horow021/cbi

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!