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Department of History and Philosophy of Science

 

College: Darwin

Supervisor: Hasok Chang   

Thesis topic: The Making of the Modern Earth: Measurement and Modelling in Physical Geodesy

PhD Summary: Understanding the inferential structure and justification of scientific measurements is a crucial problem for scientists and philosophers of science alike. However, the classical views that have informed philosophical theories of measurement and various attempts to establish new quantitative measures are almost exclusively based on case studies from experimental physics or behavioural science. My work aims to enrich our understanding of the aims and justification of measurement by focussing on central problems in the modern history of physical geoscience, where measured systems are highly complex and partially inaccessible, while it is virtually impossible to shield measurements from confounding perturbations. In particular, I study how physical geodesists successfully measured the most basic theoretical parameters of the earth, describing its shape, interior density distribution, and gravity field. While earth models involving these parameters are taken for granted in virtually all geoscientific research, accurately measuring them was one of the most challenging tasks in the modern history of science. I provide novel historical analyses of central developments in physical geodesy, including the construction of the first mathematical models and measurements of planetary figures (1680-1730), the emergence of theoretical and statistical methods of data correction (1755-1820), responses to persistent discordances (1820-1870), and the eventual agreements on a unified model of the earth's figure and gravity field (1880-1930). Throughout these historical studies, I analyze (i) why geodetic measurement was so difficult, (ii) how geodesists conceptualised the aims of their measurements, and (iii) by which means they solved their measurement problems. My responses to these questions challenge the canonical views on (i) the epistemic structure of measurement problems, (ii) how the success of measurements should be evaluated, and (iii) what methodological strategies scientists can use to solve measurement problems. 

 

General research interests: I have been primarily working in the HPS of measurement and geoscience (incl. adjacent areas of physics and astronomy), but I am also deeply interested in the epistemic and political implications of privatizing science, the global and political history of physical science, and various issues in the general philosophy of science.

 

Selected Publications:

(6) The Promises and Pitfalls of Precision: Measurement and Systematic Error in Physical Geodesy, 1800-1910. Annals of Science. S.I.: Promises of Precision (forthcoming).

(5) Pluralizing Measurement: Physical Geodesy’s Measurement Problem and its Resolution, 1880-1924. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science A (forthcoming).

(4) How Incoherent Measurement Succeeds: Coordination and Success in the Measurement of the Earth’s Polar Flattening. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science A 88 (2021), 45-62.  

(3) Theodolites at 20000 Feet: Justifying Precision Measurement during the Trigonometrical Survey of Kashmir, 1855-65. Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science (2021).

(2) The Limits of Conventional Justification: Industry Bias and Inductive Risk beyond Conventionalism. Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics, S.I.: Public Research and Private Knowledge – Science in Times of Diverse Research Funding (2020).

(1) Aktiver Realismus und die Geltungsansprüche wissenschaftlicher Wahrheiten, in Michael Jungert, Andreas Frewer, Erasmus Mayr (eds.): Wissenschaftsreflexion: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven zwischen Philosophie und Praxis (Paderborn: Mentis, 2020).

 

Selected Talks: 

(9) Pluralizing Measurement: Physical Geodesy’s Measurement Problem and its Resolution, 1880-1924, Du Châtelet Award Lecture, Duke University (2022)

(8) Building a Model from Scratch: Gravity, the Earth’s Figure, and the Problems of Measurement in Geoscience, 1680-1924, Sedgwick Club Lecture, Department of Earth Science, University of Cambridge (2022)

(7) The 'Problem of the Earth's Figure' and the Logic of Measurement in Modern Geoscience, Darwin College Science Seminar, University of Cambridge (2022)

(6) From Enemy to Ally: Gravity Anomalies in the History of Physical Geodesy, European Society for the History of Science Graduate Conference, Athens University (2021)

(5) Two Kinds of Industry Bias: From Conventionalism to Empiricism, Public Research and Private Knowledge: Science in Times of Diverse Research Funding, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg. (2021)

(4) Coherence and Success in Model-Mediated Measurement, Complexity and Explanation: Rotman Philosophy of Science Graduate Conference, University of Western Ontario. (2021)

(3) How Incoherent Measurement succeeds: Coordination and Success in the Measurement of the Earth’s Polar Flattening, Philosophy of Science Graduate Conference, Boston University (2021)

(2) Theodolites at 20000 feet: Justifying Precision Measurement during the Trigonometrical Survey of Kashmir, 1855-65, Promises of Precision: Questioning Precision in Precision Instruments, Mathematisch-Physikaliscer Salon, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (2021)

(1) How to be a Pluralistic Realist, Philosophy of Physics Graduate Conference, University of Oxford (2020)

 

Awards:

Du Châtelet Prize in Philosophy of Physics (2021)

Vice Chancellor’s and Darwin College PhD Scholarship, University of Cambridge (2020)

Peter Lipton PhD Studentship, Department of HPS Cambridge (not accepted)

Kurt-Hahn Scholarship, University of Cambridge (2019)

Graduate Scholarship of the German Academic Exchange Service (2019)

Personal Scholarship of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (2017)

 

Outreach:

Why does measurement need an epistemology and what could it look like? Elucidations: Philosophy Blog by the University of Chicago (2021)

The Map of Kashmir that almost did not get made, Interview with Chandrima Banerjee, The Times of India, 18 Mar Edition (2021).

Structuring Imperial Knowledge about India at the Great Exhibition of 1851. History of Knowledge: Blog by the German Historical Institute Washington (2019).

 

Teaching:

Cambridge University     

  • HPS Part 1B, Introduction to Philosophy of Science (2020-21)
  • HPS Part 2, Epistemology and Metaphysics of Science (2021-22)

KTH Royal University of Stockholm

  • Guest Lecture on "Inductive Risk for Engineers", Scientific Methodology Seminar, Department of Engineering (2020/21)
  • Guest Lecture on "Values in Science", Scientific Methodology Seminar, Department of Engineering (2021/22)

University of Porto           

  • Literary Investigations: Twentieth-Century Anglophone Literature and the Philosophy of Ordinary Language (2018-19)

University of Kassel         

  • Historical Research Methodologies (2016/17, 2017/18)
  • Global Ethics (2017/18)

 

Professional Service:

I am a reviewer for the European Journal of Philosophy of Science, co-admin of the humanities working group in the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung), and a representative of the Early Career Scholar Network in the European Society for the History of Science​​​​​​ (and I tweet for them too!). In Cambridge, I am co-organizing the Pragmatism Reading Group, the Integrating HPS seminar, and the Measurement Therapy group. Feel free to reach out to me regarding any of these!