skip to content

Department of History and Philosophy of Science

 

College: Darwin

Supervisor: Hasok Chang      Advisor: Richard Staley

Thesis topic: The Problem of the Earth’s Figure: Measurement, Theory, and Evidence 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 are almost exclusively based on laboratory physics or behavioural science. My work aims to enrich our understanding of measurement by focusing on the history of physical geodesy - the science concerned with modelling and measuring the earth's shape and gravitational field. The earth is a large and partially inaccessible physical system, while it is often impossible to shield geodetic measurements from confounding perturbations. These contexts distinguish geodetic measurement from classical examples used to illustrate the structure and development of scientific measurement. In my project, 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), geodesy's central role in confirming Newtonian particle-to-particle gravitation (1755-1820), responses to persistent discordances (1820-1870), and the eventual agreement on a unified model of the earth's figure and gravitational field (1880-1930).

 

General research interests: I have been primarily working in the history and philosophy of measurement in the earth and planetary sciences (incl. relevant 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:

(8) The Epistemic Privilege of Measurement: Motivating a Functionalist Account. Philosophy of Science (forthcoming). philsci-archive preprint.

(7) Newton as Geodesist: The Problem of the Earth’s Figure and the Argument for Universal Gravitation, Newsletter of the American Physical Society (forthcoming).

(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 96 (2022), 51-67.

(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: 

(14) Newton as Geodesist: The Problem of the Earth’s Figure and the Argument for Universal Gravitation, FHPP Award Lecture. April Meeting of the American Physical Society, Minneapolis (2023)

(13) [With Cristian Larroulet Philippi]: Is Physical Measurement Relevantly Similar to Psychological Measurement? Workshop: Coordination and Validity in Measurement across Science and Medicine, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science Berlin (2023).

(12) Old and New Problems in Geodetic Modelling. Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Harvard University (2022).

(11) The Epistemology of Large-Scale Measurement in Physical Geoscience. International Conference on Large-Scale Experiments: Reflecting on Theories and Practices, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (2022).

(10) The Epistemic Privilege of Measurement: Motivating a Functionalist Account. Philosophy of Science Association, 28th Biennial Meeting, Pittsburgh (2022).

(9) Making Meaning at a Global Scale: A Realistic View on Conceptual Change in Physical Geoscience, Realism for Realistic People: Copenhagen-Cambridge Symposium on Hasok Chang’s Philosophy of Science, University of Copenhagen (2022).

(8) Industry Bias beyond Conventionalism Conventions in Science Workshop, University of Salzburg (2022)

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

(6) 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)

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

(4) 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)

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

American Physical Society's History and Philosophy of Physics Essay Price (2022)

Du Châtelet Prize in Philosophy of Physics, Duke University (2021)

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

Rausing PhD Studentship, Department of HPS Cambridge (not accepted)

Kurt-Hahn Scholarship, University of Cambridge (2019)

Graduate Scholarship of the German Academic Exchange Service (2019)

JRAAS Junior Research Fellowship, Faculty of Humanities, University of Porto (2018)

Personal Scholarship of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (2017)

 

Outreach:

“Early Career Spotlight: Miguel Ohnesorge,” American Geophysical Union <agu.org> (forthcoming).

Discussion with Matt Teichman on the philosophy of measurement, Elucidations Podcast (forthcoming).

“Why Geophysics needs History and Philosophy”, Science and Society Dialogue, American Geophysical Union, 8 Nov 2022.

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

Why does measurement need an epistemology and what could it look like? Elucidations: Philosophy Blog by the University of Chicago (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 2, Science in the Age of Empire (2022-23)
  • HPS Part 2, Philosophy and Scientific Practice (2022-23)
  • HPS Part 2, Epistemology and Metaphysics of Science (2021-22)
  • HPS Part 1B, Introduction to Philosophy of Science (2020-21)

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)

Boston University     

  • Guest Lecture on "Ethics of Measurement", Philosophy of Science Undergraduate Course, Department of Philosophy (2021/22)

University of Porto           

  • Literature and Philosophy of Language (2018-19)

University of Kassel         

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

 

Professional Service:

I am a member of the Histories of the Earth Sciences for the Future working group in the American Geophysical Union​​​​​​ and affiliated with the Philosophy of the Geosciences research group at Boston University. 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!