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Department of History and Philosophy of Science



Departmental Seminars

Seminars take place on Thursdays from 3.30pm to 5pm in Seminar Room 2.

Organised by Jacob Stegenga.

19 January

Sabina Leonelli (University of Exeter)
Against presence empiricism

The datafication of society is said to be revolutionizing how researchers investigate the world, resulting in improved scientific communications, faster data integration and analysis, and more reliable outputs. Big and Open Data exemplify the newest frontier of empirical research, and scientific success in extracting knowledge from such objects is often hailed as demonstrating the power of (increasingly automated) inductive reasoning: science as the collection and interpretation of facts about the world. In this lecture, I critique this view of scientific inquiry, which is predicated on the existence and availability of documents of the world from which insights can be distilled. Building on in-depth, long-term studies of data practices in the biological and biomedical practices, I review the multiple failures of this form of empiricism, drawing attention especially to the intersection of moral and epistemic problems that this approach to research fails to address or even to recognize as significant, with severe implications for the reliability and the robustness of the knowledge thereby generated. The study of research practices calls for an alternative framing of empirical inquiry focused on the limitations of data as research components and the value judgements involved in using data as scientific evidence. Throughout my discussion, I pay homage to the seminal role played by members of the Cambridge HPS Department – and particularly Simon Schaffer, Peter Lipton and Hasok Chang – in shaping our field's approach to research practices, including my own ideas on the epistemic role of data, experiments and inference.

26 January, 4.00–5.30
Eighteenth Cambridge Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine

He Bian (Princeton University)
Live, and let live: medical recipes and technique of the socialized self across the Ming-Qing transition

Medical recipes (fang) have featured centrally in the 'art of living' popular among the educated elite during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Previous literature has highlighted the lavish attention to material objects and luxury goods among late Ming literati as result from the rise of global trade and money economy, seeing the popularity of expensive remedies as integral to the monetization of literati subjectivity. In this talk, I argue that the spectre of social welfare has always haunted the self-centered discourse of the Chinese art of living, even during an era when the imperial government abandoned earlier efforts to regulate medical practice. Through a closer look at how medical recipes were collected, transmitted, and published throughout the seventeenth century across the tumultuous dynastic transition, I trace the re-emergence of sociality in medical discourses as expressed through the phrase 'longevity for the world' (shoushi).

2 February

Eric Winsberg (University of South Florida)
What can Covid modelling during the pandemic teach us about public participation in science?

Values play an ineliminable role in science whenever scientists endorse factual claims. They also become entwined with science whenever scientists build models. Scientists, however, do not always hold a range of values that canvasses the whole spectrum of values held by the public. The goal of this talk is to open a discussion of what to do about this situation, through the lens of recent history: the role of modelling in the Covid-19 pandemic. I start by articulating a framework for understanding the role of values in science that distinguishes the endorsement of facts from the building of representational tools like models. I then use that framework to discuss the famous Imperial College of London model: Covidsim. I then discuss three recent proposals for how scientists, engaged with public policy questions, ought to manage values and I argue that recent history shows how two such proposals are bound to miss the mark. I also show the enormous challenges that the third proposal, the one that calls for a role for public participation in science, will have to surmount if it is going to be successful.

9 February


16 February


23 February

Zeynep Pamuk (LSE)
Rationalizing discrimination

Statistical discrimination is typically defined as the use of statistical generalizations about ascriptive identities, such as race or gender, as a proxy for individual attributes that are unknown and difficult to observe. While moral and political philosophers have questioned whether it is fair, they usually concede that it is rational. This paper examines the invention of the concept of statistical discrimination in neoclassical economic models of the labor market in the 1970s and exposes the problematic presuppositions behind the claim that it constitutes a distinctly rational and nonprejudiced form of discrimination. I show that these models followed standard disciplinary fictions of economics without considering their accuracy or plausibility in the discrimination case, and the empirical literature has accepted these assumptions without verifying them. The result has been a conceptual blind spot around the possibility of prejudiced but belief-driven discrimination, as well as the popularization of a problematic notion of rationality whose normative effect is to condone profit maximization. I go on to show how findings of statistical discrimination in the empirical literature have been used to push for policy prescriptions that exonerate those who discriminate as a side effect of the pursuit of profit, while putting the burdens of discrimination on those who are discriminated against.

2 March


9 March



Coffee with Scientists

The aim of this group is to explore and enhance the interface between HPS and science. Although many of us in HPS engage closely with scientists and their practices, we could benefit from more explicit discussions about the relationship between HPS and science itself, and from more opportunities for HPS-scholars and scientists to help each other's work.

We meet on Fridays, 3.30–5.00pm (unless otherwise indicated). This academic year we are running a mixture of in-person and online meetings (but not hybrid). Further information, any reading materials, and links for online meetings will be distributed through the email list of the group; please contact Hasok Chang (hc372) if you would like to be included on the list.

We are pleased to continue coordinating our activities with the 'Coffee with Clinicians' series; however, that series will be taking a pause this term.

20 January

In-person meeting: Seminar Room 2
Naomi van de Berg (MRC Toxicology Unit), Chris Cheng (Medicine), and Inigo Howe (Engineering)
How to combat disinformation about science


Cabinet of Natural History

This research seminar is concerned with all aspects of the history of natural history and the field and environmental sciences. The regular programme of papers and discussions takes place over lunch on Mondays. In addition, the Cabinet organises a beginning-of-year fungus hunt and occasional expeditions to sites of historical and natural historical interest, and holds an end-of-year garden party.

Seminars are held on Mondays at 1pm in Seminar Room 1 in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Free School Lane, Cambridge, and online over Zoom. The sessions on 30 January and 6, 13, 20, and 27 February will be online only.

It is no longer necessary to book in person attendance, but please follow the Department's general guidance for the safety of all participants. To join online, no booking will be required. Zoom links will be circulated beforehand.

Organised by Silvia M. Marchiori (smm218).

23 January

Anna-Luna Post (HPS, University of Cambridge)
Natural gains or capital down the drain? The debate over the draining of the Haarlemmermeer

The seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, strongly impacted by the 'Little Ice Age', saw the rise of large-scale projects designed to improve lands for agriculture and counter the risks of flooding. Though not as heavily debated as similar initiatives in early modern England, such projects did give rise to discussions about the proper ways to intervene in and exploit nature. In this paper, Anna-Luna Post will examine the debate over the potential draining of the Haarlemmermeer between two landmeters, Jan Adriaenszoon Leeghwater and Claes Arentsen Coleveldt. She will explore their published treatises to reveal opposing views on man's relation to nature, risk and profit, the public interest, and the expertise needed to serve it.

30 January: online only

Frederick Crofts (Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen)
Picturing the world, fashioning the self: Marcus zum Lamm collects naturalia in Calvinist Heidelberg

Between 1564 and 1606 the Heidelberg lawyer, courtier, Calvinist church councillor, and 'lover of the painted arts' Marcus zum Lamm (1544–1606) collected an unprecedented 'storehouse' of images and texts, the Thesaurus Picturarum. The thirty-three surviving volumes of Lamm's Thesaurus approach an encyclopaedic assortment of themes, ranging from illustrated chronicles, diary entries, and religious polemic, through to ornithology, meteorology, astrology, teratology, prodigies, art, topography, costumes, and ethnography. Lamm's Thesaurus represents a subjective prism through which to view the development of Calvinist Heidelberg's extraordinary moment of religious and cultural assurance prior to the Thirty Years' War (1618–48). Moreover, it demonstrates the instrumentality of artworks, object collections, international networks, and global knowledge production for achieving the politico-religious ambitions of the Palatine electors and their court at Heidelberg. By examining Lamm's many natural philosophical images and reports in the wider context of his collection, this talk argues that the Thesaurus Picturarum needs to be interpreted as a visual ego-document. As such, Frederick Crofts will reveal the ways a Reformed courtier combined his love of art and natural knowledge with autobiographical details in order to build his world and connect with others. Frederick will argue that Lamm's naturalia collection helped him to project his self-image as an indispensable servant of Calvinism and the state; provided him with a potent means of forging emotional bonds within his milieu; and formed an integral part of his self-narrative as a divinely appointed witness to Heidelberg's unfolding destiny at the centre of international Protestantism.

6 February: online only

Jan Becker (European University Institute)
Preadamites on Ambon in the 1680s

In 1686, Ambon was the site of a dispute over the origins of humankind. The Leiden-trained physician and governor of Ambon Robertus Padtbrugge (1637–1703) and the VOC employee and naturalist Georg Eberhard Rumphius (1627–1702) could not reconcile their respective exegeses. In particular, they disagreed on Isaac de la Peyrère's book Prae Adamitae (1655), which challenged the notion of Adam being the first human to have lived and which was part of Rumphius's library. In contrast to Padtbrugge, Rumphius strictly rejected the historicity of Preadamites. How did their readings of the Prae Adamitae relate to slavery, medicine, and natural history on the island? And how did the Chinese and Ambonese inhabitants of the island shape the book's meaning? In this talk, Jan Becker will analyse how the Prae Adamitae was read on Ambon.

13 February: online only

Taylor E. Dysart (University of Pennsylvania)
Encountering Ayahuasca in the devil's paradise: Amazonian science and Victorian violence in the nineteenth century

This talk explores how nineteenth-century naturalists simultaneously characterized caapí, a liana, or thick woody vine, as a valuable global botanical specimen and a potent Amazonian narcotic. After Richard Spruce (1817–1893), a British botanist, first observed the Tukano peoples consuming caapí in 1852, he eagerly began to collect and classify plant specimens as well as accompanying cultural artifacts and ethnographic observations. Along with the Yorkshireman, naturalists from along the Americas speculated as to which Indigenous tribes consumed caapí and for what purpose, and which plants were responsible for the remarkable effects that they had observed. Informed by debates about the abolition of slavery in Brazil and the violent extractive economies of the Amazon, these naturalists came to understand caapí as intertwined with tropical degeneration, primitivism, and the infamous 'narcotics' of the nineteenth century.

20 February


27 February: online only

Xinyi Wen (HPS, Cambridge)
Extra-illustrating natural history in early modern England

A hand-coloured image of Iris flower, clipped out of a copy of Rembert Dodoens' A Nievve Herball, and pasted into a cheap, unillustrated herbal that endorsed the infamous doctrine of signatures – William Coles' Adam in Eden (1656) – under the entry of Iris. In a copy of Adam in Eden, currently held at the Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy, Oxford, clip-pasted illustrations like this filled the volume, along with many plant illustrations directly drawn onto the page. Evidence has shown that these fascinating illustrations and extra-illustrations were probably made by German botanist Johann Jacob Dillenius (1684–1747), the first Sherardian professor of botany at Oxford and a botanical illustrator. Extensive extra-illustrations of plants were also found in several botanical books owned by C17–18 Oxford botanists, including John Goodyer, William How, and William Sherard.

This paper argues that extra-illustration has been a crucial paper technique for early modern English botanists. Extra-illustration or grangerising, commonly defined as 'the practice of augmenting a copy of a book with prints, manuscripts or other illustrative material' that flourished in late C18–C19, has been a curious subject of book history. Historians often interpret extra-illustration as an antiquarian 'gentle pastime'; however, the Oxford botanists' practices show us that extra-illustration was a professional, scholarly activity crucial for identifying species, developing taxonomies, and facilitating publications. By focusing on extra-illustrations, this paper emphasises materiality and active engagement in early modern botanical reading, and challenges our usual idea of what a 'book' is.

6 March

Francesco Bianchini (King's College, Cambridge)
Water, politics and health across the Bay of Bengal

In this talk, Francesco Bianchini will address various sources concerned with water and water usage in medieval South and Southeast Asia. In particular, he will look at the sponsoring of water management infrastructures and their connections with communal health. The methodology adopted aims at bringing epigraphy, ayurvedic texts, as well as archaeology and Buddhist monastic codes into a constructive dialogue.

13 March

Max Long (History, University of Cambridge)
'Photography versus the pest': Shell chemicals, mass media and pesticides in post-war Britain

This paper explores the intersections between industrial agriculture, mass media, and extraction by examining colour photographs and films produced by the oil and chemicals corporation Royal Dutch Shell in post-Second World War Britain. In the 1940s, new potent organochloride pesticides entered the agricultural market, promising to revolutionise productivity. Many of these were made from byproducts of oil refining, and were manufactured by oil companies like Shell. To market these new products, Shell spared no expense in the production of glossy photographs and vivid films intended to help farmers to 'visualise' the pests that threatened their crops. These images often drew on the expertise of natural history photographers and filmmakers, who had finessed techniques of visualising insects and other pests over the preceding decades. This paper offers a detailed examination of Shell's marketing in the 1950s and early 1960s and its use of scientific images.


Classics of Cambridge HPS

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Department, the Classics of Cambridge HPS seminar series takes a commemorative look at some of the field-changing works produced by Cambridge scholars over the decades. We are inviting distinguished alumni of the Department to present these works, in discussion with the authors themselves whenever possible.

Video recordings of these seminars are available online.

31 January

Joseph Needham, 'Poverties and Triumphs of the Chinese Scientific Tradition' and 'Science and Society in East and West', presented by Jiří Hudeček

7 February

Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump, presented by Rob Iliffe

14 February

No seminar, due to UCU strike

21 February

No seminar, due to UCU strike

24 February (Friday), at 3.30pm in Seminar Room 2

Nick Jardine, Scenes of Inquiry, and The Birth of History and Philosophy of Science

28 February

No seminar, due to UCU strike

7 March

Liba Taub, '"Eratosthenes Sends Greetings to King Ptolemy": Reading the Contents of a "Mathematical" Letter', presented by Emma Perkins

14 March

Michael Hoskin, 'Newton, Providence and the Universe of Stars', presented by Seb Falk


History of Medicine

Seminars, supported by Wellcome, are on Tuesdays from 5.00 to 6.30pm in Seminar Room 1 unless otherwise stated. All welcome!

Early Science and Medicine

Organised by Dániel Margócsy and Philippa Carter.

17 January: exceptional event at 11am in Seminar Room 2

Joyce Dixon (University of Edinburgh)
'Description, figure and colour combined': in search of perfection in zoological representation, c. 1820–1850

31 January

Trude Dijkstra (University of Amsterdam)
Boiling it down: Chinese tea in the first Dutch medical journal, 1680–1688

14 March

Tina Asmussen (Bergbaumuseum Bochum – Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Mining ecologies: socio-natural landscapes of extraction and knowledge in the early modern period

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

Organised by Salim Al-Gailani, Mary Brazelton, Staffan Müller-Wille and Dmitriy Myelnikov.

24 January

Tracey Loughran (University of Essex)
Finding women's 'everyday health': testimonies and experiences

14 February


7 March

Dora Yao (University of Cambridge)
Medicine workers in the mountains: upland gatherers in the Min River Valley and China's natural medicinal products trade, 1890–1960

Generation to Reproduction

Organised by Salim Al-Gailani and Dániel Margócsy.

7 February

Camilla Røstvik (University of Aberdeen)
'Scandinavian, safe and sanitary!' The commercialisation of menstruation in Norway and Sweden, 1940–1990



CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) is a network of academics and students working in the philosophy of science in various parts of the University of Cambridge, including the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and the Faculty of Philosophy. The Wednesday afternoon seminar series features current research by CamPoS members as well as visitors to Cambridge and scholars based in nearby institutions. In the 2022–23 year, CamPoS is being organised by Jacob Stegenga (HPS) and Neil Dewar (Philosophy).

Seminars are held on Wednesdays, 1.00–2.30pm in Seminar Room 2.

25 January

Uwe Peters (Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, Cambridge)
Linguistic discrimination, processing fluency, and the foreign language effect in science

The English language now dominates scientific communications. Yet, many scientists are not English native speakers. Their proficiency in the language is often more limited, and their scientific contributions (e.g., manuscripts) in English may frequently contain linguistic features that disrupt the fluency of a reader's or listener's information processing even when the contributions are understandable. Scientific gatekeepers (e.g., journal reviewers) sometimes cite these features to justify negative decisions on manuscripts. Such justifications may rest on the prima facie plausible assumption that linguistic characteristics that hinder fast and easy understandability of scientific contributions are epistemically undesirable in science. I shall raise some doubts about this assumption by drawing on empirical research on processing fluency. I also argue that directing scientists with English as a foreign language toward approaching native-level English (as science journals commonly do) can have the negative consequence of reducing their potential to make scientific belief formation more reliable. These points suggest that one seemingly compelling justification for linguistically discriminating against potentially many scientific contributions in non-native English is questionable and that the common insistence by scientific gatekeepers on native-like English can be epistemically harmful to science.

1 February


8 February

Tarun Menon (Azim Premji University)
The causal structure of cultural domination

Cultural domination, while ostensibly a species of the genus 'domination', has features which apparently separate it from other forms of domination. In particular, it has often been claimed that cultural domination does not require the presence of an active dominating agent or group. An example of this non-agential domination is the 'colonisation of the mind' by an alien culture which is purported to persist in post-colonial societies. I attempt to investigate the explanatory role that the concept of 'cultural domination' may play in social science by identifying a causal structure that is standardly considered characteristic of domination, and describing conditions under which that structure can be found in archetypical cases of cultural domination. It turns out that the presence of the relevant structure in particular cases depends on the notion of 'culture' one adopts. As a consequence, different anthropological accounts of culture will differ on when one can describe a social system as instantiating cultural domination.

15 February


22 February


1 March

Marion Boulicault (Trinity Hall, Cambridge)
How medical data infrastructures materialize oppression

It's well-known that medical practices can encode and perpetuate oppressive ideologies. Drawing on in-depth analyses of medical devices such as the spirometer (Braun 2014) and pulse oximeter (Moran-Thomas 2020), recent scholars have argued that ideologies are perpetuated not only by practices, but are also materially embedded in instruments and devices. In other words, medical devices 'materialize oppression'  (Liao and Carbonell 2022). In this talk, I pose the following question: how exactly do medical devices materialize oppression? That is, what are the specific mechanisms by which oppression becomes materialized? I offer a preliminary, non-exhaustive taxonomy of materialization mechanisms. And I do so by focusing on new examples and case studies that illustrate these mechanisms at work within medical data infrastructures rather than devices and instruments. I argue that a clearer view of how these mechanisms operate suggests possibilities for building medical technologies that liberate rather than oppress.


8 March

Mazviita Chirimuuta (University of Edinburgh)
Realism and technocracy: a working hypothesis

The victory of realism over idealism at the start of the twentieth century, and of scientific realism over logical empiricism and pragmatism in the mid twentieth century, is a striking phenomenon that calls for historical explanation. In this talk I propose an externalist account, looking at the social and political reasons why realism became attractive to philosophers active in the USA, rather than considering the internal factors – the merits of the arguments in favour of realism. Firstly, I will look at the agenda of Roy Wood Sellars' critical realism which was not narrowly theoretical, but very much related to his concerns for the development of American society post WW1, as expressed in The Next Steps in Democracy (1916) and Next Steps in Religion (1918). In the second part of the talk, I discuss the significance of technocracy in America, post WW2 – not only the increasing influence of scientists and engineers in government, but also the diffusion of the view that social issues are best addressed by scientific, technical means. Counter-cultural critics of technocracy, such as Theodore Roszak (1969) claimed that a 'scientific world-view' provided an 'ideology' for this system of governance. We will see that R.W. Sellars and his son Wilfrid Sellars, himself a key proponent of scientific realism, were explicitly involved in the task of building a scientific world-view, but with political goals that were probably not realised by the post-war establishment.


Episteme Group

The Cambridge Episteme Group is a collaboration across the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and the Faculty of Philosophy aiming to explore contemporary issues in analytic epistemology. The plan of the group is divided into two parts: in Michaelmas the reading group will explore new frames and tools of epistemology, aiming to move beyond typical framing in terms of truth, knowledge, and epistemic norms by exploring the limits of the doxastic, norms of inquiry, and consequentialist accounts of epistemic warrant. In Lent the group will apply these new frames to different topics, like non-propositional knowledge, thought-experiments, imagination, understanding, and so on. Overall, we want to equip philosophers interested in epistemology and philosophy of science with new tools for thinking about epistemic issues and inquiry.

We meet on Thursdays at 1pm in the Board Room, HPS. Organisers: Oscar Westerblad (ow259), Adham El-Shazly (ae497), Pablo Hubacher (ph539).

26 January: Inquiry

Christopher Kelp (2021). 'Theory of Inquiry'

2 February: Against Inquiry Norms

David Thorstadt (2022). 'There are no Epistemic Norms of Inquiry'

9 February: Norms on Evidence Gathering

Flores, Carolina & Woodard, Elise (forthcoming). 'Epistemic Norms on Evidence-Gathering'

16 February: Salience

Jessie Munton (2021). 'Prejudice as the Misattribution of Salience'

23 February: Understanding

Rachel Fraser (Manuscript). 'Understanding is Seeing'

2 March: Imagination

Mike Stuart (2022). 'Scientists are Epistemic Consequentialists about Imagination'

9 March: Epistemic Non-Consequentialism

Sylvan, Kurt L. (2020). 'An Epistemic Non-Consequentialism'

16 March: Self-deception

Jordan MacKenzie (2022). 'Self-Deception as a Moral Failure'


The Anthropocene

The Anthropocene (Climate Histories) offers alternating sessions in the related fields of climate history and Anthropocene studies. Meetings will involve a mix of invited speakers and reading group sessions held on Thursdays at 1pm–2pm in Seminar Room 2. All are welcome!

Organised by Harriet Mercer, Claire Oliver and Richard Staley.

19 January

Johan Gärdebo (University of Cambridge and Uppsala University)
Overcoming the jobs vs climate divide? Perception among Swedish trade unions on just transition policies

Since the Paris Agreement 2015, a 'just transition' has been central to attempts, and hopes, to bridge a jobs vs. climate divide as part of decarbonising industrial society. But what are the imperatives for a just transition of the workforce? And what are the nationally defined development priorities for the creation of decent work and quality jobs? Through interviews with Swedish trade union representatives from Sweden's three largest industrial emitters (steel, petroleum refining, cement) along with representatives at the central level, this study illustrates contrasting interpretations of what constitutes a just transition towards a low-emission society. From these findings, we will discuss some implications for transition policies in general.

2 February

Joyce E. Chaplin (Harvard University)
The Franklin stove: how to learn to stop worrying and love coal

The famous American colonist Benjamin Franklin invented a stove, is a sentence in which everything is true and yet not the whole truth. The invention in fact involved multiple stoves, created in several places, information about which circulated internationally, well beyond Franklin's American home. Those broader dimensions indicate that Franklin was engaged in a classic 18th-century project of improvement. He had originally defined this project in terms of conservation, the efficient burning of American wood. But over time, he modified his device to burn coal. That concession validated the 18th-century transition away from an organic economy; because someone from North America did this, preaching the value of fuel efficiency from a land still rich in trees, the switch to coal seemed extra intelligent. As we reverse course, finally abdicating fossil fuel energy, understanding how those fuels were made so attractive in the first place could be useful.

16 February

Erling Agøy (Needham Research Institute, Cambridge)
Early science or popular superstition? Chinese weather prognostication through the transition to modernity

As a country of farmers and with an elite who were perhaps more strongly aware of their reliance on agriculture than anywhere else in the world, Imperial China developed a rich and complex system of predicting the weather through observing phenological signs. Deeply steeped in traditional Chinese culture, weather prognostication also relied on detailed local meteorological knowledge. Even so, modern meteorology originated in Europe and like other aspects of modern science was introduced to China in the 19th–20th centuries. Through the 20th century and beyond, traditional culture was both reviled and celebrated in the People's Republic. Much pre-modern knowledge was at one point declared 'superstition', while state-supported scholars next searched through classical texts to uncover any trace of a 'scientific tradition'. How did the weather prognostication tradition fare in these circumstances? Using two different approaches to investigate research writings (how was weather-knowledge evaluated in scholarly research?) and popular literature (do weather prognostications appear in reimaginations of pre-modern Chinese society?), my presentation will try to give some indications to the answer to this question.

2 March

Works in progress writing workshop


Calculating People

Calculating People is a reading group on current and past social sciences with a special focus on their methodological controversies. All postgraduate researchers are welcome to join, but participants undertake to do the readings ahead of time and endeavour to attend all meetings. The format is in-person with a possibility of a Zoom link if it proves practical.

The meetings take place on Thursdays, 2–3pm in the Board Room (unless another room is shown). Organised by Anna Alexandrova.

19 January: Seminar Room 1

Thoma, Johanna (2023), 'Social Science, Policy, and Democracy', draft.

26 January: Seminar Room 2

MacKay, Douglas (2020), 'Government Policy Experiments and the Ethics of Randomization'. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 48: 319–352.

2 February

Duflo, Esther (2017), 'The Economist as Plumber'. American Economic Review, 107 (5): 1–26.

9 February

Seawright, Jason (2016), 'Case Selection in Small-N Research'. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.

16 February

Rich, Patricia, Mark Blokpoel, Ronald de Haan, Maria Otworowska, Marieke Sweers, Todd Wareham, and Iris van Rooij (2021), 'Naturalism, tractability and the adaptive toolbox'. Synthese, 198 (6): 5749–5784.

23 February

Williams, Daniel (2022), 'The marketplace of rationalizations'. Economics & Philosophy, 2022: 1–25.

2 March

Haven, Tamarinde L., and Leonie Van Grootel (2019), 'Preregistering qualitative research'. Accountability in Research, 26 (3): 229–244.

9 March

Floridi, Luciano, Mariarosaria Taddeo, Vincent Wang, David Watson, and Jules Desai (2022), 'The epistemological foundations of data science: a critical review'. Synthese, 200 (6): 1–27.


Measurement Reading Group

Fridays, 11am–12noon, Bradfield Room, Darwin College.

Organised by Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459) and Cristian Larroulet Philippi (cl792).

3 February

Eran Tal, 'Two Myths of Representational Measurement', Perspectives on Science 29 (6): 701–741 (2021).

Optional: Joel Michell, An Introduction to the Logic of Psychological Measurement (1990), 28–45.

17 February

Günter Trendler, 'Measurement Theory, Psychology, and the Revolution That Cannot Happen', Theory and Psychology 19,5 (2009): 579–99.

24 February

Kent Staley, 'Securing the Empirical Value of Measurement Results', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71, 1 (2020): 87–113.

Optional: Ritson S., Staley K., 'How uncertainty can save measurement from circularity and holism', Stud Hist Philos Sci. 85 (2021): 155–165.

3 March

McClimans L., Browne J., Cano S., 'Clinical outcome measurement: Models, theory, psychometrics and practice', Stud Hist Philos Sci. (2017): 67–73.

10 March

Rebecca Jackson and Merlin Wassermann, 'When standard measurement meets messy genitalia: Lessons from 20th century phallometry and cervimetry', Stud Hist Philos Sci. 95 (2022): 37–49.


Decolonise HPS

The group meets every other Friday at 2–3pm on Zoom (27 January, 10 February, 24 February, 10 March).

All students and interested members of the University are welcome to attend; contact Mary Brazelton or Timothy Sim (tsss2) with any questions.


Pragmatism Reading Group

The Pragmatism Reading Group is held on Mondays at 11am–12noon in the Board Room. Organised by Damon Kutzin (dtk23), Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459) and Helene Scott-Fordsmand (hs747).

Radical Empiricism: Pragmatist and Phenomenological Perspectives
This term, we answer William James' call for a radical empiricism: 'the only things that shall be debatable among philosophers shall be things definable in terms drawn from experience'. Exploring what is possible to draw from experience, however, requires a broad engagement with phenomenology and psychology as well as pragmatism. The readings for this term trace a particular development of James' call: beginning with his pragmatist articulation of experience, moving to its phenomenological elaboration, and culminating in a contemporary debate over the extent to which experience is conceptual in nature.

23 January

James, William. (1892). 'The Stream of Consciousness'. In Psychology: The Briefer Course, University of Notre Dame Press: 18–42. [Scan will be provided]

30 January

James, William. (1904). 'A World of Pure Experience'. The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, 1(20), 533–543.

6 February

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (1945). 'Sensing'. In Phenomenology of Perception, Taylor & Francis Group: 214–252.

13 February

Polanyi, Michael. (1966). 'The Logic of Tacit Inference'. Philosophy, 41(155), 1–18.

20 February

Gibson, J.J. (1979). 'The Theory of Affordances'. In The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Psychology Press: 119–135.

27 February

Dreyfus, Hubert L. (2005). 'Overcoming the Myth of the Mental: How Philosophers Can Profit from the Phenomenology of Everyday Expertise'. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 79(2), 47–65.

6 March

McDowell, John. (2007). 'What Myth?'. Inquiry, 50:4, 338–351.

13 March

Rouse, Joseph. (2013). 'What is Conceptually Articulated Understanding?'. In Mind, Reason, and Being-In-the-World: The McDowell-Dreyfus Debate, ed. Joseph K. Schear, Taylor & Francis Group: 250–271.


Foundations of Physics Reading Group

In this reading group we look at pioneering and contemporary work in the foundations of physics, both on philosophical methodology as well as interpretations of particular theories. We welcome everyone interested in these topics, regardless of background.

Meetings are on Mondays, 1.00–2.30pm, every two or three weeks. Organised by Ruward Mulder and Neil Dewar.


The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse is a meeting place for students and researchers interested in the history and sociology of plants, food, agriculture and environment to explore how science and technology shape what we grow and eat. The regular programme of papers and discussions is curated in conjunction with the project From Collection to Cultivation, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The reading group is open to all. We meet fortnightly on Mondays, 2pm–3pm, in the HPS Board Room to discuss papers or presentations. Most meetings will be hybrid, with an option to participate via Zoom. Write to to subscribe.

Organised by Helen Anne Curry.

In Lent Term, our reading and conversation will focus on the history of plant pests in relation to human migration and racial categorizations, drawing especially on Jeannie Natsuko Shinozuka, Biotic Borders: Transpacific Plant and Insect Migration and the Rise of Anti-Asian Racism in America, 1890–1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022).

30 January: Policing migrant plants, pests, and peoples

Chapter 1, Shinozuka, Biotic Borders ('San José Scale: Contested Origins at the Turn of the Century')

Philip Pauly, 'The Beauty and the Menace of the Japanese Cherry Trees: Conflicting Visions of American Ecological Independence', Isis 87, no. 1 (1996): 51–73

13 February: Japanese farmers the American West

Chapter 2, Shinozuka, Biotic Borders ('Early Yellow Peril vs. Western Menace: Chestnut Blight, Citrus Canker, and PQN 37')

Chapter 4, Cecilia M. Tsu, Garden of the World: Asian Immigrants and the Making of Agriculture in California's Santa Clara Valley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) ('Defending the "American Farm Home": Japanese Farm Families and the Anti-Japanese Movement')

27 February: Military mobilization against insect invaders

Chapter 6, Shinozuka, Biotic Borders ('Japanese Beetle Menace: Discovery of the Beetle')

Chapter 7, Edmund Russell, War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring ('Annihilation, 1943–1945')

13 March: Incarceration and naturalization

Chapter 8, Shinozuka, Biotic Borders ('Yellow Peril No More? National and Naturalized Enemies during World War II')

Wendy Cheng, 'Landscapes of beauty and plunder: Japanese American flower growers and an elite public garden in Los Angeles', Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 38, no. 4 (2020): 699–717



AD HOC (Association for the Discussion of the History of Chemistry) is a group dedicated to the history of chemistry. While our main focus is historical, we also consider the philosophical, sociological, public and educational dimensions of chemistry.

AD HOC has been meeting in various configurations since the summer of 2004, first at UCL and then also in Cambridge since 2010. Since 2008 our activities have been generously supported by the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC).

This term we will alternate between online and in-person meetings, on Mondays 5.00–6.30pm. The in-person meetings will be in Seminar Room 1. The links for joining the online meetings, the exact specification or copies of the readings, and all updates on future activities will be circulated to the mailing list of the group. If you would like to be on the list please email Hasok Chang (

23 January (in person)

Discussion of Joachim Schummer, 'The Rise of the "Mad Scientist"', in A Cultural History of Chemistry, vol. 5 (Bloomsbury, 2022)

30 January (online)

Catherine Jackson (University of Oxford), discussion of Molecular World, introduction and ch. 4

6 February (in person)

Jennifer Rampling (Princeton University), discussion of 'The Alchemical Image in the Islamic and Christian Middle Ages', in A Cultural History of Chemistry, vol. 2 (Bloomsbury, 2022)

13 February (in person)

Reading TBC, from A Cultural History of Chemistry

20 February (in person)

Reading TBC, from A Cultural History of Chemistry

27 February

No meeting, due to UCU strike

6 March (in person)

Reading TBC, from A Cultural History of Chemistry

13 March (online)

Gary Patterson (Carnegie Mellon University) and Carmen Schmechel (Freie Universität Berlin), discussion of 'A Taxonomy of Transdictions: Crystallography and Iconic Transdiction in Haüy's Mineralogy'


Values in Science Reading Group

We meet on Wednesdays at 11am in Seminar Room 1. Organised by Cristian Larroulet Philippi and Ahmad Elabbar.

Weeks 1–4: Seminars on 'Public Trust in Science and Justice'

The seminars will be led by two leading scholars in the field: Faik Kurtulmus (visiting from Sabancı University) and Stephen John.

25 January: Public Trust in Science: The Values Problem

Primary readings:

Supplementary readings:

1 February: Public Trust in Science: The Values Problem (continued)

Primary readings:

Supplementary readings:

8 February: Distributive Epistemic Justice in Science

Primary readings:

Supplementary readings:

15 February: Distributive Epistemic Justice and Public Trust in Science: Some Complications

Primary readings:

  • Kurtulmus, Faik. Unpublished manuscript. 'Distributive Epistemic Justice and Public Trust in Science'.

Supplementary readings:

Weeks 5–8: Regular sessions, building on the themes of the seminars


HPS Workshop

Fridays, 5–6pm in Seminar Room 2
History sessions organised by Zsuzsanna Ihar (zdi20)
Philosophy sessions organised by Phillip Kieval (pzhk2)

HPS Workshop seeks to break the isolation of postgraduate research and encourage collaborative thinking by allowing students to present work in progress in a supportive seminar environment. The workshops will have alternate sessions focusing on Philosophy and History, but interdisciplinary presentations are always welcome.

Students are invited to present on any aspect of their research that they are grappling with or desire feedback on, including:

  • Unpacking complicated sources, concepts, or archives
  • Presenting drafts of chapters, conference papers, or publications
  • Proposing new ideas or strategies towards HPS research

The session is comprised of two parts: 20 minutes where the speaker outlines their work in progress (indicating areas that they would like feedback to be based upon) and 40 minutes of discussion.

27 January

Oscar Westerblad
Minding understanding

3 February

Thomas Banbury
Writing atmospheric histories beyond the Anthropocene

13 February (Monday)

João Pinheiro
The historicist view of morality supports minimal realism about specifically moral normativity

17 February

Kim Alexander

24 February

Marabel Riesmeier
Exploring a radical self-identification account of gender

3 March

Leo Chu
Territorial seeds: multiple cropping and geopolitical security in mainland southeast Asia, 1968–1987

10 March

Ina Jantgen
A decision-theoretic argument against standardizing mean differences


Postgraduate Seminars

Ideologies of Science

Lent and Easter Terms 2023: Thu 12noon (4 one-hour seminars) in Seminar Room 2
Nick Jardine (leader)

These seminars will explore rival conceptions of the nature of science and of its social and political roles. Ideological conflicts to be considered include: Philip Kitcher and his critics on science, feminism and democracy; the Society for Freedom in Science vs socialist visions of the functions of science; radical agnostic John Stuart Mill vs conservative Anglican William Whewell on the methods of natural science and its proper place in education; liberal Ernst Mach vs conservative Catholic Pierre Duhem on the history and prospects of the sciences; and the 'two cultures' controversy sparked off by C.P. Snow, champion of science education, and F.R. Leavis, champion of literary education.

9 March

Anna Alexandrova and Stephen John
Science, democracy and feminism in contemporary analytic philosophy of science

Continues in Easter Term