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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


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

Organised by Jacob Stegenga.

Michaelmas Term 2022

20 October

Eugene Richardson (Harvard University)
Coloniality, global health, and reparations

In Epidemic Illusions, Eugene Richardson, a physician-anthropologist, contends that public health practices – from epidemiological modeling and outbreak containment to Big Data and causal inference – play an essential role in perpetuating a range of global inequities. Drawing on postcolonial theory, medical anthropology, and critical science studies, he demonstrates the ways in which the flagship discipline of epidemiology has been shaped by the colonial, racist, and patriarchal system that had its inception in 1492.

Deploying a range of rhetorical tools and drawing on his clinical work in a variety of epidemics, including Ebola in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, leishmania in the Sudan, HIV/TB in southern Africa, diphtheria in Bangladesh, and SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, Richardson lays the groundwork for reparative approaches to global health equity.

27 October

Jo Wolff (University of Edinburgh)
The philosophical significance of the Representational Theory of Measurement: RTM as semantic foundations

The Representational Theory of Measurement (RTM), especially the canonical three volume Foundations of Measurement by Krantz et al., is a landmark accomplishment in our understanding of measurement. Despite this, it has been far from easy to pinpoint what exactly we can learn about measurement from RTM, and who the target audience for RTM's formal results should be. In what sense does RTM provide foundations of measurement, and what is the philosophical significance of such foundations? I argue that RTM provides semantic foundations of measurement and that their philosophical significance lies in a shift towards structural representation. This argument concedes much ground to recent critics of RTM as epistemic foundations, but defends RTM as a foundational theory of measurement, nonetheless.

3 November

Michael Diamond-Hunter (London School of Economics)
Population biology and the implicit scientific backing of the 'Human Biodiversity' movement

The 'Human Biodiversity' movement is one of the more recent iterations of purported racial science. According to various websites that are proponents of the movement, the intellectual history includes a number of prognosticators and commentators (de Gobineau), established academics – both contemporary and historical – who have professed racist views (Jensen, Morton, Spencer, Rushton), philosophers (Kant, Hegel, Hume), contemporary writers (Wade, D. Reich), historical figures central to the Eugenicist movement (Sanger, Fisher, Galton), and contemporary population biologists (Rosenberg, N. Reich, Burchard, Pemberton).

Directly after the release of Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance in 2014, population geneticists, biologists, and biomedical researchers wrote an open letter to the New York Times stating that 'We reject Wade's implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not' and that they 'are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade's conjectures.' Included in the signatories are Noah Rosenberg, Elad Ziv, David Reich, Neil Risch, Hua Teng, Marcus Feldman, and Trevor Pemberton, amongst others.

Given the open letter and their clear denunciation of the book released by Wade (and presumably other future developments in that vein), it seems that the furor should be over. This paper, however, argues otherwise. This paper makes the argument that a number of population geneticists, especially those listed above, have done enough work in their own reputable academic publications over the last two decades to provide fertile ground and academic justification for repugnant and racist views. This talk will provide evidence from a number of papers, teaching materials, and promotional materials for public and academic talks to argue that those population biologists and biomedical researchers are more than just neutral, value-free scientists whose work has been misappropriated. Rather, they are, through conceptual conflation and reification in their academic work, have actively provided a foundation for what can now be understood as the most recent iteration of race science.

10 November

Lewis Bremner (University of Cambridge)
A view of technological change through the magic lantern in Japan

The magic lantern was first recorded in Japan in the 1770s, roughly 100 years after its initial invention, and production of the device in the country began in the first decade of the 19th century. In this talk, Lewis Bremner explores the diverse and dynamic trajectories of technological change that followed.

By the end of the 1800s, the cultural scene around this projection technology was so entrenched and widespread that even the advent of motion-picture film could not supplant it. To explain this, we will look at technological innovations such as the handheld wooden magic lantern, re-examine the myth of state-driven technological progress, and trace the communities of practitioners, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs behind the history of the magic lantern in Japan.

17 November

Friedrich Steinle (Technische Universitaet Berlin)
Knowledge in science and beyond: historiographical challenges and the case of colour history

Knowledge about colour has been developed and used in all cultures for millennia. To study the history of such knowledge requires a broad approach that encompasses a variety of forms of knowledge, of communities, and of modes and media of transmission. Colour knowledge thus provides a significant case for studying the necessity, the merits and the limits of history of knowledge and its relation to history of science. In my talk, I shall focus on 18th-century Europe, a period in which different approaches to colour expanded their knowledge claims and came into conflict and sometimes fierce clash. These conflicts originated in different epistemic frameworks and practical goals, pursued in different groups of colour researchers. Studying their history is highly instructive for both enlightenment colour history and the historiographical challenges in doing history of knowledge.

24 November


Lent Term 2023

19 January

Sabina Leonelli (University of Exeter)

26 January

He Bian (Princeton University)

2 February

Zeynep Pamuk (London School of Economics)

9 February

Tarun Menon (Azim Premji University)

16 February

Samir Boumediene (École Normale Supérieure de Lyon)

23 February

Atoosa Kasirzadeh (University of Edinburgh)

2 March

Hans-Jorg Rheinberger (Emeritus, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)

9 March

Lisa Bortolotti (University of Birmingham)

Easter Term 2023

27 April

Greg Radick (University of Leeds)

4 May

Nancy Cartwright (Durham University & UCSD)

11 May

Ian James Kidd (University of Nottingham)

18 May

Alison Bashford (University of New South Wales)