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Abstracts for Departmental Seminars

Seminars are held on Thursdays from 3.30 to 5pm in Seminar Room 2. There is tea and coffee before the seminar at 3pm in Seminar Room 1, and there are refreshments afterwards at 5pm in Seminar Room 1.

Organised by Agnes Bolinska.

Easter Term 2019

Show overview

25 April Joseph Martin (HPS, Cambridge)
Rethinking industrial patronage of academic research in the early Cold War
Robert Maynard Hutchins, the University of Chicago's erstwhile chancellor, remarked in 1963: 'My view, based on long and painful observation, is that professors are somewhat worse than other people, and that scientists are somewhat worse than other professors.' This outlook motivated his efforts to insulate Chicago's scientists from industrial and military influence after World War II. Perhaps unexpectedly, Chicago's science faculty embraced Hutchins's plan to fund three ambitious new research institutes with numerous small subscriptions from industry, which Hutchins hoped would diffuse any one corporation's influence, seeing in the plan a way to protect their basic research ideal. The University of Michigan deployed a similar strategy to attract industry funding post–World War II. Michigan pursued industrial partnerships to support a laboratory that doubled as a living war memorial, enlisting businesses by appealing to corporate responsibility and suggesting a shared obligation to prevent government control over basic research. In each case, businesses contributed generously, often because they shared concerns about government monopoly on critical sectors of scientific research.

Historians have shown how some university-industry collaborations intertwined with the military-industrial-academic complex during the Cold War. MIT and Stanford, for instance, cultivated a cosy relationship with both industry and government, at times steering their research towards economic and military interests. Studies of this type of relationship have shaped current historical understanding of Cold War science. They suggest that individual institutions possessed little latitude to craft the relationships with industry they thought conducive to their institutional goals. A broader survey of institutions, and engagement with industry's own motives for supporting academic science, will situate existing understanding of academia-industry partnerships within a larger, knottier story about American science, technology, academia and industry. I present the Chicago and Michigan cases and describe how they motivate systematic re-evaluation of industrial patronage and its place in Cold War science.
2 May Darrell Rowbottom (Lingnan University)
The instrument of science
In my recently published monograph, The Instrument of Science: Scientific Anti-Realism Revitalised (Routledge), I develop and defend a position that I call 'cognitive instrumentalism'. This involves three core theses. First, science makes theoretical progress primarily when it furnishes us with more predictive power or understanding concerning observable things. Second, scientific discourse concerning unobservable things should only be taken literally in so far as it involves observable properties or analogies with observable things. Third, scientific claims about unobservable things are probably neither approximately true nor liable to change in such a way as to increase in truthlikeness. In this talk I will offer some arguments for each thesis, using examples from the history of science, and hence cognitive instrumentalism as a whole.
9 May Liam Kofi Bright (London School of Economics)
Du Bois' plan for scientific inquiry
Social epistemologists are increasingly coming to appreciate the importance of planning out a schedule of inquiry. How we decide what will be investigated, by who and on what schedule, are hugely influential on what we are capable of coming to know or reliably conclude. Presently one prominent social technology we have for allocating resources to projects of inquiry is the peer reviewed grant competition. In this talk I will review a number of critiques of this social technology, motivate an alternative grounded in the historical practice of W.E.B. Du Bois, and point to some relative advantages of the latter course. I end by calling for an integrated HPS project that might help us explore the social epistemic properties of Du Boisian scientific resource allocation.
16 May Twenty-Fourth Annual Hans Rausing Lecture
Ruth Oldenziel (Eindhoven University of Technology)
Whose history of technology? Path dependencies, contested modernities, and pockets of persistence
McCrum Lecture Theatre, Bene't Street, at 4.30pm
6 June Ofer Gal (University of Sydney)
From Kepler's optics to Spinoza's politics: Descartes' turn to the passions
In 1604 Kepler published his Optical Part of Astronomy, dramatically changing the role of optics and the fundamental concept of vision. Instead of a window through which visual rays informed reason about its surrounding objects, the eye became a screen on which light painted images of no inherent cognitive value. The naturalization of the senses required a corresponding naturalization of the mind, which Descartes attempted to offer with a theory of the passions. Kepler's optics turned sensations into purely causal effects, but the passions, indicators of benefit and damage to the individual, could provide them with meaning. This was a reversal of the traditional epistemological responsibilities of reason and the passions, and for Spinoza this demanded a reversal of their ethical and political roles. 'Desire is the very essence of man' he stated, and concluded: 'society can be established ... not by reason ... but by threats.'