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Notes and Thoughts on History of Science conference

date: 2014-11-14 01:22:15 -0500

Last week I attended the History of Science Society's Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, jointly held with the Philosophy of Science Society. 1)

There were a few sessions that I didn't want to miss, but I was able to attend a few others just out of curiosity.

The first session I attended was titled History of the History of Science in the U.S., 1940–1976 – The Golden Age? There was a really interesting talk on Thomas Kuhn and his attempt to get back to Harvard a while after he left for Berkeley. The talk was titled “'Far from rejecting Tom': Harvard and Thomas S. Kuhn, 1956-1976,” Joy Harvey. The Harvard folks wouldn't take him, though. The talk was read by a third party because the researcher was ill and couldn't attend. Still, it was an excellent delivery and a very entertaining story. It was very odd to hear a story and to listen to questions by people who knew Thomas Kuhn (apparently well, too). These figures loom so large in the mind – one forgets they were real people, I suppose.

Out of curiosity, I attended a session titled Einstein and the Relation between Physics and Mathematics. The presentations were very interesting, but the question portions were odd. There was a strong sense of antagonism between some of the speakers and some of the audience members who asked questions. My sense was that this is a very small area of research (Einstein studies), and that reputation matters among this small group.

Next I attended the plenary session titled Bounded Rationality and the History of Science, but I only stayed long enough to listen to one talk. This talk was given by Stephanie Dick, a PhD candidate at Harvard University. It was a powerful, insightful talk titled “Looking for Limits: Configuring Minds, Mathematics, and Machines in the Mid-Twentieth Century” and it dealt with Herbert Simon's bounded rationality with respect to the introduction of the modern computer.

The next day I attended a session about assessment. There were four really great presentations, but two of them pertain to my research interests. They include a talk titled:

  • “The Referee, or the Appearance and Disappearance of a Scientific Reader,” Alex Csiszar from Harvard University
  • “Useful or Merely Excellent? Evaluating Proposals at the National Science Foundation, 1951–1976,” by Melinda Baldwin, also from Harvard University

Interestingly, for me, when I headed to this session I wasn't paying attention to the speakers listed in the program, but it turned out that I had just read a paper by Alex Csiszar and wanted to follow up on his work. The paper I had read was:

Csiszar, Alex. (2003). Stylizing rigor: or, Why Mathematicians Write So Well. Configurations, 11(2), 239-268. doi:

Next I attended a general, association related session (not a research session) on open access. The Executive Director of ACRL was there, as an invited speaker, as well as a representative from the University of Chicago Press Journals, a representative from the History of Science Society, and a representative from the American Council of Learned Societies. Each representative spoke for about 20 minutes and then there was a very, very energetic discussion and the participants were not all in agreement about the value or the feasibility of open access. My takeaway from the session was that open access advocates lean too much on platitudes and really need to listen to the stakeholders in the scholarly communication system because their concerns are real and problematic. Open Access, in essence, is not easy to implement.

I attended one philosophy session. The session's title was Bias and Trust and the talks related to commensuration bias (Carole J. Lee, University of Washington), to gender bias (Sarah Richardson, Harvard University), to scientific epistemology Felipe Romero, Washington University), to trust (Carlo Martini, Center of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences), and the last one was a talk delivered by a moral philosopher titled “Responsibility, Causality, and Social Inequality” (Robin Zheng, University of Michigan).

Here I had also previously read a piece by one of the presenters, Carole J. Lee, and this was a literature review on bias in peer review that was published in JASIST a year or so ago. Here's that article:

Lee, Carole J., Sugimoto, C. R., Zhang, Guo, and Cronin, B. (2013). Bias in peer review. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 64(1), 2-17. doi:

I was really interested in the very well formed presentation by Carlo Martini. The problem, however, that he introduced amounted to a skeptical view of scientific epistemology, and I didn't hear him offer a way out of the problem. I expected someone from the audience to call him out on this, but no one did. I should have, but I suppose I felt too much like an outsider. In any case, it was a brilliant talk and I'd like to follow up on his work.

I attended a few other sessions, including a very interesting one on thought experiments, but I don't seem to have those notes with me. More later, then.

  • categories:
    • scholarly-communication
blog/notes-and-thoughts-on-history-of-science-conference.txt · Last modified: 2017/03/07 11:45 by seanburns