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Preview: Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science

Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science

Spontaneous Generations is an online, peer-reviewed academic journal established to provide a platform for interdisciplinary discussion and debate about issues that concern the community of scholars in the history and philosophy of science and related fie


Colorblind Science?: Perceptions of the Importance of Racial Diversity in Science Research


A large body of scientific careers literature explores the experiences of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields and why they exit the academic pipeline at various stages. These studies commonly address how to improve racial diversity in science but provide little discussion of why that diversity is important for science research. Feminist science studies scholars, on the other hand, have theorized about the importance of diversity in knowledge production for decades but provide little empirical work on how to address current disparities. My research bridges these literatures by examining how diversity programs in the sciences justify their continued funding, and how these justifications map onto contemporary theories of knowledge production. Do diversity program directors seek to increase diversity in science because of political motives, like equality and justice for racial minorities, or because they believe that racially diverse workforces will produce better science? Based on interviews with federally-funded diversity program directors at universities and archival data from these programs, I find that program directors’ responses can be classified into three categories: diversity is important politically, diversity is important pragmatically, and diversity is important epistemically. About half of the respondents found diversity to be important for the content of scientific knowledge. I argue that studying diversity in scientific knowledge production is different than studying the impacts of diversity in other fields due to current conceptions of scientific objectivity. Scholarship on scientific knowledge production can help diversity program directors and science careers scholars better articulate the need for diversity programming in STEM fields.

Technology and Social Inequality


In the Fall of 1977 I gave a paper at a conference organized by the Center for Twentieth Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. The title of the paper, published in 1980, was “The American Ideal of a Democratic Technology.” Reading it over now, some thirty-seven years later, I am excited all over again by the debate over the nature and role of technology which was so prominent a part of the 1970s, but actually had its roots in the 19th century. But I am also profoundly dismayed by the ways in which America has squandered the insight and the momentum of that debate. Today there are issues with large components of technology and science on the political agenda; fracking and coal seam gas extraction, the spread of crops of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the vacuuming up of masses of private electronic data by the National Security Agency (NSA) for example. By and large, however, they are not understood to be part of the same political issue of social inequality. And of course there is still the obfuscating, and therefore dangerous, insistence on using the terms “science” and “technology” strategically when discussing these topics, and still the Sacred Cows such as space exploration and the dream of unlimited energy through fusion which seem to float above any consideration of opportunity costs where real social needs are concerned.

“What They Think of the Causes of So Much Suffering”: S. Weir Mitchell, John Kearsley Mitchell, and Ideas about Phantom Limb Pain in Late 19th c. America


This paper analyzes S. Weir Mitchell and his son John Kearsley Mitchell’s views on phantom limb pain in late 19th c. America. Drawing on a variety of primary sources including journal articles, letters, and treatises, the paper pioneers analysis of a cache of surveys sent out by the Mitchells that contain amputee Civil War veterans’ own narratives of phantom limb pain. The paper utilizes an approach drawn from the history of ideas, documenting how changing models of medicine and objectivity help explain the Mitchells’s attitudes, practices, and beliefs regarding the enigma of phantom limb pain as experienced by their patients. The paper also assesses concerns over malingering, pain, authenticity, and deception through these intellectual frameworks of somaticism and mechanical objectivity. The paper concludes that much of relevance to the ways in which the Mitchells and other late 19th c. neurologists regarded and treated their patients’ pain is explicable in terms of the larger intellectual frameworks that structured these healers’ ideas about lesionless pain.

Maxwellian Electrodynamics Genesis and Development: Intertheoretic Context


Key words: rationality, communication, maxwellian revolution, Ampere-Weber research programme, synthesis, Kantian epistemology . Abstract. Why did Maxwell’s programme supersede the Ampere-Weber one? – To answer the question one has to consider the intertheoretic context of maxwellian electrodynamics genesis and development. It is demonstrated that maxwellian electrodynamics was created as a result of the old pre-maxwellian programmes reconciliation: the electrodynamics of Ampere-Weber, the wave theory of Young-Fresnel and Faraday’s programme. The programmes’ meeting led to construction of the hybrid theory at first with an irregular set of theoretical schemes. However, step by step, on revealing and gradual eliminating the contradictions between the programmes involved, the hybrid set is “put into order” (Maxwell’s term).A hierarchy of theoretical schemes starting from the crossbreeds (the displacement current) and up to usual hybrids is set up. And after the displacement current construction the interpenetration of the pre-maxwellian programmes begins that markes the commencement of theoretical schemes of optics and electromagnetism real unification. Maxwell’s programme did supersede the Ampere-Weber one because it did assimilate the ideas of the Ampere-Weber programme, as well as the presuppositions of the programmes of Young-Fresnel and Faraday properly co-ordinating them with each other. But the opposite proposition is not true. Ampere-Weber programme did not assimilate the propositions of the Maxwellian programme. Maxwell’s victory became possible because the core of Maxwell’s unification strategy was formed by Kantian epistemology looked through the prism of William Whewell and such representatives of Scottish Enlightenment as Thomas Reid and William Hamilton. Maxwell did put forward as a basic synthetic principle the idea that radically differed from that of Ampere-Weber approach by its open, flexible and contra-ontological, strictly epistemological, Kantian character. For Maxwell, ether was not the last building block of physical reality, from which all the charges and fields should be constructed. “Action at a distance”, “incompressible fluid”, “molecular vortices” were contrived analogies for Maxwell, capable only to direct the researcher at the “right” mathematical relations. Namely the application of Kantian epistemology enabled Hermann von Helmholtz and his pupil Heinrich Hertz to arrive at such a version of Maxwell’s theory that served a heuristical basis for the radio waves discovery.

Review: Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached, Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind.


“In the spirit of critical friendship” between the human and social sciences on the one hand, and the neurosciences on the other, Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached trace a part historical, part sociological, and part philosophical analysis of contemporary brain science in Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind. Their valuable synthetic account surveys a wide range of primary scientific literature, as well as legal and policy debates. Neuro aims to consider what impact, if any, neurobiological research has had on our conceptions of human nature, the relationship between brain and person, and how we govern ourselves.

Review: Cold War Social Science


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