SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: British journal for the history of science

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The provision of standardized hearing aids is now considered to be a crucial part of the UK National Health Service. Yet this is only explicable through reference to the career of a woman who has, until now, been entirely forgotten. Dr Phyllis Margaret Tookey Kerridge (1901-1940) was an authoritative figure in a variety of fields: medicine, physiology, otology and the construction of scientific apparatus. The astounding breadth of her professional qualifications allowed her to combine features of these fields and, later in her career, to position herself as a specialist to shape the discipline of audiometry. Rather than framing Kerridge in the classic ‘heroic-woman’ narrative, in this article we draw out the complexities of her career by focusing on her pursuit of standardization of hearing tests. Collaboration afforded her the necessary networks to explore the intricacies of accuracy in the measurement of hearing acuity, but her influence was enhanced by her ownership of Britain’s first Western Electric (pure-tone) audiometer, which she placed in a specially designed and unique ‘silence room’. The room became the centre of Kerridge’s hearing aid clinic that, for the first time, allowed people to access free and impartial advice on hearing aid prescription. In becoming the guardian expert and advocate of the audiometer, Kerridge achieved an objectively quantified approach to hearing loss that eventually made the latter an object of technocratic intervention.

Concepts: Otology, Tinnitus, Standardization, Audiogram, Hearing, Audiology, Standards organization, Harvey Fletcher

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Between 1916 and 1927, botanists in several countries independently resolved three problems that had mystified earlier naturalists - including Charles Darwin: how did the many species of orchid that did not produce nectar persuade insects to pollinate them? Why did some orchid flowers seem to mimic insects? And why should a native British orchid suffer ‘attacks’ from a bee? Half a century after Darwin’s death, these three mysteries were shown to be aspects of a phenomenon now known as pseudocopulation, whereby male insects are deceived into attempting to mate with the orchid’s flowers, which mimic female insects; the males then carry the flower’s pollen with them when they move on to try the next deceptive orchid. Early twentieth-century botanists were able to see what their predecessors had not because orchids (along with other plants) had undergone an imaginative re-creation: Darwin’s science was appropriated by popular interpreters of science, including the novelist Grant Allen; then H.G. Wells imagined orchids as killers (inspiring a number of imitators), to produce a genre of orchid stories that reflected significant cultural shifts, not least in the presentation of female sexuality. It was only after these changes that scientists were able to see plants as equipped with agency, actively able to pursue their own, cunning reproductive strategies - and to outwit animals in the process. This paper traces the movement of a set of ideas that were created in a context that was recognizably scientific; they then became popular non-fiction, then popular fiction, and then inspired a new science, which in turn inspired a new generation of fiction writers. Long after clear barriers between elite and popular science had supposedly been established in the early twentieth century, they remained porous because a variety of imaginative writers kept destabilizing them. The fluidity of the boundaries between makers, interpreters and publics of scientific knowledge was a highly productive one; it helped biology become a vital part of public culture in the twentieth century and beyond.

Concepts: Male, Reproduction, Female, Sex, Mimicry, 20th century, Flower, Orchidaceae

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The Scopes trial (1925) fuelled discussion in the United States on the social and political implications of Darwinism. For the defenders of the 1925 Tennessee law - which prohibited the teaching of Darwinism in schools - Darwinism was, amongst other things, responsible for the German militarism which eventually led to the First World War. This view was supported by İsmail Fennî, a late Ottoman intellectual, who authored a book immediately after the trial which aimed to debunk scientific materialism. In it, he claimed that Darwinism blurred the distinction between man and beast and thus destroyed the foundations of morality. However, despite his anti-Darwinist stance, İsmail Fennî argued against laws forbidding the teaching of Darwinism in schools, and emphasized that even false theories contributed to scientific improvement. Indeed, because of his belief in science he claimed that Muslims should not reject Darwinism if it were supported by future scientific evidence. If this turned out to be the case, then religious interpretations should be revised accordingly. This article contributes to the literature on early Muslim reactions to Darwinism by examining the views of İsmail Fennî, which were notably sophisticated when compared with those of the anti-religious Darwinist and anti-Darwinist religious camps that dominated late Ottoman intellectual life.

Concepts: Scientific method, Evolution, Religion, Islam, Creationism, World War I, Scopes Trial, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

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Liber de orbe, attributed to Māshā'allāh (d. c.815), a court astrologer of the Abbasid dynasty, was one of the earliest Latin sources of Aristotelian physics. Until recently, its Arabic original could not be identified among Arabic works. Through extensive examination of Arabic manuscripts on exact sciences, I found two manuscripts containing the Arabic text of this Latin work, although neither of them is ascribed to Māshā'allāh: Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Ms. or. oct. 273, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania University Library, MS LJS 439. In this paper, I describe these two manuscripts in great detail, so that I confirm their originality of the Liber de orbe, and then by analysing the contents of the Arabic text, I deny the attribution to Māshā'allāh, and identify the title and author as Book on the Configuration of the Orb by Dūnash ibn Tamīm, a disciple of Isaac Israeli (c.855-c.955).

Concepts: Al-Andalus, Aristotle, Latin, Arabic language, Iraq, Originality, The Orb, Abbasid Caliphate

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Britain’s nineteenth-century railway companies traditionally play a central role in histories of the spread of standard Greenwich time. This relationship at once seems to embody a productive relationship between science and capitalism, with regulated time essential to the formation of a disciplined industrial economy. In this narrative, it is not the state, but capitalistic private commerce which fashioned a national time system. However, as this article demonstrates, the collaboration between railway companies and the Royal Greenwich Observatory was far from harmonious. While railways did employ the accurate time the observatory provided, they were also more than happy to compromise the astronomical institution’s ability to take the accurate celestial observations that such time depended on. Observing astronomical transits required the use of troughs of mercury to reflect images of stars, but the construction of a railway too near to the observatory threatened to cause vibrations which would make such readings impossible. Through debates over proposed railway lines near the observatory, it becomes clear how important government protection from private interests was to preserving astronomical standards. This article revises our understanding of the role of railway companies in the dissemination of standard time and argues that state intervention was essential to preserving Victorian British astronomical science.

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Often overlooked by historians, specialist gardeners with an expert understanding of both native and exotic plant material were central to the teaching and research activities of university botanic gardens. In this article various interrelationships in the late Georgian period will be examined: between the gardener, the garden, the botanic collection, the medical school and ways of knowing. Foregrounding gardeners' narratives will shed light on the ways in which botanic material was gathered and utilized for teaching and research purposes, particularly for medical students, as well as highlighting the importance of the garden as a repository of botanic material for the classroom. In this way, the blurred lines between art and science, skill and scholarly activity, and shared pedagogic practices between botany and anatomy will be revealed.

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In 1938, doctors Eric Guttmann and Walter Maclay, two psychiatrists based at the Maudsley Hospital in London, administered the hallucinogenic drug mescaline to a group of artists, asking the participants to record their experiences visually. These artists included the painter Julian Trevelyan, who was associated with the British surrealist movement at this time. Published as ‘Mescaline hallucinations in artists’, the research took place at a crucial time for psychiatry, as the discipline was beginning to edge its way into the scientific arena. Newly established, the Maudsley Hospital received Jewish émigrés from Germany to join its ranks. Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, this group of psychiatrists brought with them an enthusiasm for psychoactive drugs and visual media in the scientific study of psychopathological states. In this case, Guttmann and Maclay enlisted the help of surrealist artists, who were harnessing hallucinogens for their own revolutionary aims. Looking behind the images, particularly how they were produced and their legacy today, tells a story of how these groups cooperated, and how their overlapping ecologies of knowledge and experience coincided in these remarkable inscriptions.

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This paper is concerned with the use of interviews with scientists by members of two disciplinary communities: oral historians and historians of science. It examines the disparity between the way in which historians of science approach autobiographies and biographies of scientists on the one hand, and the way in which they approach interviews with scientists on the other. It also examines the tension in the work of oral historians between a long-standing ambition to record forms of past experience and more recent concerns with narrative and personal ‘composure’. Drawing on extended life story interviews with scientists, recorded by National Life Stories at the British Library between 2011 and 2016, it points to two ways in which the communities might learn from each other. First, engagement with certain theoretical innovations in the discipline of oral history from the 1980s might encourage historians of science to extend their already well-developed critical analysis of written autobiography and biography to interviews with scientists. Second, the keen interest of historians of science in using interviews to reconstruct details of past events and experience might encourage oral historians to continue to value this use of oral history even after their theoretical turn.

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The aftermath of the Second World War represented a major turning point in the history of French and European physical sciences. The physicist’s profession was profoundly restructured, and in this transition the role of internationalism changed tremendously. Transnational circulation became a major part of research training. This article examines the conditions of possibility for this transformation, by focusing on the case of the summer school for theoretical physics created in 1951 by the young Cécile Morette (1922-2017), just in front of Mont Blanc, at Les Houches. First I show that ultimately it was only thanks to extremely specific and intertwined social positions and dispositions, in terms of class and gender (derived from her socialization as an expected dame de la bourgeoisie), and through the interactions between such social attributes and a dramatic life event, that Morette managed to gather a network diverse, powerful and transnational enough to create this institution. Then, following the first years of this school, I show how it became an international model, paving the way to new articulations between the local, the national and the global scales, even beyond the Cold War oppositions.

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Throughout his career the geographer, and first reader in the ‘new’ geography at the University of Oxford, Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) described his discipline as a branch of physics. This essay explores this feature of Mackinder’s thought and presents the connections between him and the Royal Institution professor of natural philosophy John Tyndall (1820-1893). My reframing of Mackinder’s geography demonstrates that the academic professionalization of geography owed as much to the methods and instruments of popular natural philosophy and physics as it did to theories of Darwinian natural selection. In tracing the parallels between Tyndall and Mackinder, and their shared emphasis upon the technology of the magic lantern and the imagination as tools of scientific investigation and education, the article elucidates their common pedagogical practices. Mackinder’s disciplinary vision was expressed in practices of visualization, and in metaphors inspired by physics, to audiences of geographers and geography teachers in the early twentieth century. Together, these features of Mackinder’s geography demonstrate his role as a popularizer of science and extend the temporal and spatial resonance of Tyndall’s natural philosophy.