Session 1: Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Hasok Chang)
This lecture will provide a friendly introduction to some of the key issues in the philosophy of science, intended for students approaching it from a broad spectrum of perspectives in the humanities. The main questions to be addressed include the following:
- What distinguishes science from other spheres of human culture?
- What constitutes scientific progress, and how does it relate to social and political progress?
- Is there such a thing as the scientific method?
- Is the essence of science a critical attitude, or a disciplined orthodoxy?
We will discuss such questions mainly through the classic debates concerning the nature and development of science that occurred in the 1960s and the 1970s, revolving around the works of Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, and others. References will be made to classic texts such as Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery, Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and Feyerabend’s Against Method. Themes covered in this lecture will inform our discussion of scientific discourses as literary forms (Session 2), and also provide an instructive background to the sociological, historical, and literary understanding of science.
Session 2: Reading Science From the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Hasok Chang)
This session will be a workshop on the forms of scientific literature from the Enlightenment era to the present. We will begin with the discussion of an intriguing paper by the Nobel Laureate immunologist Peter Medawar, ‘Is the Scientific Paper a Fraud?’, which argues that the standard format of modern scientific papers grossly misrepresents the actual process of scientific research. We will then analyze some examples of scientific publications from the 18th century onward, paying particular attention to the variety of formats and literary devices, and the shifts that occurred in them over the centuries. We will also consider the contexts in which the authors and audiences operated, with the help of some recent secondary literature.
Reading list for Session 2
A selection of primary sources, from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society; [Nicholson’s] Journal of Natural History, Chemistry, and the Arts; Nature; the Philosophical Magazine, etc.
Peter Medawar, ‘Is the Scientific Paper a Fraud?’, in Peter Medawar, The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 33-39
The Literary Form of Scientific Argument: Historical Studies, ed. by Peter Dear (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991)
Science in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences, ed. by Aileen Fyfe and Bernard Lightman (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007)
See also Virtual Nicholson’s Journal, a product of a pedagogical experiment that Hasok Chang started at UCL (now being looked after by Catherine Jackson), in which undergraduate students are asked to write a scientific essay in the manner of the mostly amateur contributors to Nicholson’s Journal. Each year the first issue of the virtual journal contains some real historical papers on a particular issue, and the students are asked to comment on them, and then on each other’s works as well. This is an immersion exercise, in which the best contributions do a nice job of simulating the typical historical characters as well as the scientific ideas.
Session 3: The Sociology of Scientific Understanding (James Sumner)
Historians of science have undergone a remarkable and (to most people outside the field) surprising journey. Thirty years ago, we were usually bracketed with philosophers of science, and vaguely presumed to accept an idealist, often positivistic account of the nature of our field. Now, most mainstream historians of science consider that scientific activities and understanding are ‘constructed’ through the social activities of scientists, and draw on insights from sociological theory to explain these developments.
Key to this change was the influence, chiefly in the 1980s, of the project for Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), which developed in two main schools of thought. The ‘Edinburgh School’ focused on broad developments, and lent itself easily to historical application. The ‘Bath School’, in some ways close to anthropology, practised small group studies. Both focused particularly on controversy as a way of getting beyond ‘standard’ or ‘progressive’ accounts of scientific change. This class presents some of the potential lessons of this movement for the student of literature, science, and medicine.
Please choose readings from among the following, using the annotations to guide your choice:
Barry Barnes, David Bloor, and John Henry, Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological Analysis (London: Athlone, 1996): Textbook-style introduction to ‘Edinburgh School’ SSK by three founders of the field, using historical case studies.
Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, The Golem: What You Should Know About Science, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998): Aimed at general audiences, a set of case studies illustrating the nature of science as defined by the two most prominent figures in ‘Bath School’ SSK.
Jan Golinski, Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998; 3rd edn, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005): Book-length introduction to the social construction of science, including plenty of discussion of scholarly writing in the field. Dense in places, but rewards careful study.
Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985): Classic example of a work of history written under strong (mostly Edinburgh) SSK influence. Has been highly influential.
Andrew Cunningham, ‘Getting the Game Right: Some Plain Words on the Identity and Invention of Science’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 19 (1988), 365-89: Not an SSK text, but worth looking at to see how the history of science and medicine has been reconstructed (from the ground up, through questions as basic as ‘What is science?’, partly through the shifts the SSK movement opened up).
Steven Shapin, ‘Discipline and Bounding: The History and Sociology of Science as Seen Through the Externalism-Internalism Debate’, History of Science, 30 (1992), 333-69: A brief trip through the historiography of science, showing how the arrival of SSK-influenced thinking relates to older debates (essentially it doesn’t, but changes the terms of reference).
Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker, ‘The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts’, in The Social Construction of Technological Systems, ed. by Wiebe Bijker, Thomas P. Hughes, and Trevor Pinch (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), 17-50: Extends (chiefly Bath) SSK thinking to generate the programme known as Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), which has been highly influential in history of technology.
Steven Shapin, ‘Here and Everywhere: Sociology of Scientific Knowledge’, Annual Review of Sociology, 21 (1995), 289-321: Useful survey of SSK, written for an audience of sociologists more generally.
A far more detailed list of readings in this area, developed by Martin Kusch, is available here.
Session 4: Science Communication Studies Workshop (James Sumner)
Communicating about science to those who do not possess ‘scientific expertise’ has in recent years become an increasingly professionalised activity; but it has existed for centuries, as a necessary part of achieving funding, institutional/legal acceptance, and popular support. There is now a growing field of science communication studies which analyses these activities, often with a historical dimension.
Like all forms of cultural production, ‘popular science’ (in journalism, fiction, education, and elsewhere) has a variety of norms and techniques for approaching the people who consume it. We’ll be looking at some of these in this class.
To prepare for the workshop, you should:
- Visit the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World archive. Watch broadcasts from 1965, 1980, and 1994 (and others, if you’re interested). Note the changes and the constant elements.
- Visit the archives of the US magazine Popular Science. Search on areas of interest to you, and browse magazines from a range of dates over the past forty years or so. Again, try to understand what’s happened to the representation of science over time.
- Look at popular books on science (browse the shelves in any large bookstore). You might particularly like to concentrate on books aimed at children.
- Skim newspapers for coverage of scientific topics, and think carefully about what is covered, to what extent, on what evidence, and with what aims. If you can, take a wide selection of broadsheets and tabloids over a single day.
- If possible, visit museums specialising in the history of science, medicine, and/or industry, and/or science centres (e.g. Catalyst, Widnes; Magna, Rotherham; Sellafield Visitor Centre), which are rather different from museums. Also, look at the programme of events for the most recent British Science Festival, or for local science festivals. Think about the intended audiences, and the techniques used to portray particular accounts of science in public life.
The following readings may be useful:
Misunderstanding Science? The Public Reconstruction of Science and Technology, ed. by Alan Irwin and Brian Wynne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
Jane Gregory and Steve Miller, Science in Public: Communication, Culture and Credibility (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2000)
Stephen Hilgartner, ‘The Dominant View of Popularization’, Social Studies of Science, 20:3 (1990), 519-39
Peter Bowler, Science For All: The Popularization of Science in Early Twentieth-Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)
Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology, ed. by Massimiano Bucchi and Brian Trench (New York: Routledge, 2008)
Dorothy Nelkin, Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1995)
Recommended Further Reading
Daniel Albright, Quantum Poetics: Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and the Science of Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
Tim Armstrong, ‘Poetry and Science’, in A Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English, ed. by Neil Roberts (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 76-88
John Barnie, No Hiding Place: Essays on the New Nature and Poetry (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996)
The Measured Word: On Poetry and Science, ed. by Kurt Brown (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001)
Douglas Bush, Science and English Poetry: A Historical Sketch, 1590-1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950)
Alan J. Friedman and Carol C. Donley, Einstein as Myth and Muse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)
John Holmes, Darwin’s Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009)
Peter Middleton, ‘Can Poetry Be Scientific?’, in On Literature and Science: Essays, Reflections, Provocations, ed. by Philip Coleman (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007), pp. 190-208
Peter Middleton, ‘Poets and Scientists’, in A Concise Guide to Twentieth-Century American Poetry, ed. by Stephen Fredman (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 212-30
Peter Middleton, ‘Strips: Scientific Language in Poetry’, in Textual Practice, 23:6 (2009), 947-58
I. A. Richards, Science and Poetry (London: Kegan Paul, 1926)
I. A. Richards, Poetries and Sciences (London: Routledge, 1970): A significant revision of the 1926 book.
Jonathan Smith, Fact and Feeling: Baconian Science and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994)
Michael H. Whitworth, ‘Science and Poetry’, in Teaching Modernist Poetry, ed. by Nicky Marsh and Peter Middleton (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010)