7 comments 31 January 2008

Hey guys, don't forget: for this Monday we have to read "Introduction" and "Chapter 1: France." The course History, Role & Impact of the Social Sciences hasn't even started yet, or we have to read 100 pages!

Wolf Lepenies, Between Literature and Science: the Rise of Sociology. "The theme of this book is the conflict that arose in the early 19th century between the literary and scientific intellectuals of Europe, as they competed for recognition as the chief analysts of the new industrial society in which they lived. Sociology was conceived as the 3rd major discipline, a hybrid of the scientific and literary traditions. The author chronicles the rise of the new discipline by discussing the lives and works of the most prominent thinkers of the time, in England, France, and Germany. The book presents a penetrating study of idealists grappling with reality when industrial society was in its infancy."

9 comments 30 January 2008

In our last class of our course on the history of the biomedical sciences, we discussed the relation between humans and other animals. My presentation was on the article by Tröhler and Maehle: "Anti-vivisection in Nineteenth-century Germany and Switzerland: Motives and Methods" in Vivisection in Historical Perspective.

This movement was a form of expressive politics. Its arguments were not only against vivisection, but contra reductionist materialism. The aristocratic Lady Marie-Espérance von Schwartz used her literary skills to convince and influence people and politics. The medically trained Ernst Grysanowksi provided the movement with medical argumentation and theoretical foundation. Ernst von Weber organized the movement and developed its methods in creating support for the anti-vivisectionist cause.
From 1879 to 1885 the conflict between anti-vivisectionist and advocates of vivisection, most medical scientists (Virchow, Koch, Ehrlich, Hermann, Vogt) was brought from the public arena of popular writing (books and pamphlets) to the political arena. Here, the isolation and lack of political power of the anti-vivisection movement became painfully visible. Medical scientists and politicians had a strong alliance, while the anti-vivisectionists did not have massive support of the general people and proved to be a small elite group of enthusiastic, radical activists. The difference between instrumental and expressive politics, was the difference between advocates and antagonists of vivisection.
The failure of the anti-vivisection movement can also be sought in the philosophical background and socio-cultural beliefs. The anthropocentric perspective of the animal protection societies, founded from 1840, was less radical and more in consensus with the public perception of animal experimentation. Animal experimentation was only harmful if it was public or the public was offended. Legislation was also focused on this aspect of cruelty to animals, a main reason why vivisection has been more secluded from the public ever since. The scientific status of medicine and its dependence on animal experimentation was impossible to take apart, as were the strong links with politics. The value of medicine to politicians and public may have been greater than the harm of vivisection, either to man or animal.
Because the anti-vivisection movement did not nuance its stance on vivisection, it neither got the support from the larger animal protection societies, nor got it into a fruitful debate with scientists. Its isolation from the public was another reason for its eventual failure.

This article and its topic perfectly correspond with the term civil society, the free association of people outside politics in societies. The influence between the two, societies and politics, is an interesting theme, running through the article. The larger cultural and social background of the anti-vivisection movement is also interesting. Further research is needed to get a better view on late nineteenth century science, politics, elite, and public.


1 comments 26 January 2008

Last Friday was the last class for Science & the Public by Leen Dorsman. Unfortunately only a few of us were present, but that didn't matter. Dirk and I got some extra feedback on our work (and we got extension to Monday to submit the essays!). It was actually quite funny, because Dirk managed to pick a topic in which the element of 'public' seems to be absent. Science & the Public was a fun course, and I believe Koen will do more courses on this topic on exchange.

Anyway, at this point this blog has 5 authors, but there is only me posting. So, everyone, start posting too! Not that I want to force you to do anything you don't want to do, but if it feels that way, good! ;)

This Monday is also the last class of History of the Biomedical Studies. Hopefully I've finished the last reading report by then. My essay will be about museums. And so, I've visited the Museum on Veterinary Medicine in their faculty, and it was quite an experience! I'll post about it later.

1 comments 19 January 2008

As I initiated this HCSSH blog, I guess I should also start with the first serious entry. Since we're all writing our essays for the course "Science and the Public," I thought it would be nice to give a preview. Comments more than welcome, of course!

The topic of my essay will be Louis Pasteur and his anthrax experiment of 1881 at Pouilly-le-Fort. In the 19th century, anthrax was fatal disease for cattle and Pasteur was aspired to find a solution to this problem which had significant economic consequences. Pasteur suggested that animals could be given a mild form of anthrax by vaccinating them with weakened bacilli, thus making them immune. Challenged by well-known veterinarian H. Rossignol to proof his theory that germs caused disease in a public test, Pasteur gathered 50 sheep of which he inoculated the first 25.1 A few days later, he inoculated all sheep with an especially strong inoculant. He predicted that by 2 June 1881, the first group of sheep would still live, and the second group would have died. The experiment, which had attracted a skeptical crowd of pharmacists, veterinarians, officials and journalists, was successfully concluded by the dramatic presentation of 25 carcasses and 25 healthy sheep.

As I will argue in my essay, Pasteur’s anthrax experiment of 1881 was as much an undertaking to apply laboratory knowledge in the field, as it was a means to communicate science to a wide, responsive yet critical, public. Three aspects can be identified: first, the place of scientific research by Pasteur was located in the laboratory, but brought outside by conducting a experiment publicly; second, this public presentation operated at the same time as a means of communicating new discoveries in science to the public; third, as far as response was concerned, a broad public of politicians and journalists was made interested in the anthrax experiment, because of the rivalry between two scientists and the stake of Pasteur’s reputation. While treating the issues stated above, I will attempt to show that Pasteur not only tried to establish his research with this experiment, but also wanted to receive public recognition.

Any thoughts?

2 comments 17 January 2008

This is the first entry on the blog on the history of the sciences and humanities. The official title should be "Historical and Comparative Studies of the Sciences and Humanities," but blogger did not accept a title this long. Still, we managed to get the abbreviation as the url.

What's the purpose of this blog? Well, since the students doing this masters program are in such small numbers, we thought it would be nice to make a virtual forum on which we can post whatever is going on, whatever interests us, whatever everyone is doing/studying/working on, anywhere around the globe, anytime of the day.

So, here we go. It's an experiment, so this might just as well fail and not exist in a few months, haha.