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?


Dirk said...

Very interesting outline. Maybe you should guard for kicking in open doors. Most scientists want public recognition, but how they get it is another story.
Overall, I think you have a exciting outline. Keep up the good work.

I haven't started writing yet, so I'm in for some stressful work this week.


Post a Comment