1 comments 27 October 2009

Fantastic visualisation of human understood as a machine. By Henning Lederer.

Der Mensch als Industriepalast [Man as Industrial Palace] from Henning Lederer on Vimeo.

0 comments 12 October 2009

This Wednesday, October 14th: Movie Night about STALKER

what: filmdiscussion night about Stalker
where: Ina Bouider-Bakkerlaan 41-4
when: Wednesday, October 14th
what to bring: some foods (chips/brownies etc.) drinks to share, your agenda for planning some winter movie nights, ideas about what movies you want to watch next time, and prejudices about Russian Cold War movies to bring to the test!

0 comments 01 October 2009

Jacoline Bouvy won the Night of Descartes Essay Contest on Evidence Based Medicine, featured in the latest UBlad:


Doctors have always treated patients according to what they believed were effective treatments. Until the late 19th century, however, bloodletting was thought to be a cure for a variety of diseases. Today, we prefer treatments that are ‘scientifically proven’ to be effective and expect our doctors to practice evidence-based medicine. But evidence-based medicine is not a medical doctrine: it is a set of tools that allows doctors to practice medicine by preferably using treatments that have been shown to be efficacious and effective. It helps doctors to be able to provide the ‘best’ therapies to their patients. However, evidence-based medicine is far from perfect and holds several weaknesses.The foundation of evidence-based medicine is the ‘hierarchy of evidence’ model, which ranks different types of scientific research study designs according to the authority these types of research hold. The hierarchy of evidence model wrongly regards the randomized controlled trial (RCT) (and systematic reviews of RCTs) as the ‘best’ type of medical research. Furthermore, it discriminates against lower ranked study designs that in the past have contributed to a great extent to current knowledge of diseases.In the development of medical evidence-based guidelines, the hierarchy of evidence model is used to rank the authority of different types of research. The randomized controlled trial and systematic reviews of RCTs are ranked above observational studies, case reports and expert opinion. A systematic review of at least two independent randomized double-blinded controlled trials of sufficient quality and size is considered the highest form of evidence in medicine followed by a single randomized double-blinded controlled trial. Ranked below RCTs are comparative studies (e.g. case-control studies and open trials), and at the bottom we find non-comparative observational studies and expert opinion.The randomized controlled trial is the closest medicine has come to a formal experiment which is why it is ranked highest. Yet, it is exactly the nature of RCT design that is problematic for its application in medicine: the highly controlled circumstances and selected patient population result in problems with external validity. The homogenous patient sample of an RCT is not very representative for the real-life, daily practice of health care, where the patient population is naturally very heterogeneous. Possibly even more important, pharmaceutical companies that have an obvious interest in publishing promising results of their products often fund RCTs. This does not mean we cannot trust the outcomes of their studies; it does mean we have to be aware of the issue of objectivity in their studies. Ideally, their results should be repeated by independent studies.

Unfortunately, neither does independent research guarantee objectivity of study outcomes. The well-known ‘Scientists behaving badly’ publication (2005) has shown that 33 percent of researchers have engaged in at least one form of serious misbehavior in research (Martinson et al. 2005*). Thus, objectivity in medical research and publications in scientific journals does not exist. The hierarchy of evidence model does suggest that when study design conditions (e.g. sufficient quality and size) are met, RCTs will always produce reliable results. This is a wrong assumption.Randomized controlled trials have another major fallacy: they are short-term oriented. Observational studies (that are ranked below RCTs) are essential in investigating long-term effects of treatments and determinants of disease. The Framingham Heart study that started in 1948 is an example of a well-known observational study that has contributed greatly to our knowledge of cardiovascular diseases. Also, the relationship between smoking and lung cancer was shown not by randomized controlled trials but by epidemiological study designs. These examples clearly show that study design does not necessarily indicate the importance of the study’s results to the field of medicine.Evidence-based medicine and its hierarchy of evidence model clearly put randomized controlled trials above observational studies and, therefore, forces rigid judgment on their value and utility in medicine. But history has shown us that we need to look beyond study design to determine the true quality of scientific research and the extent to which published studies contribute to our knowledge of diseases and treatments. The hierarchy of evidence model is useful but has several limitations that create a need to look beyond evidence-based medicine. True evidence-based medicine should value research according to its importance and contribution to our increasing understanding of medicine. The evidence-based medicine model that simply ranks scientific studies based on their study design is not sufficient.

*Martinson BC, Anderson MS, de Vries R. Scientists behaving badly. Nature 2005;435(June):737-738.

2 comments 23 August 2009

Museum's are hot these days. At least, debates on Dutch museums keep on going. Sometimes it's about negative news, such as the renovation of the Rijksmuseum of Art and History which continues to take longer and gets more and more expensive, or the National Museum of History in Arnhem of which the content remains a mystery... sometimes it's about good news, such as the Hermitage Amsterdam, a great new museum (built within budget and period), and the Giroloterij Museum Price 2009.

This price of €100,000 will be given to one of the by jury selected museums best able to tell Dutch history to its visitors. The nominees are:
  • Beeld & Geluid experience / Sound and Vision Experience
  • Het Dolhuys
  • Nederlands Openluchtmuseum / Dutch Open Air Museum
  • Het Spoorwegmuseum / Dutch Railway Museum
  • Tropenmuseum
You can vote for the best museum: Museum Prijs 2009.

On the history of the sciences, The Dolhuys is of course the one. On the history of technologies, you can consider Sound & Vision and the Railway Museum. Cultural history is shown in Open Air Museum and Tropenmuseum. Likely winners are Dolhuys, Open Air and Railway Museum. We'll see on 24 September...

0 comments 21 August 2009

Taken from Ublad.uu.nl:
Zo’n twintig jaar geleden werd de term ‘evidence-based medicine’ (EBM) geïntroduceerd. Bij het maken van een keus voor de behandeling van een patiënt diende de arts gebruik te maken van wetenschappelijk bewezen inzichten. Schrijf een essay over dit thema en ontvang voor 250 euro aan boekenbonnen. Het winnende essay wordt bovendien gepubliceerd in het Ublad.
De tweede ‘Nacht van Descartes’ – die plaatsvindt op 24 september in de Geertekerk in Utrecht - is gewijd aan 'evidence-bases medicine' (EBM). Voor die gelegenheid hebben het Descartes Centre, Studium Generale en het Ublad een prijsvraag over dit fenomeen uitgeschreven.
Vragen die geopperd worden zijn: Had de geneeskunde zich voorheen dan niet op de wetenschap gebaseerd? Hoefde de effectiviteit van medische ingrepen voorheen niet te zijn bewezen? Is de geneeskunde sindsdien beter en effectiever geworden? Kan de introductie van EBM misschien ook worden verklaard door factoren van niet-medische aard? Wat heeft EBM bijvoorbeeld te maken met het streven naar kostenbeheersing in de zorg en met de juridisering van het medisch handelen? En heeft EBM bijgedragen aan een versterking van de medische professie of vormt het juist een bedreiging voor haar autonomie? Kortom: hoe moeten we Evidence-based medicine als fenomeen begrijpen en evalueren?
Studenten en medewerkers van de UU en het UMC worden nadrukkelijk uitgenodigd om een bijdrage over dit thema per e-mail te sturen naar a.heijnen@ublad.uu.nl. De bijdrage mag niet langer zijn dan 800 woorden en moet uiterlijk op dinsdag 1 september binnen zijn – voorzien van naam, adres en telefoonnummer van de auteur. Een jury bestaande uit Yvonne van Rooy (College van Bestuur), Herman Philipse (Universiteitshoogleraar), Frank Huisman (Descartes Centre / UMC), Melanie Peters (Studium Generale) en Armand Heijnen (Ublad) beoordeelt de bijdragen. Het bekroonde essay wordt gepubliceerd in het Ublad voorafgaand aan de Nacht van Descartes. De auteur krijgt bovendien een prijs bestaande uit boekenbonnen ter waarde van 250 Euro.

0 comments 08 April 2009

0 comments 03 April 2009

Azadeh Achbari presented her first results part of her research into the "Global Science from a Dutch Perspective: Dutch Participation in 19th Century Humboldtian Networks." Azadeh presented the case study of English scientist Whewell and the Dutch professor Gerrit Moll and their work on the tidal waves and water currents in seas and oceans.

0 comments 05 March 2009

Monday, 9 March:
Symposium Wetenschapsarchieven Janskerk
Speakers: Leen Dorsman, Wijnand Mijnhardt, et al.

Tuesday: 17 March:
Descartes Colloquium

Friday, 3 April:
Symposium "Alexander von Humboldt in Holland (1800 – 1900)"
Speakers: Nicolaas Rupke, Azadeh Achbari, et al.

0 comments 22 February 2009

Professor Christopher Cullen, director of the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, gave a lecture on the characteristics of ordering and arranging historical events typical for Chinese chronology. Under the title "Astronomy and chronology in Han dynasty: some issues and debates," Culler not only discussed the way ancient Chinese scholars tried to establish the dates of past events, but also the Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project, a recent attempt to get the dates of the oldest dynasties fixed.

"The Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE) saw the construction of the first fully worked out systems of mathematical astronomy in China." The famous Sima Qian 司馬遷 provided a list of the generations of the early dynasties without adding dates to them, because he already did not trust his sources. "Such systems were not only expected to predict future astronomical events, but also to 'retrodict' astronomical events recorded in ancient historical sources. As a result, debates about the validity of astronomical systems inevitably involved questions of chronology." Cullen used the writings of Liu Xin 劉歆 (c. 50 BCE - 23 CE) as an example of an early chronology project which dates the fall of the Xia dynasty in 1751 BCE. The Bamboo Annals would suggest 1558 BCE, and the recent chronology project, commissioned by the P.R. of China, dated the Xia conveniently from 2070 to 1600 BCE. Personally, I prefer seeing the Xia as the mythical dynasty of which its features, let alone exact dates, we will never know. Carbon-dating has been applied to some archaeological findings, but these only give an estimate, and moreover, might not even be really Xia, but instead Shang. Besides, even if these were Xia, that would not make it a dynasty, a civilisation with an hierarchical organisation and the application of metal.

Professor Barend ter Haar had an interesting hypothesis on the Xia controversy: he suggested that the Xia and Shang existed more or less simultaneously. When a list of the generations was set up during Han, these families were named one after the other, making seem that one came before the other, which does not necessarily need to be true at all.

Under the title "Historical chronology in traditional China," ter Haar also talked about the social aspect of the literati occupied with chronology. Only a very small number of people, the literati, were able to assign astronomical signs to events, and seeing that only a handful of copies existed of, for example Sima Qian's Shiji 史記, knowledge of these chronologies was not widespread.

A fascinating knowledge object that was shown was the compass: not just a needle in the middle to pinpoint the north, already a greatly influential invention, but also the circles and categories ordered around it, namely the Heavenly Stems, the Earthly Branches, the seasons and Solar Terms, etc. Yet again, only a small percentage of the population in Chinese society knew how to operate this invention. It concerned 'cosmic time' and the theory of Qi, the energy that flows in the universe, which can be attracted to and radiated from the human body. When studying the history of Chronology, one therefore needs to be conscious of the different perceptions of time.

0 comments 21 February 2009

Prof. Rosamond McKitterick of the University of Cambridge gave a lecture on "Carolingian Chronology: the Evidence of Scaliger Manuscripts 14 and 28 in Context."

"Chronology in the Carolingian period had both a practical and ideological function. It was deployed not only to determine the date of the moveable feasts in the liturgical calendar and to date legal documents, but also to record the past and the passing of time. My paper will first sketch in the background for the Carolingian interest in chronology and time, for which Scaliger MS 28, a ninth-century codex containing Bede's De temporum ratione, provides important evidence. Secondly I shall address the precedents for the presentation of the past according to particular chronological schemes with particular reference to Scaliger MS 14, a magnificent copy of the Chronicle of Eusebius-Jerome, written in the early ninth century within a milieu associated with the Emperor Charlemagne, king of the Franks. These two manuscripts raise the question of the diversity of chronological schemes deployed in the Carolingian period for the writing of history and the ideological significance of that diversity."

"Between aiōn and deuteron hexēkoston: Some thoughts on time in the Graeco-Roman world" by Dr Frits Naerebout of Leiden University.

"On the divide between Europe and Asia we find the Graeco-Roman world. Its so-called sciences were rooted in the Ancient Near East, stimulated by Greek thought of the free-thinking polis communities of the Archaic and Classical periods, brought to fruition in Hellenistic Egypt, and given their final infuential shape across the Roman Empire. Chronology is one of these sciences. If we want to understand the way it functioned in ancient society, we should not limit ourselves to astronomical chronology – as we are wont to do because of modern ideas of what science should be. Instead, we should also look at consciousness and conceptions of time, in relation to questions of marking time, telling time, and measuring time. Chronology is about time, and time is a multi-faceted phenomenon. In this paper we will make a tour d’horizon mapping the main issues."


At the History of Chronology conference, Kapil Raj gave a lecture on "Connecting Chronologies: The Making of Modern Science through Intercultural Encounter, South Asia and Europe in the 18th and 19th Centuries."

"Conventional wisdom conceives that, along with their discontinuous cultural traits, different ethnic groups also have discontinuous chronologies until being steam-rolled by the globalising effects of western imperialism and industrialisation. Based on an analysis of the sustained contact between South Asia and Europe in the domain of knowledge practices at the crucial period of the rise of European imperialism and of the Industrial Revolution, this talk will show, on the contrary, that modern science, and indeed significant traits of modernity itself are the result of making European and South Asian chronologies commensurable."

Dr. Kapil Raj followed the story of Sir William Jones who had learned Arabic and Persian, travelled to Calcutta and came into contact with a mixed chronology designed to legitimise Arabic rule over the Hindus. This ultimately led to Jones' theory for the underlying connection between the languages of Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, and which led to his new map of humanity, locating Noah in Persia, the origin, and then theorised about people's spread around the world. Today, William Jones is known for being the founder of modern philology.


On 19 and 20 February, I attended "the History of Chronology" conference organised by Prof. Harm Beukers of the Scaliger Institute (Leiden University). It was great to meet fellow history students interested in the history of science and the connection with Asia. Also the opportunity to listen to and speak with the authors of the books I have been reading is really inspiring.

After the introductory speeches by Max Sparreboom (IIAS) and Harm Beukers, Professor Anthony Grafton gave his keynote address with the title "From Chronicle to Chronology: Emending Past Time in Early Modern Europe." Interesting points Grafton touched upon were, I thought, the difference in role between chronology and history. In the eyes of some, chronology overshadowed history because the former recorded when and where historical events occurred and combined it with the the positions of the Sun and other heavenly bodies.

From the 15th century onwards, various innovations improved chronology, such as an index to make the chronology better accessible, the use of illustrations, new designs for lay-out (horizontal timeline and important persons and events encircled to attract attention, and a timeline in BC. In the 16th century, history and astronomy were connected by linking events to solar eclipses. This is very useful now, since modern astronomers and calculate exactly when solar eclipses must have taken place; this is data with which we can reconstruct 16th century calendars according to our own calendar.

Furthermore, Grafton talked about the Byzantine efforts to combine Persian sources with their own; the use of topography, genealogies, and Biblical chronology in conflict with Greek chronology. And of course, the keynote could not be finished without first discussing the Scaliger's cosmopolitan interest and innovation to include not only the Greek and Roman chronologies, but also the Persian, Babylonian, and Egyptian chronologies. Entertaining was the anecdote that Jews must have laughed at the Christians in the late 15th-early 16th century, because the Christians had great difficulty calculating when Easter had to be celebrated.

0 comments 04 February 2009

When: Every Thursday
Where: Letterenbibliotheek
Time: 13:30
For: Discussion, etc.
Also for: HPS students and anyone else interested...