HSS – History of Science Society meeting

I was at the History of Science Society Meeting in Minneapolis from Thursday through Sunday. Very exciting.

It was a really good conference. This year was the first time in quite a while that HSS had a co-meeting with the Society for the History of Technology. Apparently there was bad academic blood between the two organizations. More likely, they just thought historians of technology were boring and methodologically simplistic. I joke, I joke.

Non-academic highlights include: belly-dancing and falafel, Indian buffet (twice), plenty of beer, finding out that coffee is good if you put enough cream and sugar in it (I bought a coffee maker today, after my good experience with coffee there), Mall of America (the ultimate cathedral of capitalism; definitely recommended).

Society for the Quasi-Historical Study of Modern Pseudo-Science:
I decided a few weeks ago that I’m going to really work on this idea I’ve been kicking around for a while now, the Quasi-Historical Study of Modern Pseudo-Science, and I’ve started recruiting other people to help me. Rana Hogarth and I are going to co-edit a farcical journal that explores the intersection of modern science and technology with traditional pseudo-sciences. Things like high-energy metaphysics, evolutionary cryptozoology and biophysical alchemy simply don’t get the scholarly attention they deserve. As Matt Gunterman put it, this will be like if the Daily Show were a history of science journal. Matt is going to do the website once we grooving.

I was fantastically successful at finding interest among grad students and young professors; if even half the people who expressed interest in contributing articles actually do, we should definitely be able to put out the inaugural volume of the Journal for the Quasi-Historical Study of Modern Pseudo-Science (JQSMP) by this time next year or a little later. I hope to get articles in by the end of next summer, then have a few months for peer-review and revisions and publish by Winter 2006. The range of expertise among the potential contributors is simply outstanding. Once we’re further along, I’m going to pitch Anthony Grafton for a radioastrology article; how sweet would that be?. A taste of what’s to come:

Ornithomantic Models for Long-Term Weather Prediction
Hydrid Car(d)s: Tarot and Auto Industry
Incorporeal Statistics and the Paranormal Distribution


  • Piers Hale – Super rad Australian with a green dragon tattoo on his head. He’s a cultural historian who’s moving into history of science via the popular end of early- to mid-20th-century evolution debates, particularly George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. Possible JQSMP contributor.
  • Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis – Author of Unifying Biology and one of the few people who work on evolution during and beyond the Modern Synthesis. Her book was important for me as I framed the research topic I will probably work on for my dissertation (essentially how the splitting of biology departments between molecular and organismal affected the intersection of evolutionary biology and biochemistry). I saw her last year but never introduced myself. This year I met her and told her about my likely project; she was so excited about it! Her reaction really made me feel like I have the thread of something interesting and important, and hopefully I’ll stay in close contact with her when it comes time to do more work in that direction. I’m supposed to email her with more details. It was also really gratifying that she agreed with my assessment of the pedagogical (and hence intellectual) split between evolutionary biology and the biochemical/molecular disciplines: the reason why Intelligent Design arguments get as far as they do among biochemists is that they never learn (or get indoctrinated with, ID proponents might say) evolution in their training. Google turned up an interesting exchange between her and the Panda’s Thumb crowd.
  • Leandra Swanner – Radiant and clever historian of astronomy and physics at Oregon State (one of four gals from OSU at the meeting – Katie, Rachel and Erica were the others). She’s getting her masters this year and is applying to Yale (among many other places, along with her husband – same problem Faith and I had) for next year. Possible JQSMP contributor.
  • Luis Campos – Finishing Harvard grad student applying for the Yale job (and got at least as far as an interview at HSS; more news on the Yale search soon). He works on connections between radium and origin of life research, and Julia and I had lunch with him and like him a lot. Very clever chap, and very excited about history of science – my kind of guy.
  • Roger Turner – 3rd year grad student at Penn, with a big red beard. He gave a really excellent talk on the shift from US meteorology from a craft discipline to a more rigorous, scientifically based discipline after WWII, thanks to the massive number of military weathermen that were trained for the war. Possible JQSMP contributor.
  • Gabe Henderson – Grad student from Iowa State, does 20th century astronomy. We ended up in a lot of sessions together… clearly he has good taste in topics.
  • Warren Dym – A hoopy frood who knows where his towel is. A sarcastic and fun U.C. Davis historian of early modern mining (or leprechauns, according to Julia) who knows a whole lot about divining rods. I almost stayed with him at a nearby youth hostel (instead of the floor of a hotel room). Possible JQSMP contributor.

I also had nice chats with my OU professors Katherine Pandora and Stephen Weldon, and saw Peter Barker’s great session on early modern science where Katherine Tredwell gave a superb talk on the spread of Melancthon’s natural theological view of astronomy in England. I told Pandora about my thoughts on using Wikipedia for classroom assignments after her talk about reaching “Mr. Everyman” with new technology, and Weldon told me about (OU grad student) Sylwester Ratowt’s history of science blog Copernicus Sashimi (nice URL, too). Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of the OU kids there.

On a related note, it looks like there’s great competition for the OU job. Of course, I’m rooting for Lloyd Ackert (a true Brewer-Patriot if ever there was one).

Lamarck Giraffe:
I wore my shirt to the Dark Side of Lamarckism session, and the reactions were extremely disappointing. I got one comment on it after I had been chatting with one of the presenters for a while, but no one came up to me afterwards asking about it or anything. People at Yale seemed to have a really great reaction to it, especially the kids in Ole’s class (maybe because he explained the joke of it to them). Maybe the new design I’m working on (more news on that soon) will go over better at the next conference I go to.

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