With the boisterous rise of populism in politics and public debate, politicians and the media seem to deal with the truth in an increasingly dubious manner. We have entered—it is said—the era of ‘post-truth’, ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’, and ‘fact-free’ politics. In this essay, I argue that history of science can help putting these developments in a new perspective.  Continue reading “The rise and fall of the fact: History of science in times of post-truth and alternative facts”
Onlangs kreeg ik van iemand die kennelijk wat aan mijn gevestigde opvattingen wilde rammelen het boek van Pierre Bayard kado, How to talk about books you haven’t read (2007). Bayard is Fransman, psychoanalyticus en doceert in Parijs Franse literatuur. Die combinatie belooft meestal niet veel goeds, maar het boek is werkelijk heel leesbaar. Daarmee kon mijn eerste vooroordeel dus alvast het raam uit.
Tussen 1900 en 1920 voltrok zich binnen de psychiatrie een transformatie van een overwegend biomedische benadering naar een meer psychologische. Psychiaters in Nederland hadden veel aandacht voor psychologische en in het bijzonder psychoanalytische methoden om geestesziekten te bestuderen. Als één van de eerste Europese hoogleraren psychiatrie die de psychoanalyse omhelsde, was de Leidse psychiater Gerbrandus Jelgersma hierin toonaangevend. Deze blog bespreekt Jelgersma’s transitie van de snijtafel naar de praatstoel. Hieruit blijkt dat er geen sprake was van plotselinge omwenteling of revolutie, maar van een geleidelijke introductie van nieuwe onderzoeksmethodes.
On 6 December 2016 Katrien Vanagt, a historian of science and filmmaker, gave a guest lecture on early modern experiments in anatomy and optics within Prof. Sven Dupré’s Master course “Art and knowledge: Light, Color and Perspective in Art” at University College Utrecht. First, we watched her documentary In Waking Hours, co-produced with film maker Sarah Vanagt, followed by a hands-on session in which the students built their own camera obscura’s. In this blog, I reflect upon the documentary In Waking Hours as a research method and pedagogic tool to explore experiential aspects of early modern experimental practice. Moreover, I argue that Vanagt’s film encourages humanities researchers to engage with their research matter hands-on and to experiment with unorthodox media and formats to do and present research, despite the pressure for conformity in our current academic research landscape.
The period of transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages, known as late antiquity, gave rise to some of the elements that have since constituted the identity of the Western self. It also gave rise to new lines of psychological investigation, of which Western psychology is the remote heir. Psychology, however, did not exist in the ancient world as an independent science, nor was a distinction drawn between scientific and moral or religious elements of psychological knowledge. Accordingly, this important source of evidence has been neglected by scholars investigating the history of Western psychology, who have tended to focus on the 19th-century roots of scientific psychology. This post argues for the need to broaden the focus on the history of the discipline of psychology to include the history of psychological knowledge, and demonstrates some of the benefits to be derived from this endeavor.
Many of the figures that historians write about died a long time ago. To gain insight into their lives, historians investigate sources that have in fact survived the test of time. But what would it be like to ask Isaac Newton a question in person? And what would you ask him? Isaac Newton has passed away a long time ago, but the modern-day Newtons are very much alive. Due to technological advancement, it has become incredibly easy to get in touch with prominent scientists, and simply ask them a question. They form an important source of knowledge and are first-hand witnesses to science in progress. And basically, time is short: if we don’t strike in time, we lose their testimonies forever.
Every generation gets the self-help book it deserves. From the nineteenth-century Marriage Manual to the more recent The 4-hour Work Week (2007), books have been telling us how to cope with life. The promises of these books were—and still are—based on new or recycled knowledge about psychology, health, and business, and on common sense advice cloaked in the rhetoric of revolutionary personal change. The writers of these books were also eager to jump on the bandwagon of new tools to organise information. Or so it seems from a book that I found with the intriguing title Kartothek des Ich: A card index of the self.
In case of an emergency you call the emergency hotline, and help arrives quickly. This seems so straightforward that one almost forgets it requires a lot of coordination and organization. At the turn of the twentieth century the organizational structure behind emergency medicine developed significantly. Especially fundamental was the introduction of triage during the First World War, which decided the order of treatment on the basis of the urgency of the wound. This medical decision-model replaced the traditional way of working that relied on the rank of the patient, and is still at the core of emergency medicine today. How emergency medicine was organized before this change came about, I will elucidate through a unique historical source: a census, published shortly before the triage was introduced. This will shed light on the very muddy and opaque organizational structure of emergency medicine of early twentieth century
5211 miles. In the distance that runs roughly from London to Karachi, Pakistan, I spent the summer of 2016 driving across the western half of the United States to visit six atomic sites. Each site was integral in the production of the US nuclear arsenal during World War II and the Cold War. While I was in search of local archives, each local atomic museum proved much more captivating. After long, solitary drives through wide open desert and mountains, I came to look forward to the stimulation of poking through their exhibits. At the beginning of the trip, I did not know what to expect from each museum, though I suspected that each would lean heavily on ideas of objectivity in their portrayals of local atomic histories. I did encounter exhibits that made unalloyed claims about objective scientific and historical truths. But, I found so much more at the museums. Three themes leap to the fore on the trip. The museums instill awe by displaying the sublime and grandiose aspects of the bomb. They invoke objectivity by using heroic scientists as exemplars for truth. Finally, they exude opportunity by pointing to possible atomic futures. I argue that the museums rely on affect and desire more than they rely on objectivity to tell the US’ atomic story.
“There is no such thing as an amateur artist as different from a professional artist. There is only good art and bad art,” said the French Painter Paul Cézanne, tipping his hat to his amateur colleagues. Such an attitude might appear to be on the rise in the world of science as well. In recent years, participatory models of science communication are starting to become ever more popular. But, as historian Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent points out, the overt implementation of participatory models by research institutes and technology developers does not necessarily mean that we have moved beyond a view of an impressionable public that is essentially innocent of science. In the same vein, the increased presence of amateurs in the world of science does not mean that a distance between amateurs and professionals is not being maintained. I was eager to get a sense of where we, as a society, stand on scientific amateurs. To that end I went to the place where I came across the modern-day scientific amateur in the first place: Three recent articles from reputable Anglophone print-media sources. In this text, I aim to explore the theme of amateur science as it is brought to us by the media.