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History of Science

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Stanford and the Computer Music Revolution

In the 1960s, a team of Stanford musicians, engineers, computer scientists, and psychologists used computing in an entirely novel way: to produce and manipulate sound and create the sonic basis of new musical compositions. This group of interdisciplinary researchers at the nascent Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced “karma”) helped to develop computer music as an academic field, invent the technologies that underlie it, and usher in the age of digital music. In The Sound of Innovation, Andrew Nelson chronicles the history of CCRMA, tracing its origins in Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory through its present-day influence on Silicon Valley and digital music groups worldwide.

Nelson emphasizes CCRMA’s interdisciplinarity, which stimulates creativity at the intersections of fields; its commitment to open sharing and users; and its pioneering commercial engagement. He shows that Stanford’s outsized influence on the emergence of digital music came from the intertwining of these three modes, which brought together diverse supporters with different aims around a field of shared interest. Nelson thus challenges long-standing assumptions about the divisions between art and science, between the humanities and technology, and between academic research and commercial applications, showing how the story of a small group of musicians reveals substantial insights about innovation.

Nelson draws on extensive archival research and dozens of interviews with digital music pioneers; the book’s website provides access to original historic documents and other material.

Patents, HIV/AIDS, and Race

In The Genealogy of a Gene, Myles Jackson uses the story of the CCR5 gene to investigate the interrelationships among science, technology, and society. Mapping the varied “genealogy” of CCR5—intellectual property, natural selection, Big and Small Pharma, human diversity studies, personalized medicine, ancestry studies, and race and genomics—Jackson links a myriad of diverse topics. The history of CCR5 from the 1990s to the present offers a vivid illustration of how intellectual property law has changed the conduct and content of scientific knowledge, and the social, political, and ethical implications of such a transformation.

The CCR5 gene began as a small sequence of DNA, became a patented product of a corporation, and then, when it was found to be an AIDS virus co-receptor with a key role in the immune system, it became part of the biomedical research world—and a potential moneymaker for the pharmaceutical industry. When it was further discovered that a mutation of the gene found in certain populations conferred near-immunity to the AIDS virus, questions about race and genetics arose. Jackson describes these developments in the context of larger issues, including the rise of “biocapitalism,” the patentability of products of nature, the difference between U.S. and European patenting approaches, and the relevance of race and ethnicity to medical research.

The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry

The Chernobyl disaster has been variously ascribed to human error, reactor design flaws, and industry mismanagement. Six former Chernobyl employees were convicted of criminal negligence; they defended themselves by pointing to reactor design issues. Other observers blamed the Soviet style of ideologically driven economic and industrial management. In Producing Power, Sonja Schmid draws on interviews with veterans of the Soviet nuclear industry and extensive research in Russian archives as she examines these alternate accounts. Rather than pursue one “definitive” explanation, she investigates how each of these narratives makes sense in its own way and demonstrates that each implies adherence to a particular set of ideas—about high-risk technologies, human-machine interactions, organizational methods for ensuring safety and productivity, and even about the legitimacy of the Soviet state. She also shows how these attitudes shaped, and were shaped by, the Soviet nuclear industry from its very beginnings.

Schmid explains that Soviet experts established nuclear power as a driving force of social, not just technical, progress. She examines the Soviet nuclear industry’s dual origins in weapons and electrification programs, and she traces the emergence of nuclear power experts as a professional community. Schmid also fundamentally reassesses the design choices for nuclear power reactors in the shadow of the Cold War’s arms race.

Schmid’s account helps us understand how and why a complex sociotechnical system broke down. Chernobyl, while unique and specific to the Soviet experience, can also provide valuable lessons for contemporary nuclear projects.

From Subtle Fluids to Molecular Biology

In 1809--the year of Charles Darwin’s birth--Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published Philosophie zoologique, the first comprehensive and systematic theory of biological evolution. The Lamarckian approach emphasizes the generation of developmental variations; Darwinism stresses selection. Lamarck’s ideas were eventually eclipsed by Darwinian concepts, especially after the emergence of the Modern Synthesis in the twentieth century. The different approaches--which can be seen as complementary rather than mutually exclusive--have important implications for the kinds of questions biologists ask and for the type of research they conduct. Lamarckism has been evolving--or, in Lamarckian terminology, transforming--since Philosophie zoologique's description of biological processes mediated by "subtle fluids." Essays in this book focus on new developments in biology that make Lamarck’s ideas relevant not only to modern empirical and theoretical research but also to problems in the philosophy of biology. Contributors discuss the historical transformations of Lamarckism from the 1820s to the 1940s, and the different understandings of Lamarck and Lamarckism; the Modern Synthesis and its emphasis on Mendelian genetics; theoretical and experimental research on such "Lamarckian" topics as plasticity, soft (epigenetic) inheritance, and individuality; and the importance of a developmental approach to evolution in the philosophy of biology. The book shows the advantages of a "Lamarckian" perspective on evolution. Indeed, the development-oriented approach it presents is becoming central to current evolutionary studies--as can be seen in the burgeoning field of Evo-Devo. Transformations of Lamarckism makes a unique contribution to this research.

The Cold War period saw a dramatic expansion of state-funded science and technology research. Government and military patronage shaped Cold War technoscientific practices, imposing methods that were project oriented, team based, and subject to national-security restrictions. These changes affected not just the arms race and the space race but also research in agriculture, biomedicine, computer science, ecology, meteorology, and other fields. This volume examines science and technology in the context of the Cold War, considering whether the new institutions and institutional arrangements that emerged globally constrained technoscientific inquiry or offered greater opportunities for it.

The contributors find that whatever the particular science, and whatever the political system in which that science was operating, the knowledge that was produced bore some relation to the goals of the nation-state. These goals varied from nation to nation; weapons research was emphasized in the United States and the Soviet Union, for example, but in France and China scientific independence and self-reliance dominated. The contributors also consider to what extent the changes to science and technology practices in this era were produced by the specific politics, anxieties, and aspirations of the Cold War.

Elena Aronova, Erik M. Conway, Angela N. H. Creager, David Kaiser, John Krige, Naomi Oreskes, George Reisch, Sigrid Schmalzer, Sonja D. Schmid, Matthew Shindell, Asif A. Siddiqi, Zuoyue Wang, Benjamin Wilson

Africans and the Global Uranium Trade

Uranium from Africa has long been a major source of fuel for nuclear power and atomic weapons, including the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In 2003, after the infamous “yellow cake from Niger,” Africa suddenly became notorious as a source of uranium, a component of nuclear weapons. But did that admit Niger, or any of Africa’s other uranium-producing countries, to the select society of nuclear states? Does uranium itself count as a nuclear thing? In this book, Gabrielle Hecht lucidly probes the question of what it means for something--a state, an object, an industry, a workplace--to be “nuclear.”

Hecht shows that questions about being nuclear--a state that she calls “nuclearity”--lie at the heart of today’s global nuclear order and the relationships between “developing nations” (often former colonies) and “nuclear powers” (often former colonizers). Hecht enters African nuclear worlds, focusing on miners and the occupational hazard of radiation exposure. Could a mine be a nuclear workplace if (as in some South African mines) its radiation levels went undetected and unmeasured? With this book, Hecht is the first to put Africa in the nuclear world, and the nuclear world in Africa. By doing so, she remakes our understanding of the nuclear age.

Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America

The essays in this volume study the creation, adaptation, and use of science and technology in Latin America. They challenge the view that scientific ideas and technology travel unchanged from the global North to the global South—the view of technology as “imported magic.” They describe not only alternate pathways for innovation, invention, and discovery but also how ideas and technologies circulate in Latin American contexts and transnationally. The contributors’ explorations of these issues, and their examination of specific Latin American experiences with science and technology, offer a broader, more nuanced understanding of how science, technology, politics, and power interact in the past and present.

The essays in this book use methods from history and the social sciences to investigate forms of local creation and use of technologies; the circulation of ideas, people, and artifacts in local and global networks; and hybrid technologies and forms of knowledge production. They address such topics as the work of female forensic geneticists in Colombia; the pioneering Argentinean use of fingerprinting technology in the late nineteenth century; the design, use, and meaning of the XO Laptops created and distributed by the One Laptop per Child Program; and the development of nuclear energy in Argentina, Mexico, and Chile.

Pedro Ignacio Alonso, Morgan G. Ames, Javiera Barandiarán, João Biehl, Anita Say Chan, Amy Cox Hall, Henrique Cukierman, Ana Delgado, Rafael Dias, Adriana Díaz del Castillo H., Mariano Fressoli, Jonathan Hagood, Christina Holmes, Matthieu Hubert, Noela Invernizzi, Michael Lemon, Ivan da Costa Marques, Gisela Mateos, Eden Medina, María Fernanda Olarte Sierra, Hugo Palmarola, Tania Pérez-Bustos, Julia Rodriguez, Israel Rodríguez-Giralt, Edna Suárez Díaz, Hernán Thomas, Manuel Tironi, Dominique Vinck

Public Knowledge about Radiation Health Effects after Chernobyl

Before Fukushima, the most notorious large-scale nuclear accident the world had seen was Chernobyl in 1986. The fallout from Chernobyl covered vast areas in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Europe. Belarus, at the time a Soviet republic, suffered heavily: nearly a quarter of its territory was covered with long-lasting radionuclides. Yet the damage from the massive fallout was largely imperceptible; contaminated communities looked exactly like noncontaminated ones. It could be known only through constructed representations of it. In The Politics of Invisibility, Olga Kuchinskaya explores how we know what we know about Chernobyl, describing how the consequences of a nuclear accident were made invisible. Her analysis sheds valuable light on how we deal with other modern hazards—toxins or global warming—that are largely imperceptible to the human senses.

Kuchinskaya describes the production of invisibility of Chernobyl’s consequences in Belarus—practices that limit public attention to radiation and make its health effects impossible to observe. Just as mitigating radiological contamination requires infrastructural solutions, she argues, the production and propagation of invisibility also involves infrastructural efforts, from redefining the scope and nature of the accident’s consequences to reshaping research and protection practices.

Kuchinskaya finds vast fluctuations in recognition, tracing varyingly successful efforts to conceal or reveal Chernobyl’s consequences at different levels—among affected populations, scientists, government, media, and international organizations. The production of invisibility, she argues, is a function of power relations.

In the natural science of ancient Greece, music formed the meeting place between numbers and perception; for the next two millennia, Pesic tells us in Music and the Making of Modern Science, “liberal education” connected music with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy within a fourfold study, the quadrivium. Peter Pesic argues provocatively that music has had a formative effect on the development of modern science—that music has been not just a charming accompaniment to thought but a conceptual force in its own right.

Pesic explores a series of episodes in which music influenced science, moments in which prior developments in music arguably affected subsequent aspects of natural science. He describes encounters between harmony and fifteenth-century cosmological controversies, between musical initiatives and irrational numbers, between vibrating bodies and the emergent electromagnetism. He offers lively accounts of how Newton applied the musical scale to define the colors in the spectrum; how Euler and others applied musical ideas to develop the wave theory of light; and how a harmonium prepared Max Planck to find a quantum theory that reengaged the mathematics of vibration. Taken together, these cases document the peculiar power of music—its autonomous force as a stream of experience, capable of stimulating insights different from those mediated by the verbal and the visual.

This title is available in an enhanced iBook version through the iTunes iBook store. This innovative e-book for iOS devices gives seamless and easy access to the text and illustrations; you need merely touch a sound example to hear it and see the score in a moving line.

The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture

If everyone now agrees that human traits arise not from nature or nurture but from the interaction of nature and nurture, why does the “nature versus nurture” debate persist? In Beyond Versus, James Tabery argues that the persistence stems from a century-long struggle to understand the interaction of nature and nurture—a struggle to define what the interaction of nature and nurture is, how it should be investigated, and what counts as evidence for it.

Tabery examines past episodes in the nature versus nurture debates, offers a contemporary philosophical perspective on them, and considers the future of research on the interaction of nature and nurture. From the eugenics controversy of the 1930s and the race and IQ controversy of the 1970s to the twenty-first-century debate over the causes of depression, Tabery argues, the polarization in these discussions can be attributed to what he calls an “explanatory divide”—a disagreement over how explanation works in science, which in turn has created two very different concepts of interaction. Drawing on recent developments in the philosophy of science, Tabery offers a way to bridge this explanatory divide and these different concepts integratively. Looking to the future, Tabery evaluates the ethical issues that surround genetic testing for genes implicated in interactions of nature and nurture, pointing to what the future does (and does not) hold for a science that continues to make headlines and raise controversy.

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