Scientific humanities week 1: translation and composition

The interactions between science, technology and humanities result in a complex back and forth movement of translation.  That is, actors that play a role in a scientific discovery or technological advancement, don’t go from their research question to their end result in a straight line, bu rather take series of detours from their original goals when they engage with other actors, often with divergent goals and interests, converting the scientific endeavor into a composition of actions that can potentially lead to completely unexpected (or a-priori not pursued) end goals. This is, in summary, the essence of Scientific Humanities: the notion that few (perhaps even none at all?) scientific innovation occur in the vacuum. They instead follow a path where politics, history and even arts will have an intersection somewhere along the route. Furthermore, are technologies really neutral? Do they really only become positive or negative upon usage? Or do they carry, in their design, the values and mores of those who crafted it?. These are some of the questions that come along in these interesting topic.

Although a clear and definitive concept of Scientific Humanities is not given (I doubt we can even have such definition), Latour’s course refer to some stories to exemplify it. Scientific humanities are noticeable, for example, in how Peter Galison tells the history behind Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, in his book “Einstein’s Clocks and Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time“.  Through this book, one learns the importance of relativity by reading about Einsteins’  days as a patent officer in Bern, Switzerland, at a time when several “time machine” inventions where being reviewed, all of them to coordinate the clocks of the railway companies emerging throughout Europe. Understanding that this was the context in which such an importance theory about time and space was somewhat originated, gives a different perspective to how such an abstract theory came to exist: in a social, physical ecosystem that influenced the mind of its creator.

Latour offer other examples, which I will simply omit here, but if you don’t have access to the course on coursera, you can find clipped notes for the first week in these links

Now, to the assignment. I have to do the following:

  1. Choose an article from your social feed that features interactions between science, technology and society.
  2. Underline People and Organizations in it (i.e., the actors) 
  3. Write down and inventory of Participants in the following way:
    1. Places & Events
    2. Organizations
    3. Stakeholders with different interests
    4. Individuals
    5. Views of the world
  4. Reflect and comment following these lines:
    1. What have you learned about the making of science through this example
    2. In what way does it exemplify, clarify or allow you to dispute what was said in the lessons
    3. What other pieces of news examples, provided by other students, does it relates to.

So, next post I will select one article and reflect on it following these lines.

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