Vocabulary for Our Areas of Study
Let’s discuss definitions for a moment. Although this course can’t possibly provide you with all the appropriate definitions for each of your disciplines, I hope to get you to recognize that different disciplines have different assumptions that inform the way the define a concept. For instance, “games” in economic (and psychology…to an extent) refer to analysis of the ways people make choices in a given situation. For popular culture “games” are video games, but, within the various fields that study games, researchers focus on different areas. I research games as products of a culture and how they convey meaning; whereas, other English Studies researchers look at how players make meaning in game play. Again, try to at least recognize that definitions and assumptions are disciplinary specific.
- society: a defined group of people sharing an area, organizational system, or set of associations; a community.
- Merriam-Webster’s Definition
- Oxford English Dictionary’s Definition (accessible on campus or when logged onto Atkins Library)
- “Society” for social scientists often refers to the quantifiable–countable–aspects of a group, such as a nation. Consider demographics (age, gender, income), employment, education level, etc.
- culture: the characteristics, customs, beliefs, and shared history of a group; a community.
- Scientific Method: an ongoing process of (usually) empirical methods to acquire knowledge through appropriate hypothesis, observation, testing, and expert consensus.
- Replicability: scientific observations and tests must be independently verified by repeating the original experiment.
- This is part of the peer-review process of scientific discourse.
- Rhetoric: understanding and/or employing the available means of persuasion; moving an audience (technical or not) to believe, support, or understand a topic.
- Ethos: presentation of one’s character and credibility (title, reputation, area of expertise, etc.)
- Pathos: appeals to emotion
- Logos: appeals to logic and statement of facts (statistics, observations, verifiable laws/phenomenon, etc.)
- Pseudoscience: a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method, replicability, and/or expert consensus.
- Empiricism: the theory that all knowledge comes from the senses and observable phenomena.
- Positivism: the philosophy that all valid knowledge is derived from the scientific method following strict observation and experimentation.
- We will return to this when we think about the possibility of memory transfer in worms…didn’t scientists observe this transfer?
- Technological determinism: the assumption that technologies are created devoid of social/cultural forces; technologies don’t come about in a vacuum devoid of (often hegemonic) social demands.
Prefaces—How to Read the Book
There are more quotations below than you should expect for future readings. Because this is the first time we’re covering Collins & Pinch, I’ve decided to include more quotations from the chapter than usual. My assumption is that you’ve read the the Prefaces, Introduction, and Ch. 1, so we don’t need to go over every single detail of the chapter.
Because this is a 100% online asynchronous class, I can’t ask questions in real time and solicit feedback. I will, however, “ask” questions on these pages for you to think about further. For instance, while reading the chapter or notes for today, you should reflect on memory transfer from a molecular point of view. Consider what’s going on in our brains (or the brains of other animals) and how that memory event could get transferred. What are the implications of having a substance that transfers memory? What’s the difference between instinct and learned behavior? How might instinct be inherited?
If you’re curious, here’s a video of an old experiment on training rats from Yale University, Institute of Human Relations study by Neal E. Miller and Gardner L. Hart (0.15-4:15).
Preface to 2nd Ed.
- p. xiii: Collins & Pinch had scientists review their work, and the scientists offered their criticism. The authors claim they “examine each serious criticism, either accepting it and making a change or putting the sociologist/historian’s point of view.” What they mean is that some criticism is a matter of a priori assumption based on one’s discipline’s approach to knowledge. Simply put, scientists think differently about these subjects than do historians and sociologists.
- p. xiv: Their audience—average citizens. Their “book [is] mainly of benefit to the citizen and the novice, not the experienced scientist at the research front.”
Preface to 1st Canto Ed.
- p. xv: “Most science is uncontroversial.”
- p. xv-xvi: “For citizens who want to take part in the democratic process of a technological society, all the science they need to know about is controversial.”
- Don’t gloss over “democratic process” in that last sentence. Collins & Pinch have taken Asimov’s argument to heart and decided to help the public achieve their right to know by communicating to a lay (general, non-scientific) audience.
Preface & Acknowledgements
- p. xvii: “…how much authority to grant to experts.”
- p. xvii-xix: This preface identifies where they went to find out about the sciences they discuss. They interviewed scientists for some accounts and read descriptions for other accounts. They aren’t trying to replicate experiments; instead, they’re looking at how the science was communicated. They have critical distance as historians/sociologists.
- p. 1: False Dichotomy—“Science seems to be either all good or all bad.”
- p. 1-2: Science as a golem. Think of Frankenstein…created by a human and powerful but not able to control himself.
- p. 2: “the golem…is not an evil creature but it is a little daft….We must not expect too much.”
- p. 3: Collins & Pinch aren’t telling you what to think. They’re trying to show you there’s more to scientific discovery than clear, clean trajectories guided by scientific method.
Ch. 1 “Edible Knowledge”
- p. 5: Desire to find a way to “pass on our memories directly…without needing to spend years building the foundations first.”
- p. 5: Assumption that memories are encoded in chemicals.
- p. 5-6: “memories could be extracted from the brain of one creature and given to a second creature with beneficial effects.”
Think of the science fiction narratives this brings up. Humans can basically download information, thus, avoiding the learning process.
- p. 8-9: Critiques of worm memory transfer.
1) Worms don’t digest, they transplant large pieces and incorporate them into their bodies.
2) “Planarian worms were too primitive to be trained.”
3) “Different trainers may obtain widely differing outcomes from training regimes.”
- p. 9: prima facie—at first sight
ad hoc—for a specific purpose and no other
- p. 9: Golden hands argument. Skeptics consider this argument—that only certain people can competently do an experiment (or train the worms)—to be a red flag.
- p. 9: Bioassay—an analysis where “the existence and quantity of a drug is determined by its effects on living matter or whole organisms.”
Instead of the experiments transferring memory or learned behavior, the substances injected into the subjects yield results of such-and-such chemical causing such-and-such results. Memory isn’t transferred, but the experiment (like a drug) affects the organism.
- p. 10: More problems with training worms. Apparently, worms like slime, so they tend to follow the slime trails of other worms. If slime trails go right, worms will go right.
- Retort: we’ll clean the troughs…too much cleaning makes the worms “unhappy.” Maybe they need it to be clean but not too clean.
The Goldilocks effect is similar to “the Golden Hands” argument—not to clean, not too dirty.
- p. 11: A huge number of variables needed to be controlled for, and this led to both sides arguing for their stance.
The proponents claimed these variables came about because others were doing the experiments incorrectly, and the critics used them as reasons why “others fail[ed] to replicate the original findings.”
- Notice how this could delve into a perpetually moving target…
- Retort: we’ll clean the troughs…too much cleaning makes the worms “unhappy.” Maybe they need it to be clean but not too clean.
- p. 11-12: “Up to 70 variables were cited at one time or another to account for discrepancies in experimental results.”
- p. 12: “The greater number of potential variables, the harder it is to decide whether one really replicates the conditions of another.” Without replicating the experiment, other scientists won’t accept the findings of the original group.
- p. 12-13: The Worm Runner’s Digest hurt the credibility (the ethos) of McConnell. It included “science” and cartoons and letters to the editor.
- p. 13-14: The controversy ended because scientists moved on to memory transfer in mammals, so worms weren’t as exciting.
- p. 14: passionate crying out in protest.
- p. 15: Ungar’s experiment with morphine “might be thought of as doing a complicated bioassay rather than an experiment in the transfer of learning.” After all, he’s injecting the brains of rats given lots of morphine to build up a tolerance.
- p. 16: Scientific personalities and cliques—getting dissed or welcomed at the bar…Scientific personalities affect how one views/accepts findings.
- p. 17: “The sheer number and weight of experimental replications is not usually enough to persuade the scientific community to believe in some unorthodox finding.” Scientists have worldviews, which don’t incorporate ideas counter to their assumptions.
- p. 18: Scientist disposition is often “to start with grounds for not believing” an experiment that’s unorthodox or just new.
- p. 18-19: Stanford group, led by Avram Goldstein, replicated the experiments—even went to the lab of Dr. Ungar to follow their steps—but couldn’t corroborate the results.
- p. 20: Different measurements between Ungar and Stanford. Ungar recorded the length of time rats spent in the dark box; whereas, the Stanford group measured how long it took for the rats to go into the dark box (latency).
- p. 21: Psychologists in the field were interested in how memory worked and the difference between sensitization and specificity.
- Sensitization is the learning that happens after being trained.
- Specificity states that animals injected with the material from the dead hosts would yield specific behaviors. What if the injection produced different results under different circumstances?
- p. 22: McConnell, a psychologist, wanted to find out if “grade-A learning” could be transferred.
Ungar, a pharmacologist, “wanted to isolate, analyse and synthesise* active molecules.” He wanted “to find some reproducible transfer effect and study the chemical that was responsible for it.”
- *Collins & Pinch’s book uses British spellings, so, when I quote them, I use their spelling conventions.
- p. 22: Ungar had 4000 trained rat brains, a significant financial cost.
- p. 22: Too much to consider and too many competing theories. “So often in contested science, there is so much detail that is contestable that experiments can force no-one to agree that anything significant has been found.
- p. 22-23: Ungar claimed to have isolated Scotophobin, a substance in the brain responsible for fear of the dark, but too many questions surrounded its efficacy. “Several dozens of experiments are known, but there is sufficient ambiguity for both believers and sceptics to draw comfort from the results.”
- p. 23: Ungar’s death ended the search for memory-transfer chemicals. It was too costly for other labs to do the experiments.
- p. 24: Although the memory-transfer science was never verified, it wasn’t falsified completely. No decisive negation exists.
- p. 25: The publication Nature published a 5-page paper by Ungar about Scotophobin, but the journal also published a 15-page criticism of the science.
Basically, the scientific authority, from the powerful position as editor/referee of scientific discourse, disputed Ungar’s claims.
- p. 25: Memory transfer wasn’t disproved based on “decisive technical evidence….the principal experimenters lost their credibility….it just ceased to occupy the scientific imagination.”
What do you think? How does memory transfer? Wait a minute! Don’t we lose memories?
This article on Dark Matter isn’t required reading, but it’s a contemporary discussion demonstrating the imagination that scientists have when approaching and speculating upon their research.
Make sure you keep up with the reading on the syllabus and the class website. Also, please do your Weekly Discussion Post #1: “Introduce Yourself” on Canvas. I’ll open up the webpages for next week before Monday. On August 29th, I’ll have notes on Collins & Pinch’s The Golem: What You Should Know about Science Chapter 2. I’ll have Chapters 3 & 4 notes on Wednesday, August 31st.