Day 1: Working Science and Technology

10:00 am – Session One
Charles A. Kollmer,  A Vital Instrument: Arabidopsis Research, National Socialism, and Evolutionary Synthesis, 1937-1945
Arabidopsis thaliana is the most intensively studied flowering plant in present day biology. Yet the origins of its use as a model organism remain obscure and underappreciated. The early history of Arabidopsis research illustrates vividly the ambiguous role played by model organisms in 20th century biology, in which an exemplary life form served to mediate between reductionist and vitalist tendencies in the study of life itself. The plant’s incursion into greenhouses and laboratories took place in National Socialist Germany, made possible through the work of Friedrich Laibach and his doctoral student Erna Reinholz at the Goethe University Frankfurt. The decision to work with Arabidopsis was both at odds with and indebted to the German approach to plant genetics that preceded it. On the one hand, it broke with a precedent set by Erwin Baur of using Antirrhinum majus to study the genetics of flowering plants. On the other hand, Laibach and Reinholz’s Arabidopsis research enacted a synthesis of transmission genetics with the theory of evolution, a project also central to Baur’s work with Antirrhinum. Additionally, Arabidopsis research took cues from the Drosophila research practiced abroad by Thomas Hunt Morgan’s laboratory and domestically by Nikolai Timoféeff-Ressovsky. Finally, beyond its exploration of the epistemic heritage of the history of Arabidopsis research, this paper finds Laibach and Reinholz’s work symptomatic of the fraught legacy of biology under National Socialism, in which legitimate scientific discourse on genetics and evolution skirted complicity in the government’s ideology of racial eugenics and national autarky.

Drew Belsky,  “To Show Improvement”: Professionalizing Medical Photography
In post-WWI North America and Great Britain, medical illustration began to emerge as an integral part of medical practice “as the generic term to cover photography, art, and all the more modern techniques of audiovisual communication” from schematic drawings, surgical illustrations, and graphs to medical photography, animation, and films. No longer reserved for a few anatomical textbooks, uses of medical illustrations and photographs expanded so that no hospital or teaching institution could do without audiovisual aids to their work. In order to situate these emerging professions, I explore the ways in which mid-century medical illustrators attempted to carve out rhetorical and physical spaces in the medical field. I focus on medical photography and its development as related but distinct from other forms of medical illustration.

As uses of photography expanded in the mid-twentieth century, it became a mainstay of medical documentation and teaching. Medical artists sought to distinguish their work and its value from the work of medical photographers, but both needed to cement their legitimacy as medical professionals. During the post-war period, the proper place of photographic techniques in the hospital and in teaching remained in question, not only as a matter of space and organizational structure, but also as a problem of human resources. Shaping the role of photography in medicine required the allocation of resources and space within the hospital, but it also demanded trained practitioners. However, the availability of “qualified medical photographers” was conversely dependent upon the recognition of medical photography as a profession with commensurate compensation and prestige. Such recognition could be achieved through a number of avenues, including the creation of professional societies, training programmes and career paths, and physical structures for the production and dissemination of medical images in hospitals and universities.

Through articles and correspondence in medical journals such as The Lancet, The British Medical Journal, and the Canadian Medical Association Journal, medical photographers articulated and debated the nature and material requirements of their work as well as the training and certification required to produce skilled practitioners. Medical photography enjoyed a greater visibility as a skilled profession in part due to its more technological nature. Because it could be more easily related to technologies of acknowledged medical value like radiology, arguments for dedicated space and personnel for photography could take advantage of the way these technologies had already paved. Thus both medical photographers and other branches of medical illustration stressed the technological nature of their work as justification for their own position as skilled practitioners, in addition to the pedagogical and medical utility of the images they produced. In this way medical photographers advocated for the material conditions necessary to establish a profession within the evolving structures of medicine while also defining the contours of the profession that they were creating and the rhetorical power of the images they produced.


11:15 am – Session Two
Yana Boeva,  Of Making New and Improving Old: The Many Stages of Tinkering
Tinkering labels many things old and new: DIY, making, hardware hacking, craft, “bricolage”. Tinkering is gaining momentum through the affordable access to the technologies enabling it, that is, openhardware and software movement; online forums such as instruction websites and tutorials; and offline communities such as hackerspaces, public maker faires, and the more political hackerlabs. Tinkering as a design practice looks forward through recent innovations such as 3D printing and microcontrollers. Paradoxically, those very same have opened the path to an almost neglected past of obsolete, forgotten, or broken artifacts that can be fixed, replicated, or remade. In between lies the present need of users and consumers to modify and repurpose objects of daily use in order to meet their own design needs rather than those of a non-existing ‘universal user.’ The social shaping of technology literature shows that when actual users with their inherent plurality are ignored, technology designers and producers create a general-purpose product that on the surface appears neutral, but in reality is loaded with techno-political values. Hence, tinkering becomes a form of extending the design process to the user.

The design process, in general, runs through “the essential stages of analysis, synthesis and evaluation” (Jones 1970) and ideally in ordered sequence. In reality, the order is less coherent, much more cluttered as the process of tinkering, and eventually leading to purposeless actions or results. This paper attempts to challenge the common questions of convention in design by recasting tinkering as a design practice that uncovers design’s nonlinear and random character. In addition, it will compare case study with theory to examine the working process involved in contemporary tinkering,and specifically how it reflects critical technical practice.


1:00 pm – Session Three
David Karrel,  Is Truth a Goal of Scientific Inquiry?
What is it that scientists actually do? One response to this question might be that they “search for the truth.” At this point, perhaps infuriatingly, the philosopher steps in to ask “what precisely do you mean by truth?” This presentation will focus on the question of what constitutes scientific practice by examining the failure of prevailing correspondence and coherence theories, and provide a neopragmatic view of scientific inquiry. I will argue, a la Richard Rorty, that mere justification, rather than truth, is the goal of scientific inquiry and respond to a troubling objection from Huw Price.

One of the central tenets of pragmatism is that if something makes no difference in practice, then it is of no use to philosophy. What we really want to do is discover, refine, and implement useful technologies, theories, and instruments that will enable us to pursue our social, ethical, and intellectual aims. On this neopragmatic view, the work of science amounts to a democratic enterprise of discursive justification, but abandoning truth as a goal of scientific inquiry may appear problematic. In this presentation I will deal with the problem of frictionless disagreement in the scientific community.

The problem of frictionless disagreement argues that disagreements will simply ‘slide past each other’ without an explicit and widely acknowledged norm of truth. The thought here is that a truth norm (which is so ubiquitously employed that we can hardly see it) is what gives our disagreements friction and motivates meaningful debate, without which we would always feel satisfied with our own subjective justifications. This is the view of Huw Price and (though a bit more radically) Jurgen Habermas. This objection seems implausible for two reasons. The first is that Rorty is not all that concerned with ordinary usage of the word ‘truth’, but rather its tendency to preoccupy philosophers. The second is that it seems we could gain discursive friction by thinking of the truth norm as a convenient fiction, and employ it with Rorty’s cautionary use of ‘true’.

Stacy Costa,  Exploring Science Teachers’ Pedagogical Practises in Teacher Learning Communities and its Effects on Students within the Technology of Knowledge Forum
This paper will explore how Ontario Elementary Science teacher’s pedagogy is framed, formed and created within Knowledge community. As Scardamalia and Bereiter (2003) state, Knowledge Building results in the creation or modification of public knowledge in knowledge communities; “knowledge that lives ‘in the world’ and is available to be worked on and used by other people” (p. 183). Knowledge Forum ® (KF) is a technology specifically built to support production and refinement of the community’s knowledge. As defined by Scardamalia and Bereiter (1993), KF is an asynchronous discourse medium that enhances participants working together in a communal database to make meaning and develop a common understanding of the world, and working in collaborative effort in order to advance community knowledge.

A teacher’s workplace can consist of reading textbooks, and their workplace allows them as a sole entity to discover various materials, but also limits them on professional development time to constraints in times, and costs. “Knowledge Forum’s cross-sector, cross-age, cross-cultural framework reflects the theoretical idea that the socio-cognitive and cultural processes underlying knowledge acquisition and knowledge creation are fundamentally the same” (Scardamalia, 2004, p. 183). This in turn is a system which allows for science teachers to share their personal resources and stories with other science teachers around the province, included but not limiting to teacher practises.

This paper will explore (1) how does Knowledge Building pedagogy change perceptions and practises as a science teacher, and in developing learning methods in science for students, (2) how is the teacher’s workplace changed, and does collaboration with other teachers allow them for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to just We argue that teaching practises change over time, and an evolution develops of how teacher practises develop into similar practises of laboratory like settings, of those whom contribute to science as professionals. Moreover, how are the relationships with other teachers whom teach science as well? Is it easier to share stories, and techniques on how students at a younger age can understand science? Also what affect does it have on children whose teacher has been a part of such a communality of other science teachers? While telling is a common practise, Knowledge Building can allow for discourse, and multimedia to be shared with others.


2:15 pm – Session Four
Gita Ghiasi,  Canadian Nanotechnology and its Equality Challenges: Pro-poor Innovation and the Intersectionality of Gender Equality
The advent of nanotechnology paradigm across a wide array of products and industries has presented an enormous potential for economic growth, leading to involvement and investments of firms, governments and universities worldwide. Nevertheless, despite the immense promise of societal benefits from nanotechnology applications, nanotechnology might expose societies to various forms of inequalities. These inequalities fall along two dimensions, vertical and horizontal, where the former refers to economic inequalities (e.g. rich-poor gaps) and the latter indicates social inequalities (e.g. gender and ethnicity gaps). This study is the first attempt to examine nanotechnology at the intersection of inequality dimensions, investigating whether development and commercialization of nanotechnology applications that improve livelihoods for the poor might affect the gender gap. The importance of studying this intersectionality arises from the fact that nanotechnology’s promises for the poor could still increase overall global inequality if it widens inequalities in the horizontal dimension while trying to rectify vertical inequalities. This research examines whether nanotechnology’s scientific and technological advances in one of the most affluent countries, Canada, hold potent promises for poor. It aims to investigate the role of women in research and innovative advancements of pro-poor applications of nanotechnology (i.e. energy, agri-food and water) and maps where the companies involved in the development of these applications stand in Canadian economy in terms of gender equality in wage and employment. For this purpose, this study analyzes data gathered from the Scopus article database and USPTO patent database over the period 1996-2011 with bibliometric, social network and statistical analysis methods. The findings reveal that only a narrow spectrum of Canadian nanotechnology articles and patents reflect pro-poor priorities and these pro-poor scientific and innovative efforts tend to be highly male-dominated in terms of the scientific community and the workforce involved. Both pro-poor and gender-responsive policies are needed to promote equality in emerging science and technology, enhance success in new interdisciplinary environments, and foster economic growth.

Kasey Coholan,  Finding the Self: The Work of Digital Self-Tracking Technologies
Self-tracking is the process of systematically recording and analyzing any number of personal metrics in order to discover patterns which might then be used to change behaviours or habits and within the past decade it has risen to the level of cultural phenomena. In 2013 70% of surveyed Americans said they tracked at least one health metric. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show there were nearly 300 health and biotech exhibitors, 35% more than in 2014.

How digital self-tracking technologies work and what kind of work they do are obvious and important questions but they aren’t all the questions. This research asks, why it is that digital self-tracking works. That is to say, why do we do it? Why has it been taken up with such verve over more traditional forms of tracking like journaling or cataloging? What about this particular moment makes digital self-tracking work? Why do we allow them to work? The answers to these questions aren’t technical ones but rather, social, cultural, political and personal.