Book Thoughts: Leviathan and the Air-Pump

The cover of the 2011 second edition.

A couple months ago I had the pleasure of reading the classic history of science text by Steve Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. It examines a dispute in the 1600s between Robert Boyle – “the father of modern chemistry” – and Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher known for his social contract theory as well as writing the famous phrase, that life outside civilization is “nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes is not known for his natural philosophy, but as Shapin and Schaffer show, he was an important figure in shaping the object of their study: how did something we take for granted – experiment – come to be a legitimate, and dominant, method of generating knowledge?

Note: Boyle’s birthday was last week and Whewell’s Ghost has collected some posts about this important scientist, or more properly, natural philosopher and chemist.

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Francis Bacon: The Father of Experimental Evolution?

Tl;dr: Experimental evolution is partially about controlling and directing change for human benefit. Early experimental evolutionists cite Francis Bacon as a predecessor as both 1) inspiration for scientific practice and 2) creating an institution to which such practice could be carried out. Much like Bacon’s own perspective, there is little to no separation between basic and applied research. However, Bacon’s actual influence on later developments is questionable. Thus, titling Bacon the “father of experimental evolution” is probably not correct, but it seems as though experimental evolution could be titled “Baconian.”

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Blog Relaunch!

In hindsight, I abandoned this blog 2.5 years ago, only approving the occasional comment that showed up in my e-mail inbox. Now I am relaunching it under a new name with a new purpose.

Much has happened since my unintentional abandonment. As can be seen in this blog’s history, I transitioned from wanting to be a biologist to being a historian of biology. Now that I am a Ph.D. student in the University of Minnesota’s Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, I think I have succeeded!

Although I have wanted to resuscitate this blog for a couple of years, the burden of coursework prevented me from ever doing so. This was mostly a procrastination-fueled excuse that I can no longer accept. Furthermore, and this is silly, I could never come up with a name that pleased me. “Kele’s Science Blog” clearly no longer worked, and “Kele’s History of Science Blog” would be terrible.

Now the title is “Kestrels and Cerevisiae.” This reflects the (hopefully) dual purposes of this blog: Cerevisiae, from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or yeast, represents experimental evolution (and work on them is what inspired my interest in the topic); Kestrels, a small falcon, represents my interest in birds, and I am planning on including some history of ornithology here to satisfy that curiosity. I also have a love for the American prairie, so if I can find a way to integrate the prairie with the history of science, that will appear also. Unfortunately I could not come up with a good w-word for the prairie since as you may have noticed, K and C are my initials.

Anyway, I will end this post here. I simply wish to announce the blog’s return with a new name, a new purpose and most importantly, new content! I hope you enjoy my work here!