History and Philosophy of Science

TRAFFIC: Carl Zimmer and Penny Chisholm

May 27, 2011
By
TRAFFIC: Carl Zimmer and Penny Chisholm

Welcome back to TRAFFIC, a Chicago Blog series featuring leading figures from across the humanities and sciences, whose prescient views on current events help us to interpret contemporary culture. We’ll be ending a month of Friday TRAFFIC features, led by popular science writer Carl Zimmer, with one final conversation about ocean-borne viruses with Penny Chisholm. Sallie W. “Penny” Chisholm is the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies and professor of biology at MIT. Her research lab seeks to advance our understanding of the ecology and evolution of microbes in the oceans, and how they influence global biochemical cycles. In January 2010, she was awarded the Alexander Agassiz Medal, for “pioneering studies of the dominant photosynthetic organisms in the sea and for integrating her results into a new understanding of the global ocean.” A Billion Viruses in the Sea Dear Carl, Thank you for giving viruses the recognition they deserve. As you point out, the discovery of viruses in the oceans is relatively recent. It seems that about once every decade there are similar major discoveries in oceanography that change the way we think about ocean ecosystems. One of these—a discovery by the late John Martin—was that iron availability . . .

Read more »

TRAFFIC: Carl Zimmer and Timothy Lu

May 20, 2011
By
TRAFFIC: Carl Zimmer and Timothy Lu

Welcome back to TRAFFIC, a Chicago Blog series featuring leading figures from across the humanities and sciences, whose prescient views on current events help us to interpret contemporary culture. We’re delighted to continue this month’s Friday TRAFFIC features, led by popular science writer Carl Zimmer. This week Zimmer welcomes MIT scientist Timothy Lu to talk about the quest to use viruses to cure infectious diseases. Timothy Lu is assistant professor of electrical engineering at MIT, where he heads the Synthetic Biology Group. Carl wrote a profile of Lu last year in Technology Review. All About Phage Therapy Dear Carl: Bacteriophages are the most abundant biological particles on earth, but due to their size, and perhaps ubiquity, most of us don’t think of them very often. Phages are essentially just bacterial viruses. When it comes to viruses, the popular notion is that they are bad entities that are responsible for disease and suffering. The truth is, however, that phages are very different from human viruses. Phages do not infect human cells and are not responsible for the viral diseases that plague mankind, such as AIDS, herpes, cervical cancer, and the common cold. Furthermore, phages have had a tremendous impact on modern . . .

Read more »

TRAFFIC: Carl Zimmer and Richard Preston

May 12, 2011
By
TRAFFIC: Carl Zimmer and Richard Preston

Welcome back to TRAFFIC, a Chicago Blog series featuring leading figures from across the humanities and sciences, whose prescient views on current events help us to interpret contemporary culture. We’re delighted to continue this month’s Friday TRAFFIC features, led by popular science writer Carl Zimmer. This week Zimmer welcomes Richard Preston, New Yorker contributor and bestselling author, for a conversation on smallpox and the possible eradication of other viruses. Richard Preston is the author of seven books, including The Hot Zone, The Cobra Event, and The Demon in the Freezer. He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, and his awards include the American Institute of Physics Award and the National Magazine Award. Preston also the only person who isn’t a medical doctor ever to receive the Centers for Disease Control’s Champion of Prevention Award for public health. Should Smallpox Be Put To Death? Dear Carl: There’s a debate in the scientific community about what to do with the remaining stocks of smallpox virus on the planet. Should the virus be preserved so that it can be studied? Or should the virus be destroyed, so that—in theory at least—it would become extinct and would not threaten the human species . . .

Read more »

TRAFFIC: Carl Zimmer and W. Ian Lipkin

May 3, 2011
By
TRAFFIC: Carl Zimmer and W. Ian Lipkin

Welcome to TRAFFIC, a series exclusive to the Chicago Blog presenting an exchange of thoughts between leading figures from across the humanities and sciences, whose prescient views on current events help us to interpret contemporary culture. We’re delighted to begin a month’s worth of Friday TRAFFIC posts helmed by popular science writer Carl Zimmer in collaboration with some of our most acclaimed virologists, immunologists, and scientifically minded journalists. Please join us for the next four weeks in welcoming discussions on virology and immunology with W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity; small pox with Richard Preston, New Yorker writer and bestselling author; phage therapy with Timothy Lu, inventor and Novophage founder; and ocean viruses with Sallie Chisholm, biological oceanographer and marine science expert. With that in mind, join us for our first TRAFFIC exchange with Zimmer and Lipkin below: The New York Times calls Carl Zimmer “as fine a science essayist as we have.” In his widely admired books, essays, and blogs, Zimmer charts the frontiers of biology. Booklist acclaimed his most recent title A Planet of Viruses as “absolutely top-drawer popular science writing.” Zimmer is a lecturer at Yale University, where he teaches writing about . . .

Read more »

Awards, fellowships, and recent accolades

April 28, 2011
By
Awards, fellowships, and recent accolades

’Tis the season for award announcements and prize citations, and we’re delighted to announced several recent winners and acknowledge their achievements. We begin with an award close to home: the Gordon J. Laing Prize, which is awarded annually by the University of Chicago Press (since 1963) to the faculty author, editor, or translator of a book published in the previous three years that brings the Press the greatest distinction. This year, we honor Robert J. Richards for The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought. . . .

Read more »

Ellen Prager on Sex, Drugs, Sea Slime, and writing science

April 19, 2011
By
Ellen Prager on Sex, Drugs, Sea Slime, and writing science

Our oceans are home to an astounding array of creatures, some of whom engage in peculiar underwater activities that help them stay alive, fight predators, reproduce, and eat. While this might sound simple, the actual patterns and behaviors that determine the rhythms of biodiversity are much more complicated—and witnessed by a very select few of us who dwell above ground. We asked marine scientist Ellen Prager, author of Chasing Science at Sea: Racing Hurricanes, Stalking Sharks, and Living Undersea with Ocean Experts and Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter, on how scientists might engage the public in highly topical matters—like the complications of marine life—that often require them to translate their expertise and specialized knowledge into relevant, accurate, and accessible writing. The elegant beauty of a pacific sea nettle. Photo copyright David Wrobel / SeaPics.com. . . .

Read more »

TRAFFIC: Japan in Peril

March 17, 2011
By
TRAFFIC: Japan in Peril

Welcome to TRAFFIC, an exchange of thoughts between leading figures from across the humanities, social science, and natural sciences, whose prescient views on current events help to shape the way we interpret the world around us. Join us for the two-day exchange TRAFFIC: Japan in Peril on the future of that nation and the larger global consequences, in light of the recent tsunami and earthquake that devastated the Tōhoku region on the Pacific coast, leaving left thousands dead, tens of thousands more imperiled, and a series of nuclear reactors on the brink of partial meltdown. Today, we asked sociologist Lee Clarke, a specialist in technological and organizational failures, with expertise in community response to disaster, and Ronald T. Merrill, a geophysicist and paleomagnetic pioneer, to share their thoughts with us on how they see Japan’s future unfolding: From Ronald T. Merrill, author of Our Magnetic Earth: The Science of Geomagnetism: My wife and I lived in Japan most of 1965 while I was studying geophysics. During that time we made many friends, which have subsequently increased in number. We wish them all the best during this tragic time. Although somewhat painful, earth scientists can use this tragedy as an opportunity . . .

Read more »

An apocalyptic ge(ne)ology: The Earth on Show

March 11, 2011
By
An apocalyptic ge(ne)ology: The Earth on Show

John Martin (1789-1854), English Romantic painter, was born the same week that the Bastille was stormed—an event whose sturm und drang might be said to eerily echo the grandiose theatrical visions of Martin’s work in oils. Martin’s large-scale paintings bore the influence of contemporary diorama culture—indeed, Martin even claimed that D. W. Griffith was aware of his work and many see his panoramic, imaginative works as precursors to epic cinema. During the last four years of his life, in particular, Martin furthered his scenes of apocalyptic destruction and disaster by engaging with a triptych of biblical subjects: The Great Day of His Wrath, The Last Judgment, and The Plains of Heaven. This week, the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle opened a major new exhibition of Martin’s work, which will run through the end of April before traveling to the Tate Museum later this year. This is the largest public exhibition of Martin’s work since his death and the first exhibition devoted to the painter in more than thirty years, and it will include both previously unseen and newly restored paintings. Paying particular attention to how Martin’s populism fits within the larger narrative of British art, the exhibition also connects to . . .

Read more »

Top Five or Ten: The pithy plinth of Real Science

January 20, 2011
By
Top Five or Ten: The pithy plinth of Real Science

Occasionally we find ourself a humanist on the moon here at the Chicago Blog, though not without sensitivity towards our more rarefied friends who yield to Aristotle and the laws of nature. Scientists: those chroniclers of phenomena and behavior with interesting Kepler tattoos and jokes about Karl Popper and inductivism. We kid? But we do wish to point out the interesting—and complicated—space that emerges when works in the history and philosophy of science meet the much-charted forms of the contemporary book review and author interview. Perhaps exemplified no better than in the call-in public radio talk-show (cited below!), this realm of scientia curiosa abets a natural TOP FIVE OR TEN list of highlights and lowlights in reviews and ‘views, recently registered. Onward! ** “It sounded a bit like Maria was on the line from Mars.” From a live, call-in interview on Newstalk Ireland with Maria D. Lane, author of Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet (full podcast available here) ** “Are you of the opinion that one of earth’s magnetic poles might have been tidally locked to THE MOON many, many years ago?” From Ronald T. Merrill’s recent appearance on Science Friday’s (with Ira Flatow!) “The Poles, . . .

Read more »

The merits of Modern Language(s)

December 3, 2010
By
The merits of Modern Language(s)

In 1883, an interdisciplinary advocacy group promoting the study of literature and modern languages was founded at Johns Hopkins University. In its one-hundred and twenty-seven year run, the Modern Language Association has grown to include more than 30,000 members in over 100 countries, fostered several major publications and a serialized radio show, and survived the changing mores and face of the academy (“Watch for our posters and leaflets!”—from a letter to the editor of the New York Review of Books in 1968 from Noam Chomsky, Frederick Crews, Florence Howe, and others, as to how the ’68 MLA meeting in NYC might work to make the organization more responsive to society—part of a fascinating exchange available here). One-hundred and twenty-seven years, though, is nothing to laugh at—and neither is the high regard with which the organization’s annual awards for book-length scholarship are held. Notices went out via the interweb yesterday and we couldn’t be more thrilled for several of our authors, who’ll be further commended at the 2011 annual meeting this January in Los Angeles. Laura Dassow Walls, author of The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America, garnered the forty-first annual James Russell Lowell Prize for . . .

Read more »

Search for books and authors