Tag Archive for Science in Society

Johnston Reveals Truth About Bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki in Op-Ed

johnston550Seventy years later, it is widely believed that President Harry S. Truman made a decision to authorize the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The truth, writes William Johnston in the Hartford Courant, is that he never did, at least not explicitly.

Johnston, professor of history, professor of East Asian Studies, examines in an op-ed how history has been rewritten surrounding the bombings. In fact, Truman’s first explicit decision about atomic bombs was to later order that their further use be stopped without his “express authority.” But in summer 1946, Johnston explains, the need arose to write an alternative narrative, as the bomb’s horrific effects on the people of Japan were revealed, and critics started asking whether the atomic bombings had been necessary, or even truly effective in ending the war.

Johnston writes:

The historian’s job is to explain the past using the most complete evidence available. That evidence shows both that Truman’s most substantial atomic decision was to demand his express authority for future bombings and that the bombings’ role in ending the war was ambiguous.

We may not like it when history is fuzzy, but that’s how it is.

It is more important now than ever that we understand history’s ambiguities, especially when it comes to the history of World War II and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Our country today faces many national security threats, from terrorism to global warming. A healthy democracy requires a well-educated populace, and history plays a major role in that education. Science, technology engineering and math cannot replace it.

The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan is a good time to recall their history and meaning. We need to remember where we have been while keeping an eye on the future. It is hard for those who are blind to the past to have a clear vision for the future.

Johnston is also professor of Science in Society, and professor in the Environmental Studies Program.

Uchendu ’17 Researches Production of Biofuels as McNair Scholar

Stacy Uchendu ‘17 is researching second generation biofuels with Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry and environmental studies, as a McNair Scholar.

Science in Society major Stacy Uchendu ‘17 is researching second generation biofuels as a McNair Scholar.

In this News @ Wesleyan story, we talk with Stacy Uchendu from the Class of 2017. Uchendu is participating in Wesleyan’s Ronald E. McNair Post Program, which assists students from underrepresented groups in preparing for, entering and progressing successfully through post-graduate education.

Q: Stacy, where are you from and what is your major?

A: I’m from Houston, Texas, and my major is Science in Society with concentrations in chemistry and religion.

Q: When did you become a part of the McNair Program? Why did you decide to participate?

A: McNair offers a wonderful opportunity to do paid research over the summer and during the academic school year.

Johnston, Nakamura Present Papers at History of Science in East Asia Conference

Bill Johnston and Miri Nakamura celebrating after the conference at the Terroir Paris restaurant.

Professor Bill Johnston and Associate Professor Miri Nakamura celebrated with a toast after presenting papers in Paris.

Two Wesleyan faculty members presented talks at the 14th International Conference on the History of Science in East Asia, held in Paris, July 6-10.

On July 7, Miri Nakamura, associate professor of East Asian studies, read from a paper titled “Atomic Maids,” which focused on the role of Japanese housekeepers in mystery novels that were indirect criticisms of nuclear issues. On July 9, Bill Johnston, professor of history, professor of East Asian studies, professor of Science in Society, professor of environmental studies, spoke about the changing role of the environment in ideas about disease causation in 19th century Japan.

The conference is held every four years at venues around the world. Researchers from around the world came together to present and discuss their latest research relevant to the history of science, technology and medicine in East Asia from antiquity up to the present day. With 317 papers, about 200 of which were delivered as part of the 45 panels, this year’s conference was the largest ever held.

 

Faculty, Students Discuss Risk at Symposium

On May 2, the Wesleyan Symposium on Risk brought together faculty and students for an interdisciplinary discussion of risk. The event was sponsored by American Studies, the Center for the Humanities, the College of Letters, Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the Neuroscience and Behavior Program, the Science in Society Program, and the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies support funds. (Photos by Hannah Norman ’16)

Brian Stewart, professor of physics, professor of environmental studies, spoke on "The Metastasis of Risk."

Brian Stewart, professor of physics, professor of environmental studies, spoke on “The Metastasis of Risk.”

5 Questions With . . . William Johnston on the History of Disease

William Johnston

This issue, we ask “5 Questions” of  William Johnston, professor of history, professor of science in society, professor of East Asian Studies. One of his areas of specialty is the history of disease and epidemics.

Q: How did you become interested in the history of diseases, and more specifically, flu outbreaks?

A: While in graduate school I examined a number of different fields of history, but was drawn to the history of medicine in Japan because it was in that field that the Japanese first absorbed European scientific ideas and methods.  My advisor suggested that I take courses in the History of Science Department, and one course I took was a history of tuberculosis in the Untied States.  It was an eye-opener because it made me realize the ways in which societies interpret and respond to disease tells us a lot about their most basic values and fundamental structures. Sometimes people get very excited about relatively minor diseases while accepting major causes of illness and death as somehow “normal.”

Q: What are among the more notable outbreaks over the last, say, 100 or so years?

A: The most important outbreak of flu in the past century was, of course, the one that occurred between 1917 and 1920. For that matter it was one of the deadliest pandemics of all time, killing about 2.5 percent of all infected, with a total mortality estimated between 20 and 50 million worldwide. Some estimates go even higher. It possibly was a swine flu, although it could have been an avian strain that infected swine and then mutated to infect people; its exact origins

Stark Finds Treasure Buried Within the Bureaucracies

Laura Stark, assistant professor of science in society, assistant professor of sociology.

Mention “records and documents of a large bureaucracy” and images of stacks of dense paperwork, rows of beige filing cabinets, and perhaps even a slight sensation of suffocation comes to mind. But mention the same phrase to Laura Stark and her pulse steps up a beat as she sees something quite different: buried treasure.

“I am interested in the power of bureaucracies and the discretion people within them have to interpret rules,” says Stark, assistant professor of science and society, assistant professor of sociology. “How people who work in big organizations, including government agencies, apply general rules to specific cases is hard work and often not intuitive at all. I also find the people who work in bureaucracies to be endlessly fascinating.”

Stark, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology

Grabel Receives Grant to Support Stem Cell Seminar, Workshop

Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, received a $28,750 grant from the Connecticut Stem Cell Initiative for a “Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core” outreach component. The grant is subcontracted with the University of Connecticut Health Center. Outreach activities include running a seminar program for Connecticut colleges and universities, and holding a workshop every summer at the UConn Health Center.

Gillian Goslinga: New Faculty Member in Anthropology, Science in Society

Gillian Goslinga, assistant professor of anthropology, assistant professor of science in society, has an array of research specialties including reproductive technologies, kinship, spirit possession, shamanism, indigenous healing, ritual, body/knowledge/power, critical medical anthropology, feminist science studies, postcolonial theory and critical philosophy, life history methods and  feminist ethnography. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Gillian Goslinga, assistant professor of anthropology, assistant professor of science in society, has an array of research specialties including kinship and the reproductive technologies, spirit possession and ritual, epistemologies of embodiment and the body, feminist science studies and feminist ethnography. She works primarily in South India. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Gillian Goslinga has joined the Anthropology Department as an assistant professor of anthropology. She also is an assistant professor of Science in Society.

A graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz doctoral program in the History of Consciousness, Goslinga was attracted to Wesleyan for many reasons, including “the school’s progressive ethos and the ’scholar-teacher’ pedagogical model.”   She says teaching is one of her passions.

“The anthropology department is committed to cutting edge theory-cum-praxis,” Goslinga says.

She says she appreciates the combination of theoretical innovation and creativity and serious intellectual inquiry.

“That made an impression,” she explains. “People at Wesleyan seemed genuinely supported and supportive as well as encouraged to break new ground with their scholarship.  I was at once attracted to the intellectual rigor and creativity,

Erickson Receives Young Scholars’ Prize in History of Science and Technology

Paul Erickson. (Photo by Corrina Kerr)

Paul Erickson was honored for his contribution to the History of Science in Western Civilization. (Photo by Corrina Kerr)

Paul Erickson, assistant professor of history and assistant professor of Science in Society, has been awarded the 2009 Prize for Young Scholars from the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science, Division of History of Science and Technology (DHST). He received the award at an August ceremony in Budapest, Hungary.

The award was bestowed in recognition for Erickson’s significant scholarly contribution to the History of Science in Western Civilization. The prize is awarded every four years at meetings of the Union Congress to recent PhDs in the history of science and technology for outstanding dissertation projects on topics in the western tradition. Erickson’s dissertation, “The Politics of Game Theory: Mathematics, Rationality, and Cold War Culture” impressed the award committee with its “innovative approach” and manner of making “mathematics and Cold War culture accessible for a critical discussion.”

In citing his dissertation, the prize committee stated “Erickson did a brilliant job in discussing a topic with a mathematical image in a real historical way.” The citation also heralded Erickson’s ability to explain the “incompatible applications of game theory in the military and evolutionary realm.” Notably, Erickson was selected for the Young Scholars award by unanimous vote of the prize committee.

Erickson's award.

Erickson's award.

Game theory, which models strategic interactions between rational individuals, was developed in the 1920s and `30s by the Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann and the Austrian economist Oskar Morgenstern. The theory’s original inspiration was parlor games like chess and poker, but in the wake of World War II, military-funded mathematicians found applications of the theory to problems of tactical decision-making and logistics. Subsequently, game theory has become a central modeling technique throughout the social and biological sciences, from economics and psychology to evolutionary biology, according to Erickson.

“Game theory is also a theory of how human beings should behave rationally, perhaps; how they do behave; how they might behave and so forth,” Erickson says.

”My work can be read on two levels. On one hand, it tells the history of game theory as a branch of mathematics. On the other, it presents a history of rationality in 20th century America by focusing on links between game theory and broader currents in American culture and politics,” he says.

Erickson explored the ways in which rationality became a seriously contested concept in the nation during the Cold War—especially from a political and cultural standpoint.

Erickson completed his PhD in the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and has been at Wesleyan University since summer, 2008. He specializes in the science of the Atomic Age, the history of ecology, biology and technology, game theory’s wider applications in science and social science, the study of populations and science in public policy, among other research specialties and interests.

Photos from the Union Congress are available here.

Stem Cell Documentary Screening and Discussion – Wed. Oct. 7

Laura Stark, assistant professor of sociology and Science in Society, is screening a new documentary on stem cell research policy, called “The Accidental Advocate”. All members of the Wesleyan community are welcome to view the film, which explores one person’s desire to learn more about the complex—and highly politicized—world of stem cell research.

“The filmmaker and her father (a paralyzed former physician who is the protagonist in the documentary) are scheduled to discuss the film, as well,” Stark says.

The screening begins at 5 p.m. in Film Studies 190 (Powell Family Cinema) on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

Please note that the screening will be followed by a catered reception and discussion with Jessica Gerstle, the filmmaker, and her father, Dr. Claude Gerstle (the film’s protagonist). The discussion will cover health advocacy, documentary filmmaking, and the politics of stem cell research.

Laura Stark was featured in a recent profile in The Wesleyan Connection.