The Interdisciplinary Nature of Studying the History of Science
Multiple disciplines are necessary parts of a cohesive study of the history of science
The origins of various sciences are dependent on existence of other fields of science. A single experiment can lead to the creation of a whole new field, which is true in the case of very important discoveries. Although there are perceived and documented pressures on some groups of individuals, those situations frequently lead to important discoveries being made by unexpected individuals, like Galileo, who worked on the fringes of science.
History of science is often studied through the lens of the history of the development of medicine: “Botany was taught in medical faculties because most medicines were still derived from plants”(Bowler 322). In 2005, members of the Native American Havasupai Tribe sued Arizona State University after scientists took tissue samples the tribe donated for diabetes research and used them without consent to study schizophrenia and inbreeding”( Skloot 318-319). In the analysis of the legality of the procedures performed with HeLa cells without Mrs. Lack’s consent, it is necessary to have an anthropological understanding of the adverse affects on a completely different group of individuals victimized by a similar strategy. The Native American Havasupai Tribe may have even more cynical view of this form of transgression, based on the Tribe’s contradicting religious views.
Developments and changes in religious sects over time affect experimental and theoretical science. A jesuit, Cardinal Robero Bellarimo insists that the disagreement of Galileo’s reasoning with several chapters of the Bible render’s the astronomer’s arguments meaningless. Mayer shares, “ And if your paternity will read, I do not say only the holy fathers, but modern commentators on Genesis, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Joshua, you will find find that all agree in expounding literally that the sun is in the heaven and turns around the earth with great speed and the earth is very far from heaven and is in the center of the world, immobile”( Mayer 73). The Cardinal argues that even if Galileo will not take the “holy fathers”’s argument seriously, then he should at least use scripture as an adequate refutation of its scientific argument.
Henrietta Lack’s cells were used to for testing the development diseases cells which may have informed modern virology. Skloot writes, “ HeLa cells divided and generated energy, they expressed genes and regulated them, and they were susceptible to infections, which made them an optimal tool for synthesizing and studying any number of things in culture, including bacteria, hormones, proteins, and especially viruses” ( Skloot 97”). An important step in the process of developing a functional understanding of physiology was “hampered by the lack of suitable chemistry” (Bowler 167). Bowler expands, “[T]he philosophy of organism or holism, the belief that the whole can be more than the sum of its parts and can exhibit higher-order functions even though the operation of each part is governed solely by physical law” (Bowler168).
The acceptance of scientific discoveries made by previous scientists makes new discoveries possible. This function is important because it allows researchers to have a deeper understanding of the current experiments. Bowler comments on the extent to which Lavosier’s “ [T]heories as providing only one of a number of possible approaches to reforming chemistry” (Bowler 57). Without studying the history of chemistry, modern science would not have an understanding of how various chemical concepts and experiments arose. The inspiration of an experiment is a large part of the documentation and design of an experiment itself. Recruiting other scientists and financial investment for an experiment is usually done by providing an introduction to a physical phenomenon and observations made previously, either by the same scientific team, or another.
Incorporating the historical accounts of diversified techniques reveals subtle splits and grafts that occurred within these scientific fields in the past and inform the methods by which contemporary fields currently undergo analogous changes. This attitude that is taken by a deep study of the history of science may inform the future development of modern scientific experimentation. The relationship between an existing, defined field of Anthropology and the development of Sociology, is an example of the value of the interdisciplinary nature of history of science. Bowler writes: “In the nineteenth century, it was by no means clear to those who studied the functioning of human beings en masse that there might be laws of social activity that could not be reduced to the laws of social behavior” (Bowler 310). An understanding of the human body requires the ability to calculate the predictable behavior of internal organs and cells, which are, on a basic level made up of molecules, and those are made of elements.
It wasn’t until the onset of the industrial revolution that certain scientific fields began to be considered a vital aspect of a college education. Bowler records: “ It was not until the 1850’s that these [British] universities were forced by the government commissions to accept science teaching as part of their degree programs” ( Bowler 350). Universities curriculums are not set in stone. A general population’s lack of interest in a field does not mean that it does not contain vital information. Existing social hierarchies both in the past and today influence the future of scientific fields. Bowler generalizes, “The highly centralized governments of France and Germany provided a mechanism by which state funds could be channeled into scientific research and education if the ruling elite approved” ( Bowler 331). “ The allocation of funds for scientific research is, and was, highly depended on the ruling elite, even in nations with governments dedicated to informing their populace. One good example of this phenomenon is the naming of scientific buildings on college campuses. An observant student may notice certain names are repeated across multiple campuses, implying that these particular families are committed to furthering certain sciences, but not others. I have noticed that many physics and astronomy buildings are named “Olin,” which must be an affluent family that has pledged to support those specific sciences. The risks associated with the researching certain scientific topics depends not only on the content, but the attack on the “feminine” dynamics of involved in the transformation of a cannon. In the Introduction, Moran argues, “The defense attorneys did not attack actual antievolution women so much as they committed what one historian has called “symbolic matricide,” as they condemned the female-dominated reform tradition” ( Moran 71). This points to the importance of women studying science and studying the history of science assertively, encouraging the advancement of science, which may baffle their male counterparts with its complexity simply due to the the fact that most sciences have been historically male-dominated fields and success in these fields may require less effort and distancing from their own gender.
Studying science from a historical point of view allows modern historians to understand the impact of specific legal events on the development of different fields. It is odd that human subjects would used to develop new types of information about medicine.
1. BOWLER, PETER J. MAKING MODERN SCIENCE: a Historical Survey. CHICAGO PRESS, 2020.
2. Kitchen, D. J. The Trial of Galileo. Wigmore, 1989.
3. MORAN, JEFFREY P. SCOPES TRIAL: a Brief History with Documents. BEDFORD BKS ST MARTIN'S, 2021.
4. Skloot, Rebecca, and Sarah Moss. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Picador, 2019.