history of science

Austria’s Ahead-of-Its-Time Institute That Was Lost to Nazis

Manfred Laubichler was interviewed for an article by Chelsea Wald about the Biologische Versuchsanstalt in Vienna, published in the recent issue of Nautilus. From the article:

In 1911, Popular Science Monthly published an enthusiastic description of a young, private experimental-biology institute in Vienna, lauding its “remarkable scientific productivity resulting from only eight years of research.”

An early air-conditioning system used to control air temperatures at the Vivarium

The author, zoologist Charles Lincoln Edwards, attributed the success of the Biologische Versuchsanstalt (Insitute of Experimental Biology) to its many advanced experimental devices. The institute, popularly known as the Vivarium, boasted a wide range of terrariums, which housed hundreds of organisms, from glow-worms to kangaroos, at strictly controlled temperatures, humidity, pressure, and light levels. That wasn’t always easy—the Vivarium had to adopt or invent many cutting-edge technologies, including an early air-conditioning system. It was “a pioneer in the use of the carbonic-acid cooling machine for maintaining a cold environment,” wrote Edwards. With the help of circulating salt water and a condenser, four rooms were kept at temperatures ranging from 5°C to 20°C.

The idea of using various apparatuses to control the living conditions of plants and animals for study was new; before that, scientists mainly observed their subjects in nature. At the Vivarium, the focus was on raising many generations under the same conditions in order to probe questions of heredity and development—a unique approach at the time, and one that many consider a precursor to today’s research on evolutionary developmental biology, or “evo-devo.”

Report on Data Management and Data-Management Plans for the History of Science Society Committee on Research and the Profession

One of the talking points at the History of Science Society's 2013 business meeting this Sunday was the recent report by the Committee for Research & the Profession's (CoRP) Data-Management Task-Force on the NSF's new requirements concerning data management and data management plans. ASU's Julia Damerow, Erick Peirson, Matt Chew, and Manfred Laubichler all participated in the task force. The report reflects on the what constitutes data in the history of science, what it means to preserve those data, what should and should not be shared, and a constellation of other issues surrounding the availability of historical research data. Especially in the context of quantitative and computational approaches to historical research, these considerations are pressing and immediate.

The report considers two potential initiatives by the History of Science Society to address data management needs: project-based bibliographies, and an HSS data repository.

The existing system of repositories has gaps in it of two types. First, many historians of science, especially, but not exclusively independent scholars, may not have access to suitable institutional repositories for their data. Second, for all historians there are unresolved questions how the cost of long-term preservation and exposure of data will be met. ... It may well be, therefore, that such a repository shall be an essential component of history of science research in the future. Such a repository would bring together (if not necessarily uniquely hold) data sets that could be constructed according to accepted standards but with the added features needed to make them particularly useful for historians of science. ... In so doing, it would become, ideally, a site where data sets created for one purpose could be merged and manipulated to address new questions. ... Such a fully developed repository could streamline data management for historians of science and be a model for other learned societies.

The report was published in the October edition of the HSS newsletter, and can be found here.

Redesigning the Current bibliography for the History of Science

Manfred Laubichler recently attended the Isis Current Bibliography 2.0 Conference:

What is the future of bibliography in the digital age? Because most people think of a bibliography as simply an index of citations used to locate relevant material for their research, it might be argued that the growing ubiquity of full-text search engines is making human-compiled bibliographies superfluous. I believe that this is not the case. The current digital, data-rich environment has changed research practices in fundamental ways, but this environment has not eliminated the usefulness of specialized bibliographies. The changes do, however, force us to rethink what a bibliography can and should do. We are in the midst of a wholesale transformation in the way that scholarship takes place. How knowledge has come to be produced, saved, and shared is reformulating what scholars do. The new field of digital humanities is pushing the boundaries of this information-based world, and many scholars are building extraordinary new research tools.