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Durham University

Department of Philosophy

Plenary Abstracts

Hasok Chang (Cambridge)

If you can spray phlogiston, is it real? Evidence and integrated HPS

[Details TBC]

Catherine Wilson (York)

Experimental and Speculative Revisited: What was Behind the Rejection of "Hypotheses"?

 After the introduction of Cartesianism into England there was a flurry of condemnation of hypotheses, culminating in Newton's famous 'non fingo' declaration. On one hand, the condemnation is seen an important step in the evolution of an experimental culture that could (ideally) prove empirical claims. On the other hand, the condemnation seems to make no sense since Newton himself flings hypotheses (in our sense) about right and left. I will argue that the condemnation was directed exclusively against those suspected of Epicureanism --i.e. the self-organisation of the universe and the sufficiency of purely corpuscularian explanations.

Greg Radick (Leeds)

Is Mendel's Evidence 'Too Good to Be True'? An Integrated HPS Perspective

Commonly people tend to know two things about Gregor Mendel: first, that he was the "monk in the garden" whose experiments with peas in mid-nineteenth-century Moravia became the starting point for genetics; and second, that, despite that exalted status, there is something fishy, maybe even fraudulent, about the data that Mendel reported. In the year (indeed the month) marking the 150th anniversary of Mendel's first lecture on his experiments, this talk will explore the cultural politics of this accusation of fraudulence against Mendel. Although the notion that Mendel's numbers were, in statistical terms, too good to be true was well understood almost immediately after the famous "rediscovery" of his work in 1900, the problem only became widely discussed and agonized over from the 1960s, for reasons having as much to do with Cold War geopolitics as with traditional concerns about the objectivity of science. Appreciating the Cold War origins of the problem as we have inherited it can, I will suggest, be a helpful step towards appreciating what's *really* wrong with Mendel's work -- and what, 150 years later, we should do about it.