Short Papers and Comments

For class discussion:

Evaluating books and writing reviews

Rosenberg, Kohler, and the STS literature

Allison Bland


Frenchie’s Thoughts – I think that the “Science Wars” likely played a huge part in the differentiation of the four critiques. The two critiques of the first edition were done at what I would consider the infancy of the Science Wars (although not officially called so until the 1990s). None the less, such revolutionaries as Popper and Kuhn were bubbling to the forefront with their collective open questioning of Science actually being the uncovering of Nature’s Truths and perhaps being more of a human construction…

The two critiques of the first, written in the late 1970s being significantly more critical of the work than the other two written in at the very end of the twentieth century. Could it simply be that Post-Modernism thinking (e.g. social constructionism) was a more accepted concept during these two final writings?

There was also significant differences between the two critiques of the first edition, with the more severe coming from a British Professor and the more acceptable one from the American Professor. While I am not that familiar with the specific differences in prevalent thought between the two Scientific communities in England and the United States? Or even perhaps the specific audiences that the two were focusing their comments to, given that the Cambridge was addressing Scientists and the American was addressing Historians of Science?

Regardless, the tone of the critiques seem to allude to the assumption that the acceptance of the theory that Science may indeed be something other than an actual uncovering of Nature’s Truths, may have had a lot to do differences in the critiques themselves.

Stephanie Tennyson - I agree with this review and was interested in the comparison of how the changing attitudes could be based on the date of the evaluation of the book. Rosenberg is very vague in his definitions as Allison noted and I certainly agreed with hers (and the reviewers) thoughts regarding how disjointed the book was. The chapters do examine the relation between science, society and institutions, but I get very distracted by his writing style and his lack of references. I agree with her and the reviews that the collection of essays do represent general conclusions about American science during this timeframe; however, I don't feel that the dots are very well connected. I also agree with her assessment about who Rosenberg choses to exclude from his examination as well as the main issue is the breadth of topics covered in one single volume. Might be a bit too much!

Lea Ann Mawler


Allison Bland - I really liked the way you said that "The book is historical, but not a history" as a way of explaining that we should look at Rosenberg as a product of its time. History changes as well as historical context. I'm glad that you provided details about female physiology of which Rosenberg's account was problematic, but is it possible that he did not provide these details because they did not exist at the time of writing? Nevertheless, it is useful to see the current connections.

Chrissy Vu - I never even considered how only that one reviewer was outside of the US! I definitely agree that his “meanderings” especially in the Arrowsmith story are not clear. I was also confused by the changing of the woman’s name. I also agree with the point that although the basis (AKA theories) underlying some of the medical science were flat out wrong, but the numerical correlations definitely still match up today.

Wolfgang E- Lea Ann, in your review you make a good point about the 20 year difference in review times between the reviews and the difference in critiquing (Gert Brieger and Katherine Pandora versus Gay Weber and Gerald Grob).

I agree that praising a recognized piece of work has less risk than providing comments about a new release. As both of our reviews indicate the lack of unity among Rosenberg’s essays was identified as a problem by the majority of critiques including Rosenberg’s lack of validity. Problems identified by both of us were not STS issues but Rosenberg’s writing style.

In regards to your comment that Weber received his degree outside the US it is an avenue I did not consider as a possibility but will include this when doing future analytical reviews. You mention that Rosenberg fails to address this evolution of medical knowledge or how we know our “knowledge” now is better than theirs then. To me this brings up Karl Popper’s falsification. I mentioned in my review that Rosenberg neglects to mention societal influences that influenced women questioning their roles during this time period. While he does mention the theme of Henry James and equal pay and work. The question to me is what changing factors were there that women questioned their biological image and when were these science issues proven to be false and replaced? It seems to me a good topic to pursue.

Andy Rumbaugh


Frenchie’s Thoughts – I hadn’t really thought of the policy connection, but I can certainly see it. In this great big world of our, I think that is may be hard to ever fully segregate anything. I think that is part of the story that Rosenberg is actually trying to tell isn’t it?

I’m not real sure that Rosenberg, himself, would totally disagree with your comment nor am I certain that he would take it as a negative critique, but rather that you got his point exactly. He seems to be saying, hey look, this Science things doesn’t develop in an “vacuum” so to speak; there are other outside influences that interact and jointly cause the direction of each other to move into a set direction.

I think that Rosenberg is probably much like Andrew Pickering in his The Mangle of Practice – Time Agency & Science, where Science is really the epicenter of any number of influences impact the development and direction of that it is heading. Pickering would indicated that Science is in fact the culmination of all these external factors, such as machine, theories, Human interaction, facts, politics, ethics, etc, etc, etc. I’m not so sure that either are too far on this.

Wolfgang E- I agree with your comment that American society is more likely to accept scientific judgment than divine revelation to inform social action. Science is universal and we are all on the same playing field. Religion is not, too many differences in beliefs (or non beliefs) exist.

In addition to metaphors having greater explanatory power, I think scientific terminology provide science with credibility in the eyes of society and further promotes scientific culture.

I think you make a valid point regarding the reaction to modernism and that science was in support of policy, political stability to support a broad policy of repression. I just wonder why Rosenberg did not discuss the role of religion and its influence on social roles.

In regards to modernism you mention that science had appeal so long as it informed policies that reinforced the prevailing structure. But I question who in society is reinforcing this type of science (government, sects, universities, political institutions)? Who educated/informed the MD’s to convey to theses medical beliefs to the women at this time to keep them in their assigned gender roles and when did women question the authority of science?

I think your case study approach was interesting and different from the class majority and your policy points were overlooked by other classmates, including myself.

Stephanie Tennyson


Chrissy Vu - I almost chose the same reviewers for my essay, but picked up Pauly’s review first! I agree that Kohler can be “too lofty,” yet “colorful,” and explanatory, while at the same time leaving the reader wanting more. I never thought about it, but your suggestion of adding an additional chapter to explain his intent is a brilliant idea!

Andy Rumbaugh - It's interesting to me that the reviewers and the class found a common ground in the idea of a living organism constructed as an experimental instrument. I also appreciate Stephanie's fundamental 'so what?' question - how did the Lords interact with the larger society and who did their work benefit?

Frenchie Thuotte


// Andy Rumbaugh// - I would not have thought to look at the temporal differences in the reviews so I thank Frenchie for the insight. However, I take exception to the idea that the 'science wars' continue. Sokal and Bricmont conclusively demonstrated that Bloor, Riordin, Latour, et al are charlatans and frauds in their writing about science.

Frenchie’s Rebuttal – It would seem to me that Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science, published by. Professors Allan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, in1997 (in France) and 1998 (in the U.S.) hardly end the debate on the social constructed nature of Science – the very basis of the Science Wars. Both Professor Sokal and Bricmont readily admit to not fully understanding much of the literature that is written in this genre and further concede, that in fact there is indeed value to questioning the factuality of Scientific Truth – remember that this (Fashionable Nonsense) all started out as a hoax. ;-)) Considering that Professor Sokal just recently (2008) published a follow-on to Fashionable Nonsense entitled Beyond the Hoax, no doubt he realizes that the question is far from be closed. Finally given the steady rise in STS Programs all across the world of Academia, the question of the truth Nature of Science is still going very strong, so how has the Science Wars come to an end??? It seems to me that this whole subject area has been the central question from time immortal. Remember that Plato, in Allegory of the Cave, was portraying a very, very post-modern viewpoint, when he was telling us that we can never see the world as it truly is, but only mere representation what we believe the world to be. His student Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, was much more the realist when he tells us that sense perception serves as the foundation for establishing the Nature of what is real. It seems that the question of rather we are indeed able to see the truth or rather it is simply our own representation of what we think we are seeing has been argued for well over two millennium and continues to this very day, in our case through the Science Wars… ;-))

Allison Bland - I'm not sure if the difference in Weber's review can necessarily be completely attributed to his nationality or his affiliation with the history of science. There were major changes going on in the history of science at this time too, some of which Rosenberg describes, such as the shift from "history of ideas" to "externalist" history. You said that only Grob saw the connections that Rosenberg was trying to portray, but is it possible that the other reviewers, particularly Weber, saw holes in these ties that Grob missed?

Frenchie Perhaps, but remember that Grob recognized the apparent disjointedness of the collection of articles prior to trying to find the common thread running through them all.

Lea Ann Mawler - In Frenchie's review, he states, "Rosenberg attempts, with some success, to point out that history has shown us that our current understanding of knowledge indeed may not be a true representation of what the truth really is or more poignantly, that society is a reflection of the science uncovered." I think that this is indeed an important point to discuss, but I'm not sure if it is in fact Rosenberg's intention, or, rather, if it's the analysis we apply to No Other Gods because it's our own lens as students of STS. In fact, I thought that Rosenberg made assumptions about things that he implied were "wrong" from the nineteenth century without discussing the nuances of "right" and "wrong" science.

Frenchie - Right you are, Lea Ann. Rosenberg does not tell us what his comdendium of articles is trying to tell us, but rather leaves it up to his audience to filter the ramification through their own lens; one of the main weaknesses (at least in my opinion) of his work. I would have much perferred to see him come out and tell us what he believes all of this means, as Latour, Kuhn and many other have done. Unfortunately he does not and leaves that up to us to decipher. ;-(( Perhaps it is a bridge too far and would be considered complete rhetoric by some to draw conclusions based on such a broad topic base of articles and/or leave the author open to ridicule from the hardcore Scientific Community. Certainly all conjecture, without the author telling us why he elected not to elaborate on the commonality of the topic areas.

Chrissy Vu


Allison Bland - I appreciated your citation of Cetina to refute Geison's critique. I find Cetina's "self-others-things" system more convincing than what you called Geison's "rigid" approach that rejected the fly as actor. I find it interesting that Cobb (Cobbs?) criticized the scientific content of Kohler's writing. It makes me wonder if this could be a point of contest as much as Kohler's method or metaphor.

Frenchie’s Thoughts – I concur that this book “Deserves to be widely read” and that there is STS running all the way through it. I also concur that the one big thing missing is any explanation of what it all really means. Kohler seems to leave that up to the readers to decipher for themselves. I would have liked to see him articulate his thought of what it all mean in terms STS concepts.

Even though it is lacking in this respect, one can certainly see inferences throughout, with his vignettes and antidotes, where the Science developed based on the human interactions and visa versa.

Stephanie Tennyson - First of all, after the class discussion and our opinions on Rosenberg I was surprised that only Chrissy and I reviewed Lords of the Fly. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the review, and in particular several points that Chrissy noted. Chrissy noted other revies I did not chose to use noted that Kohler fails to provide answers to the big questions… as I said in my review, the "So What?" She also picked up on the fact that Kohler does what he states from the beginning he's not going to do… exmain the social construction of knowledge, and I agree as well that this is the strength of the book. Finally, one aspect that she highlighted that I had not considered was boundaries and Kohler's failure to examine them in an STS manner.

Heather White


Chrissy Vu - As mentioned in a comment I made to Lea Ann’s paper, I also agree that the “collection of essays” were quite “disjointed” like you say. I also thought of the same question, of asking “so what”? Adding in the biographical information of these reviewers really adds to the potential motivators behind their comments.

Wolfgang E- I like your point that Gert Brieger had 20 years of other reviews and criticisms about Rosenberg’s book to sort through before critisizing the book and that he is a professor of Medical History to influence his review.

I cannot agree with you more regarding your questions concerning unprecedented change, issues at play… etc. I too wanted Rosenberg to provide more detailed. Weber Gay points out how recognized Rosenberg’s work is. I question if another author using the same writing style but one who is less recognized would have his work be criticized or recommended by someone in the STS arena. You reference in your review that Rosenberg’s intention is to provide a preliminary exploration of questions. I think he did just that.

Lea Ann Mawler - We seem to have some of the same critique's of the reviewers that we do of No Other Gods — for example, Heather points out about Grob's review, "I found no direct description or evidence in the reading of 'unprecedented change' in the US." It is this same lack of description and evidence that I found so frustrating about Rosenberg's book.

I was struck when reading Heather's review with this phrase: "I too can make assumptions based on my personal
knowledge of American History and the timeframe Rosenberg was writing about…" I think this is what distresses me the most. There is a vast amount of American history from the nineteenth century - history at the macro and micro level and in all sorts of fields and foci. That Rosenberg doesn't tell us what history he's using as his foundation makes us assume, and we all know what that does…

Edward Wolfgang


Andy Rumbaugh - Ed raises a key point, one that can be seen in our writing about these reviews, 'where you stand reflects where you sit'. The reviewers brought to their work the baggage of their professions and associations, which is itself a dominant theme in STS. I would like to emphasize his critique of Rosenberg's style. For each case study, use of the classic science paradigm - problem statement, assumptions, methodology, etc, would have given a clearer picture, or more likely demonstrated that Rosenberg really had little to say.

Stephanie Tennyson - I like how Ed quickly points out that all though the collection of essays on a wide range of topics seem to not relate, they are indeed all related because they link social thoughts and values with American science and its practice. I enjoyed his examination of the influencing factors on where each reviewer was coming from, their perspective so to speak, and I think he was able to provide insight to this regard. He also brought out some additional topics or missing points, which include Rosenberg's neglect to examine or mention religion or government's role in some of the histories that he examined. I agree with his disapproval of the writing style of multiple case studies put together to try and tell a unifying story and the fact that you feel that Rosenberg barely scratches the surface for many of them. Perhaps this was his way to try and appeal to a larger audience or just a way to get a book out of several essays he'd already written!

Lea Ann Mawler - I, too, liked Ed's insight into the background / research areas of the reviewers and the influence that has on their reviews. I am interested in the backgrounds of Grob and Weber and whether their reviews bear out the hypothesis that the review focuses on the reviewers areas of interest. Grob is a professor of the History of Medicine and Gay Weber (although I had trouble finding him) seems to focus on nineteenth century / victorian science and society.

Grob, although in the field of History of medicine, seemed to have a more favorable review of the sections of No Other Gods that dealt with the agricultural stations. Perhaps that is because he has more background / is more informed in the chapters dealing with medicine?

I also specifically appreciated the reference to other books that had better style / flow - Leviathan
and the Air Pump; Einstein’s Clocks; Poincare’s Maps; and Lords of the Fly.

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