Newsletter of the National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science—June 2022

Newsletter of the National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science

The Newsletter of the National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science (NCHPS) highlights news, opportunities and events relevant to the diverse fields of interest that occupy the discipline of history and philosophy of science.

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In this newsletter

Foreword from the guest editor

Professor Cordelia Fine
Professor, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne
Member, National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science


Welcome to the latest issue of the Newsletter of the National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science.

In full embrace of editorial cliché, this issue looks at both a beginning and an ending. As a new federal government takes the helm following the recent election, our Big Questions column asks: what’s next for Australian public universities? HPS scholars are particularly well-placed to understand the implications of funding and governance policies for the creation of knowledge, as well as trust in, and the integrity of, our higher education institutions.

Meanwhile, on endings, in the previous issue of this newsletter, guest editor Rachael Brown’s contribution on Big Questions discussed the rise of meta-science. She noted the challenge of building collaborations across disciplinary boundaries and the STEM/HASS divide, citing Professor Fiona Fidler’s work as a relatively rare example of such integration.

This issue’s Community Showcase highlights the work of three HPS research fellows, Drs Martin Bush, Eden Smith and Fallon Mody. They have been an integral part of the recently concluded repliCATS project (Collaborative Assessments for Trustworthy Science) at the University of Melbourne, and their backgrounds in HPS and Science Communication were directly relevant for those roles.

Big questions: public universities post-COVID

Professor Cordelia Fine

* we apologise for the error in title and author name on the emailed version of this edition of the newsletter

As we settle into post-COVID life, and with the recent change of government, a particularly timely big question is: what’s next for our public universities?

A recent report, “At the crossroads: What is the post-COVID future of Australia’s public universities”, by Australia Institute research economist Eliza Littleton:

tells two stories about the future of higher education: one based on the current trajectory of corporatisation, declining education standards and chronic job insecurity for workers in the sector; and an alternative future in which universities are supported to pursue knowledge for the economic and social benefit of the wider public.

The report includes several policy proposals for turning higher education in the direction of the “alternative future”. These include adequate public funding, fully funded research (including for the Australian Government to “relinquish its growing control and political micromanagement over funding allocated”), and free undergraduate education for Australian students. Another policy initiative relates to improved governance, including the establishment of an independent higher education agency, and making elected university council members a majority (as opposed to their current tokenistic representation).

There is, of course, also a recommendation to create more secure employment, including moves to reduce unmanageable workloads. I’m sure that, for many, this issue has been particularly salient since COVID. The crisis was a defining moment for leaders, and some certainly rose to the challenge. Nonetheless, COVID brought about a stark illustration of what sociologist Allison Pugh terms the “one-way honor system”. Professional and academic staff moved heaven and earth to shift operations and teaching online, often even while taking on significant additional caring responsibilities at home. We felt a duty to our students, colleagues, and institutions to see them through the crisis. But as a sector, our universities seem to have become inured to any reciprocal obligations.

Obviously, the big question of where higher education is headed is not specific to HPS. However, our discipline is well-placed to understand and convey to the public how funding, governance and employment conditions shape the system in which we work – and how that system, in turn, shapes the knowledge that is (and isn’t) created.

Join the conversation


  • The book Species problems and beyond: Contemporary issues in philosophy and practice, published by Routledge, is available for pre-order now. It includes chapters by philosophers, historians and working biologists, including both established and early career scholars. 
  • There is a new issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science out this month. Some of the papers in this issue have already been published. More are due to appear in the coming weeks including a piece entitled History and philosophy of science takes form by committee member Warwick Anderson.
  • This article ‘Attention Australia: The climate crisis is a health crisis too’ in Pearls and Irritations highlights the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Science’s (AAHMS) statement on climate and health. The Australasian Association for the Historical, Philosophical and Social Studies of Science (AAHPSSS) is currently gauging community interest on a date for their next conference. You can have your say here.
  • Historical Records of Australian Science is the journal of the Australian Academy of Science and records the history of science, pure and applied, in Australia, New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific. The journal publishes peer-reviewed original scholarly research and historical documents, as well as reviews, biographical memoirs, book reviews, and an annual bibliography of the history of science in the region. It is published in January and July each year, with some articles published online early.
    The next issue in July 2022 will include:
  1. ‘Polar weighing—an Oertling balance in Antarctica’ by Nicola Williams
  2. ‘Ross Henry Day, 1927–2018’ by Max Coltheart and Nicholas Wade
  3. ‘Practising organometallic chemistry in nineteenth-century Australia: David Orme Masson and diethyl magnesium’ by Ian Rae
  4. ’Soil in the air’, a lecture by Libby Robin
  5. ‘Geoffrey Burnstock, 1929–2020’ by R. North and Marcello Costa
  6. ‘Hans Charles Freeman, 1929–2008’ by Trevor Hambley and Ian Rae
  7. ‘J. A. Leach’s Australian bird book: at the interface of science and recreation’ by Russell McGregor

Events and opportunities

Redesigning Deathcare Conference

University of Melbourne and Online
27–29 October

The DeathTech Team at the University of Melbourne, association with the Australian Death Studies Society and supported by the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, is hosting the Redesigning Deathcare Conference in a hybrid format. This conference aims to bridge the divide between research and practice at the end of life and death, through dynamic conversations about the challenges facing deathcare and how to build a better system.

Talk Back Better Webinar Series

Ongoing throughout 2022, recorded

The International Science Council, as part of its Public Value of Science program, in partnership with the Falling Walls International Year of Science Engagement initiative, is convening a series of webinars exploring the capacities that research institutions need to practice progressive, effective science communication in the current global context.

The series will provide discursive analysis on science communication practice along with useful practical tips for researchers and research managers.

17th International Congress on Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science and Technology: call for papers

Buenos Aires, Argentina
24–29 July 2023

The 17th International Congress on Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science and Technology (CLMPST), to be held in July 2023, is calling for papers in June 2022.

DHST Dissertation prize: call for submissions

Submissions due: 1 October 2022

The International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, Division of History of Science and Technology (IUHPST/DHST), invites submissions to its seventh DHST Dissertation prize, awarding promising young scholars in the broad field of the history of science and technology.

News from the Academy

Academy elects 2022 new Fellows

The Academy has recently elected 22 new Fellows, recognising their outstanding contributions to science and scientific research. Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science are among the nation’s most distinguished scientists, elected by their peers for ground-breaking research and contributions that have had clear impact.

For the first time in the Academy’s history, gender parity has been achieved in the annual election of new Fellows. This year’s Fellows include 50% women and 50% men. This reflects the Academy’s deep commitment to improving diversity in Fellowship. Changes to the nomination process and promotion of equal opportunity have been crucial to realising this achievement.

The Shine Dome reopens following repairs

The Shine Dome has been re-opened after a severe hailstorm damaged the copper tiles of the roof in January of 2020, and a splendid new roof with 1888 custom-made new tiles is now in place.

To mark this historical event, the Academy has established the Celebrate Science Campaign. To mark this occasion and to recognise the critical role scientists play, we ask that you celebrate science with us by dedicating a virtual copper roof tile to an Australian scientist who has made a significant contribution to science. The campaign has the twin objectives of:

  • celebrating Australian scientists and their achievements
  • increasing the long-term endowment of the Academy, thereby strengthening the Academy’s independence and ability to offer scientific advice, comment, and education in the national interest.

Learn more and donate today.

More news from the Academy

Community showcase

the repliCATS project

Operating across four faculties at the University of Melbourne, the aim of the repliCATS project (Collaborative Assessments for Trustworthy Science) was to evaluate the credibility of more than 4000 published research papers across eight social science fields, focusing on their likely replicability. The team mathematically aggregates individual judgements made within a structured iterative group discussion protocol, testing a variety of mathematical methods and variables. This entailed working within a highly interdisciplinary team, including psychologists, ecologists, mathematicians, software developers and natural language experts, among others.

The project’s Reasoning Analysis Team, led by Dr Martin Bush, developed what turned out to be a key variable in the mathematical aggregation process: a ‘breadth of reasoning score’. Developed together with Dr Eden Smith, the qualitative analysis specialist, when integrated into the mathematical models aggregating group predictions, it outperformed all other methods, producing the most accurate forecasts of whether a published study was likely to replicate.

The logistics were considerable, and coordinated by Dr Fallon Mody, the Communication and Engagement team lead. Her work involved recruiting and managing a participant pool of over 1200 reviewers across multiple disciplines, as well as advising on ways to enhance engagement in the group discussion protocol, such as gamification.

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