Newsletter of the National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science—August 2021

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 Chair

Professor Joan Leach
Director, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University     
Chair, Academic Board ANU
Chair, National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science, Australian Academy of Science

Professor Joan Leach. Image supplied

Welcome to the inaugural issue of the NCHPS newsletter. This is a result of collaboration among current committee members at NCHPS; we collectively felt that if there was one thing that we could do in these straitened times, it was to have a forum where we could highlight all the important things going on in our disciplines and fields, and announce events and news. The newsletter is meant to be inclusive—HPS, STS, metascience, science communication, responsible innovation—and if I haven’t mentioned your research field, please don’t feel left out; send us your news and your upcoming conferences and talks. If you have a newsletter you’d like to link, please send us that, too.

In this issue I also want to highlight a section we’d like to trial and expand called ‘Big questions’. We are a diverse community of scholars who also teach into a wide variety of programs. What are the big questions that we face right now? Dr Sara Maroske, co-editor of Historical Records of Australian Science, kicks off this initiative with the big question on her (and I’m sure others’) mind. We’re keen to know what people are thinking so please have a read below and send us the big question you might have, or respond to the question posed in this issue. We’ll collate these contributions and they may start us thinking toward a landscape scan of our fields. 

Finally, a big thank you to the Academy for hosting and helping us put this newsletter together. We’re hoping it will come out three times per year so we can point to upcoming events as well as celebrate colleagues’ activities as they happen. Your ideas are welcome and we hope that this will be a useful contribution to our wide community. Please forward to others and be sure to subscribe to keep it coming into your inbox.

Big questions

Sara Maroske
Historical Records of Australian Science

Asking big questions within a discipline or group of disciplines is a kind of self-evaluation process that has increasingly been adopted by scholars in the last decade. HPS has always involved the study of human challenges large and small, but what are the most pressing questions that our scholars should currently be addressing?

In this part of the NCHPS newsletter, we aim to stimulate discussion in the HPS community by identifying the most important questions facing our discipline. We wish to encourage scholars to think how their established spheres of research can be brought to bear on these questions, and how we can bring our HPS perspective to a broader public.

Each issue of the newsletter will pose a question with a few thoughts on why it is important, and how it is being addressed in HPS. We welcome your own big questions, or responses to the questions posed. The idea is not to be comprehensive or definitive but to start a conversation that can keep going, by joining the conversation below.

To kick off the series, my question is:

How can HPS contribute to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians?

Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was the final recommendation in the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It is widely regarded as a necessary precursor to creating equity, equality and unity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and it is something to which all Australians can contribute.

My main HPS role is as co-editor of the Australian Academy of Science’s journal Historical Records of Australian Science (HRAS), a space where change in the way in which Indigenous knowledge is treated has been slow in coming, but it is happening. This journal aims to be a place for scholars to contribute to the acknowledgement of past wrongs to Indigenous people, and to model new ways of researching and writing about the history of Indigenous knowledge.

This journal aims to be a place for scholars to contribute to the acknowledgement of past wrongs to Indigenous people, and to model new ways of researching and writing about the history of Indigenous knowledge.

In 2019, HRAS became the first journal in the CSIRO Publishing stable to publish a warning to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers about culturally sensitive and/or offensive content. This was done with three articles assessing the scientific contribution of a German naturalist (Lothar Becker) who made two tours of colonial Victoria. All scholars treating Indigenous subjects should ask themselves if their work will offend Indigenous readers? Possible wordings for warnings are provided on the AIATSIS website. At HRAS, we talked through our wording and its placement with a cultural officer from the Gunaikurnai people.

In 2020, HRAS published its first article to self-consciously fall into the category of ‘co-production’—an approach to research and writing that empowers Indigenous voices, brings together different knowledge systems, and provides pathways for Indigenous scholars in the academic system. The open access article, A re-examination of William Hann’s Northern Expedition of 1872 to Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, was authored by Peter Taylor—a descendant of the geologist on the expedition—and Nicole Huxley—a descendant of the Indigenous translator and guide. Non-Indigenous scholars should consider if co-production is an option with their research projects.

Finally, as an editor, I try to identify and correct cultural bias in HRAS articles that obviously discounts or denigrates Indigenous knowledge. One example is to replace the term ‘discovery’ with ‘European discovery’ or ‘discovery by Western science’. Another is to acknowledge that assumptions made by European settlers about Australia are contested—such as descriptions of landscape where people have lived for thousands of years as ‘inhospitable’. In researching and writing articles about Indigenous knowledge, and in the referee process, it may also be appropriate to employ an Indigenous sensitivity reader, as much of settler Australian bias is unconscious.

Over to you.

Join the conversation


Darragh, T. A. (2019) ‘Lothar Becker: a German naturalist in Victoria, 1849–52, 1855–65’, HRAS, 30(2), 119–129.

Howes, H. (2019) ‘Lothar Becker’s contributions to anthropology’, HRAS 30(2), 138–145.

May, T. W. and Darragh, T. A. (2019) ‘The significance of mycological contributions by Lothar Becker’, HRAS, 30(2), 130–137.

Taylor, P. I. and Huxley, N. (2020) ‘A re-examination of William Hann’s Northern Expedition of 1872 to Cape York Peninsula, Queensland’, HRAS, 32(1), 67–82.


Historical Records of Australian Science July issue out now

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. Submissions are encouraged.

The journal editors are Sara Maroske and Ian Rae. 

The latest issue includes:

  • ‘Aspects of the historiography of Australian archaeology’ by Hilary Howes
  • ‘John Gooden and the Birmingham proton synchrotron’ by Brett A. Gooden
  • ‘Alec Chisholm and the extinction of the Paradise Parrot’ by Russell McGregor (open access)
  • ‘False testimony: the surveying career of Robert Hamilton Mathews’ by Terry Kass
  • ‘Sarah Elizabeth Smith 1941–2019’, a biographical memoir by F. Andrew Smith, Tim Cavagnaro and Sandy Dickson
  • ‘James Waldo Lance 1926–2019’, a biographical memoir by David Burke
  • seven book reviews.

Find summaries of the articles and read them now

Subscribe to receive early email alerts when articles are published

The latest issue of HRAS has historical articles, biographical memoirs and book reviews.

IUHPST Prize 2021 announcement

The International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IUPHPST) Division of History of Science and Technology has announced the 2021 DHST Dissertation Prize Laureates. Congratulations to the global pool of winners.

The winning essay in the IUHPST Essay Prize in History and Philosophy of Science 2021 is ‘Misinformation age: What early modern scientific fakes can tell us about today’s online fabrications’. The paper analyses how misinformation can spread, looking at the 16th century as a source of insight.

Relocation and reactivation of the Encyclopedia of Australian Science

In March 2021, following delays caused by the covid pandemic, the curation team supporting and developing the Encyclopedia of Australian Science (EOAS) set up operations in the Centre for Transformative Innovation at the Swinburne University of Technology. The centre has a well-established history of Australian science program focused on the history of CSIRO, including the maintenance and development of CSIROpedia.

The relocation of EOAS will eventually result in its re-branding as the Encyclopedia of Australian Science and Innovation, which we see happening progressively through 2021 with the goal of a formal launch at the end of the year. The EOAS team—Gavan McCarthy, Helen Cohn and Ken McInnes—is using this opportunity to tackle refinements of the data model and re-affirm the protocols for data curation. New governance arrangements are being put into place and we are keen to include active engagement from the community. If you would like to contribute in some way please email Associate Professor Gavan McCarthy.

Launch of the Australasian Health and Medical Humanities Network

The recently launched Australasian Health and Medical Humanities Network (AHMHN) promotes and develops collaborative research projects and multi-disciplinary methods and practices in the emergent and multi-disciplinary field of research, the health and medical humanities. It provides a forum to share information on current research and teaching programs, events and other activities in the field. Contact the network to get involved, or subscribe to updates.

Recordings of the network’s launch event are available online, including the inaugural lecture by Catherine Mills on ethical, cultural and ontological considerations surrounding current and future reproductive technologies, and thought-provoking presentations and a panel discussion on past, present and future Australasian health and medical humanities by Claire Hooker, Keren Hammerschlag, Sandra Carr and Karin Sellberg.

Book cover, Model Organisms

Model Organisms: Rachel Ankeny and Sabina Leonelli

Rachel Ankeny and Sabina Leonelli's open access book, Model Organisms, presents a philosophical exploration of the concept of the ‘model organism’ in contemporary biology. Thinking about model organisms enables us to examine how living organisms have been brought into the laboratory and used to gain a better understanding of biology, and to explore the research practices, commitments and norms underlying this understanding.

Science on a Mission: Naomi Oreskes new release

In her new book, Naomi Oreskes investigates the differences when considering who pays for science. Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in the history of science, and what emerges is a vivid portrait of how funding oversight from the American Navy transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope and tenor of scientific work, and it raises profound questions about the purpose and character of American science. A review of the book, published by Nature, How Navy money changed the course of sea science overviews and critiques the latest publication from Oreskes.

Events and opportunities

AAHPSSS 2021 Conference

The 2021 Australasian Association for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science (AAHPSSS) conference will be held 24–26 November at the University of Wollongong, with online options available and in-person hubs in Melbourne and New Zealand for attendees who are unable to travel.

If you are interested in participating in these hubs, or in organising an in-person hub in a different location, please contact the organiser.

TransAsiaSTS Seminar: Aihwa Ong, ‘Can Science Sovereignty & Science Diplomacy Co-exist?’

Hosted by the TransAsiaSTS network and Deakin Science and Society Network, the seminar Can Science Sovereignty & Science Diplomacy Co-exist? will be held 24 September 2021. Professor Aihwa Ong (Berkeley) will discuss how the biosciences as state project and as global public good are complexly entangled and politically fraught for donor and recipient nations alike.

Emerging Issues in Science and Society

On 27 and 29 April, researchers from the sciences, humanities and social scientists gathered online to generate new questions and new answers to some of the biggest challenges of our time as part of the 2021 Emerging Issues in Science and Society Symposium (EISS). The theme for this year’s symposium was ‘Unprecedented Science’ and featured sessions on modelling COVID-19, the ‘anthropause’, re-framing biocultural collections, and biometrics and the politics of recognition. Recordings of the sessions are now available.

Collaborative seminar series

The University of Sydney HPS Research Seminar Series, held in conjunction with the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science and in collaboration with AAHPSSS and the University of Melbourne HPS Program, has completed the Semester 1 series of lectures. More about the Semester 2 program.

News from the Academy

New format for Science at the Shine Dome

In 2021, the Academy is delivering Science at the Shine Dome in a new format to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions while engaging new audiences online. The program of events of Science at the Shine Dome has begun and will continue to November. To find out more about coming events and to register to attend, please go to the event website.

Science for Australians feature articles

Science for Australians is a series of feature articles written for the public by leading scientific experts. The features are designed to provoke discussion, particularly amongst policy makers, demonstrating the research and ideas that can lead to stronger science-policy development and implementation.

The articles explore diverse topics relevant to the Australian research ecosystem. These range from interesting and contemporary science topics to matters that affect Australian capacity to conduct research and realise the full benefit of science. The main message throughout the Science for Australian series is to demonstrate how science can, and does, benefit all Australians. New articles are published periodically.

Community showcase

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science: Studies A, B, and C Merge

Dr Rachel Ankeny, University of Adelaide
Member of National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science

Journal cover, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

We are pleased to announce that as of 1 January 2021, all of the Studies journals (published by Elsevier) have merged, and are now collectively known as Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. This journal has dedicated sections and co-editors-in-chief (EIC) equivalent to the previously separate journals with Darrell Rowbottom (general history and philosophy of science), James Ladyman (history and philosophy of modern physics), and Rachel A. Ankeny (history, philosophy, and social studies of biological and biomedical sciences) continuing in their roles.

The journal encourages high-quality submissions representing all methodological perspectives, including history, philosophy and sociology of science. Studies is international in scope and content, and publishes papers from a wide range of countries and cultural traditions. Proposals for special issues are welcome. In addition, the book review forum now will cover all areas of science, building on its initial setup and able oversight by Sean Valles as part of Studies C, and is being edited by Aleta Quinn.

The journal merger was initiated by the publisher. As the journal is largely published electronically, this merger does not represent a reduction in the number of manuscripts that can be accepted, nor in the total page count, but instead an opportunity to broaden readership and to further strengthen research published in this outlet which has historically been important for the HPS community.

The journal has the status of a transformative journal, which means it is a subscription/hybrid journal that is actively committed to transitioning to a fully open access journal, and also is gradually increasing the share of open access content and offsetting subscription income from payments for publishing services (to avoid double payments).

For those working in systems where metrics are relevant, the merged journal assumes the metrics formerly associated with Studies A (such as impact factor and so on), which are available on the home page above. We are working with the publisher to ensure continuity in the merger in various ways, such as continued representation of the journal in relevant indices. The editorial team and board look forward to additional feedback from the community if any issues arise. We thank our authors and reviewers for continued support over the last year, and look forward to receiving your manuscripts.

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