Newsletter of the National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science—August 2023

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:

From the Chair

Rachael Brown
Chair, National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science

Welcome to the second issue of the NCHPS Newsletter for 2023.

The Committee has undergone some significant membership changes over the past few months. We sadly bade farewell to Cordelia Fine and Sara Maroske, who are stepping down. We thank both Cordelia and Sara for their service and contribution—we will miss them! We are excited to welcome several new Committee members: Fiona Fidler (University of Melbourne), Hallam Stevens (James Cook University), Thao Phan (Monash), and Kate Lynch (University of Melbourne). We look forward to working with them.

In other news, the Committee has been involved in several Academy policy activities including consultations on the ethics of neurotechnology with the Human Rights Commission and advice to the UN on the importance of social studies of science.

Big questions: Planetary health humanities—an emerging HPSSS field

Guest contribution
Dr James Dunk is research fellow on the project Planetary Health Histories: Developing Concepts, funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP220100624) and led from the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney.

The planetary health humanities draw together health practitioners and researchers, artists, and humanities scholars in a shared project working for human flourishing in the Anthropocene. The emerging field unites three distinct agendas—which have already been thrown together in the twenty-first century by planetary crisis (Lewis, 2021)—health humanities, environmental humanities and planetary health (the latter being a transdisciplinary movement emphasising that human health depends on ecosystems and earth systems currently under threat).

The three agendas share a systems approach, most explicit in planetary health, which positions human health in the ‘safe operating space’ described by earth systems science (Rockström et al, 2009). The approach aims to reconfigure human systems around the vulnerable premise of human health and civilisation (Whitmee et al, 2015).

Health (or medical) humanities have, from their inception, taken a psychosocial view of human health (Evans & Greaves, 1999). More organic and holistic than systematic, perhaps, the health humanities take human bodies and minds as inseparable. Emerging mostly within medical schools, the health humanities hold that, alongside the medical specialisations, there are specialisations on living human selves and societies. Further, if the determinants of health include the social, cultural, and political, the humanities hold critical insight. The health humanities also embrace the arts as not only descriptive of the cultural influences on health, but as direct factors in producing it, and therefore therapeutic allies (Daykin, 2019).

The determinants of health, however, are also ecological. Thus the environmental humanities are also, belatedly, being looked to for critical insight into the more-than-human relationships which constitute human health. Institutionally and temperamentally, environmental humanists tend to be based more deeply in the humanities, connected with artists, curators, poets and filmmakers. They typically have more critical perspectives aligned with a different ethical programme which is ambivalent about human achievements. Environmental humanists are alive to extinction, shadow places, sacrifice zones, and ethics (e.g. Van Dooren, 2014; Plumwood, 2008).

An animated dialogue between these agendas may help engage wider communities with practical, innovative and creative visions of flourishing and equity. Such an approach might be grounded in better understanding of ourselves and deeper appreciation of others, and might use the whole gamut of analytical and expressive modes to bring other lives front and centre. However, the clash of voices, styles, and ethical perspectives across these diverse agendas will need to be resolved iteratively, keeping the goal of planetary health in sight without letting it swallow the critical concerns brought by the humanities.

To navigate this minefield (or walk this tightrope), planetary health humanities will need to remain conscious of its complex, interweaving genealogy. Its constituent disciplines, arts and commitments will need to continue guiding and driving the agenda. Historical perspectives, in particular, will insist that Indigenous knowledge continually be drawn into a central position in any meaningful planetary health humanities. Eastern perspectives, too, must feature, further provincialising, globalising and diversifying what began as a visibly white, metropolitan exercise in planetary governance (Anderson & Dunk, 2022). Similarly, attention must be given to the potent, diverse vocabularies of planetary health and to the vital question of a planetary mental health informed by the health and environmental humanities. These and many more strands are already emerging from a vibrant planetary health humanities.

Join the conversation

References: Anderson, W. & Dunk, J. (2022). Planetary health histories: Toward new ecologies of epidemiology? Isis 113, no. 4, 767–88. Daykin, N. (2019). Arts, health and well-being: A critical perspective on research, policy and practice. Taylor & Francis. Evans, M & Greaves, D. (1999). Exploring the medical humanities. BMJ, 319(7219):1216. Lewis, B. (2021). Planetary health humanities—Responding to COVID times. Journal of Medical Humanities, 42, 3–16. Plumwood, V. (2008). Shadow places and the politics of dwelling. Australian Humanities Review, 44. Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K.  et al. (2009). Planetary boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society, 14(2), Article 32. Van Dooren, T. (2014). Flight ways: Life and loss at the edge of extinction. Columbia University Press.


Encyclopedia of Australian Science and Innovation

Get ready to dive into a treasure trove of knowledge as we gear up for the highly anticipated 2023 August (Larneuk) edition of the Encyclopedia of Australian Science and Innovation!

We’re bringing you general updates and exciting new additions to a few of the notable entries for:

  • Robert Brown (1773–1858)
  • Matthew Bailes (1963–)
  • Australasian Corrosion Association (1957–)
  • Ralph Slatyer Medal (2017–), awarded by the Australian National University.

We have a large backlog but are always keen to get feedback which we try to address promptly. 

AusSTS 2023 inaugural conference

The 2023 AusSTS Conference, held at the UNSW Sydney CBD Campus on 17–18 July, marked a significant milestone for the network that was established in Melbourne back in 2017. What started as a platform to bring together researchers affiliated with Science and Technology Studies (STS) approaches has now grown beyond boundaries, with the network expanding to embrace Aotearoa New Zealand as well.

More insights and updates on the conference

Professor Warwick Anderson wins prestigious Bernal Prize

Professor Warwick Anderson FAHMS FAHA FASSA, an historian of science, medicine and public health at the University of Sydney, has been awarded the Society for Social Studies of Science’s prestigious Bernal Prize for ‘distinguished contributions’ to the field of Science and Technology Studies. The Bernal Prize is the society’s life achievement award. We congratulate Professor Anderson for this recognition of an outstanding research career.

New episodes of the HPS Podcast

The History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) program at Melbourne University recently launched a new podcast. The HPS Podcast features accessible discussions about interesting people and topics in HPS. Hosted by Samara Greenwood and Indigo Keel, there is already a good bank of episodes available for your enjoyment, beginning with a cracker of an episode on storytelling in science featuring the indomitable Donna Haraway.

Listen to the HPS podcast

Events and opportunities

DHST Global History of Science and Technology Festival 2023

Date: 28–30 September 2023
Venue: Online

The festival will bring together historians of science and technology to reflect on the topic, ‘The future of history of science and technology / History of science and technology for the future.’

Event website

Australasian Society for Philosophy & Psychology (ASPP) Conference

Date: 6–8 December 2023
Venue: Australian National University

Registrations open soon.

Event website

Australasian Society for History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science (AHPSSS) Conference

Date: 29 November – 1 December 2023
Venue: University of Sydney

Event website


Find out about opportunities for scientists in the latest Academy newsletter.

News from the Academy

Registrations now open for annual symposium on 14 November

Don’t miss this extraordinary opportunity to be involved in a national  about how we can address national security concerns whilst enabling the benefits that open scientific collaboration offers Australia and the globe. Our annual symposium, ‘International scientific collaborations in a contested world’, will explore how we can uphold the long-held values of the research enterprise – openness, accountability, objectivity, and integrity – whilst also managing geopolitical tensions and securing the prosperity of Australia and our region. The program will be a combination of high-level keynote addresses and panel discussions, with Academy President Professor Jagadish being joined by speakers from Australia, the US and the UK.

The symposium will be held on 14 November, preceded by a symposium dinner on 13 November. Find out more and register for this unique event.

Australia’s science and research priorities

On 6 April 2023, the Academy made a submission to the Department of Industry, Science and Resources’ consultation on developing Australia's science and research priorities and national science statement. The submission focuses on the strategic context of the national science and research priorities. It draws on discipline-specific sector analysis carried out by the Academy’s National Committees for Science, including the National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science. The Academy’s EMCR Forum also made a submission to the consultation.

Read the submissions

Community showcase: Philosophy of biology takes the stage

The Centre for Philosophy of the Sciences in the School of Philosophy at the Australian National University held two large philosophy of biology events in June 2023. Both of the events were big successes with strong attendance and a plethora of papers on topics ranging from the nature of disease to the scientific validity of the idea of a balanced microbiota.

Australia–New Zealand PhilBio meeting

The inaugural Australia–New Zealand Philosophy of Biology meeting took place on 21–23 June. This new meeting, organised by a group of early- and mid-career researchers from the region, is intended to be a regular event showcasing the strength in philosophy of biology in Australia and New Zealand. The organisers were Rachael Brown (ANU), Carl Brusse (ANU), Kate Lynch (University of Melbourne), John Matthewson (Massey University) and Emily Parke (University of Auckland).

Discover more insights from the meeting

Participants at the inaugural Australia–New Zealand Philosophy of Biology meeting. Image credit: R. Brown.

Evolvability meeting

An interdisciplinary workshop on the topic Evolvability: A bridge between the proximate and the ultimate? was held 26–28 June 2023. Co-organised by Rachael Brown (ANU) and Katie Deaven (University of Wisconsin-Madison), speakers included an international line-up of philosophers and scientists from North America, Europe and Australia. The meeting sparked lots of interesting discussions and plans for a collaborative publication are in the works.

Participants at the Evolvability workshop. Image credit: R. Brown.

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