What you see in this post are some reactions and thoughts that came to mind in this very intense week as I think about my own larger intellectual interests, my recently completed dissertation, my organization of my ECR research projects and publications, and the class that I have been teaching this week.
If you have seen my previous post and also the tweetchat, most of you reading this probably already know that I have been teaching a week-long intensive class on science communication that tries to bring in a bit of history of science (and some history of technology). What I did not quite emphasize was also the role of fiction in science communication and in communicating the history of science.
On Wednesday this week, I brought in not only some science news magazines, but also two issues of Analog: Science Fiction and Fact. This came in the heel after I assigned them their first homework, which was to analyze between historically scholarly scientific writing with more recent publications, as a way for them to understand that style is not static; neither does academic scientific communication has to be inscrutably unreadable to a non-specialist. That established the historical aspect of the craft, though, had there been more time, we might have gone a little bit more into how that craft develops differently by the content being produced. Even then, I gave them, in the first lecture, the different forms of overlapping science communication, across different platforms, that share similar raison d’etre even if at first glance, they appear different in their purposes.
So, when I ended up bringing those magazines, including the hard SF journals, to demonstrate the humanistic relevance of scientific thinking in the past, despite the divergent direction that the sciences have taken today, I was able to show them videos produced by scientists/science communicators that connect current day science with historical science, and that fiction is the key to tracing that genealogy of science, from a perspective that is irremediably historically contingent. From there, I could also begin to explain that connection to other humanistic studies. I find such a strategy to be more attention grabbing to the students than if I were to spend too much time pontificating about how literature tries to study science or why philosophy and science have strong historical connections. In fact, I am interested in thinking about how I could one day produce a course that is all about learning history of science through works of hard science fiction, or even just fictions that are interested in interpreting science contemporary to the period in which the fictional universe is set in.
As part of understanding the role of fiction not only in scientific pedagogy, but also in humanistic interaction with science, I was amazed at the number of the students readily adopted such forms of thought experiments (even if rather unconsciously on their part), a fictive-factive motif, in their class presentations, after having only had three days of 90 minutes of class, with my having barely scratched the surface of that! One of the joys of teaching science communication is demonstrating not only the multiple ways of conveying what science is about, which is what I have been trying very hard to convince scientists and humanists alike of, but also of other ways of thinking about the production of scientific knowledge, why we choose to produce scientific knowledge only in particular ways, or inhibit the parameters of acceptability and legibility of scientific theories and facts.
A student astutely pointed out that there is nothing new about scientific communication or even the production of science, which seems to follow the same narrative path for decades on end. Fiction allows one to historicize the moments in science that never went down into the history books of science because they remain ‘crazy’ conjectures and a series of what-ifs – through fiction, one is able to bring all of these speculations to light; speculations that are important in the production of the science which made it as the ‘science’ that remain in the fringe or is largely not visible. What I want is not for the students to become creative writers of fiction, though there is nothing barring them from that, but to understand how fiction can be a way of studying facts directly, and that such a method can be deployed even for the production of non-fictional works to allow critical discussions of the science to happen.
Such an experience, in connecting between my own research and an experimental andragogy (I wonder how such an experiment would work when one teaches an interdisciplinary course of science and the humanities to both middle school and high school students), really got me thinking again about whether fiction, through much modifications at a logical, philosophical, and other methodological levels, could become that medium where we can have not only a rich conversation about science-to-science intra/trans/interdisciplinary relations ie bio-physics or medicine and the environment, but what it means to do science studies within the humanities. It means the reconsideration of a landscape that has dictated how the sciences have been discussed by humanists, and the suspicion in which scientists have often viewed humanistic interpretations of their very epistemically hierarchical fields.
P.S. Some of the more opinionated students in the class did not find the Carl Sagan Cosmos to be very compelling (too ponderous and what they thought were not very compelling use of history), at least the pilot episode, so they do not want to watch more. Be interesting to hear more tomorrow, at the tail end of the class!
I was offered to teach one week of a larger writing course mainly addressed at freshmen and incoming freshmen on the topic relating to writing in the natural sciences. So, instead of making it into a comp class, which I have no experience of ever doing or teaching, I decided to make it into a science communication and writing class, where I can draw on my actual experience as a professional writer and scholar. I have them look at everything from academic research articles to curated tweets and
blog-posts forms of popular and news writing. Oh, we also listened to some rap music and will watch some awesome videos. Then, they are going to use their writing skills to present, orally, their ideas, and try to sell their science ideas to myself and their classmates. We also did a bit of history of science.
Weekend before class: Watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos Episode 1, and the new Cosmos series with Neil Tyson de Grasse in preparation for class discussions on Tuesday and Friday. Prompts to guide viewing will be provided on Sakai by Friday (7/11) at 2 pm.
7/14 Introduction to the session.
Lecture 1: Different Modes of Science Writing: Past and Present.
Group work (getting into groups of 3): Text diagnosis and presentation.
Homework: Read only the abstract (if available) and the introduction of two academic science pieces: one historical and another based on the present-day. Use the same article that I have provided you in class (or, you are welcomed to choose another topic and paper of interest to you. Google scholar or your library’s science databases will guide you. I will provide you a list of databases you can investigate. The topic of the historical and current day articles need not be similar. Then produce a 200-word (250 words max) diagnosis comparing both articles based on the elements discussed in the lecture and from class practice. Print and bring to class. I will post links to sites where you can obtain articles published before the 1950s. Only research articles (no letters, or review essays, or news reviews, even if they might be of an academic nature) such as the ones you have seen in class are acceptable for the purpose of this exercise.
7/15 Class discussion, free-writing, and peer-reviewing.
Homework: Group work (group will be formed before the end of class). Each group will select a theme that their members can agree upon, then each member of each group will find an article that will work in relation to the theme that their respective groups have decided on. Come to class prepared with a summary of the selected article.
7/16 Lecture 2: Science Communication: In and Beyond Academia
Discussion of the Carl Sagan Cosmos episode.
Group work: get into the groups that were formed the day before and discuss selected articles among group members in preparation for group presentation the following day. Guidelines for the presentation will be posted on Sakai the day before.
Homework: Meet with your group members to complete the presentation. Presentation can take any form, but involves communicating and selling your ideas to the instructor and coursemates.
7/17 Class Presentation. A jury of your peers will judge your group. A rubric for evaluation will be provided.
Homework: Complete a draft of a piece of 500-800 words writing (it can be in any of the format we would have discussed in the past few days and during lectures). You can revise from the writing you have already done on Monday, or produce writing based on your group presentation that is independent of the presentation material. Also, watch the Degrasse Tyson Cosmos episodes if you have not done so already in preparation for the next day.
7/18 Work-shopping of the drafts – first 30 minutes.
Final discussion of the Cosmos Episodes – tweetchat or chalkboardchat – the students decide.
Wrapping up class.
Homework: Finalize the drafts and hand them via Sakai’s dropbox before midnight of the same day.
UPDATE 2: Wow, the veritable slashdot has a reader posting about the MLA. See final sentence “The MLA doesn’t want to reduce enrollments, but they think the grad school programs should be quicker to complete and dissertations should be shorter and less complex.” Knowing what I know today, I probably would not have taken the humanities PhD. I would just take a PhD program that gives me strong training in methodology (in the different forms), project management, as well as to learn something I probably would not have been able to were I just an auto-didact. Then use that to apply to a humanities project if I see fit, while remaining aware of the thinking process, including working on complex projects for the purpose of learning without all that politics. Somehow, I feel that all attempts to deal with the humanities crisis merely makes the humanities even less attractive than what it is, and I can begin to sympathize with views that see the humanities as becoming irrelevant within the US.
UPDATE: For all the difficulties encountered, I am thankful for having been given a two-year no-service-required fellowship. Without that, I would not even have gotten to the point I am in right now such as being able to finish the dissertation. Or, maybe, if that had been the case, I would just have been more practical and less ambitious, therefore producing a more definable, smaller, but still good enough (if not great) dissertation, one that follows most naturally from all that I have read for my prelims, with mostly other add ons to improve arguments. But then, I would not have discovered my true love for history of science, a love that eluded me when I first took a class that meshes that with philosophy of science as an undergraduate science major requirement (a love that became evident during my defense). Or, maybe, if I had tackled the original object of my research choice, I might still have ended up doing some history of science. Who knows. Life, and its unpredictable events, do strange things to your mind, body, and soul. At the end of the day, I find myself coming full circle in a way that is dramatic yet anti-climatic, with the ingredients synthesized to become the me that is now. I never think that grad school can actually be a way to find oneself, especially since it is supposed to be so punishing that your personal identity fades away, leaving only a shell to be filled with academiaspeak. This is illustrated by how ‘former’ academics keep obsessing about the structures of academia more than a year after leaving academia. Let’s not even begin with the academics within the system.
The defense is done, an experience in itself. A few months later, I will be formally conferred. But that part is not interesting, and not worthy of much discussion.
Rather, it is the process, the stumbling, the small victories, the learning experience, the doing what is right, or not right for you, the fit, the drama…When I have more time, and when more thoughts have sunk through, I will develop a fuller post. As of now, the process of intellectually living and pursuing the life of the mind, whatever that means, has just begun. The apprenticeship has come to an end, but the real challenges just got started.
For those who need to know the background, check out the open Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ucstudentworkersunion.
As an international and Fulbright-sponsored graduate student who is coming to an end of her graduate studies, I find the recent events at UCSC where student strikers were arrested despite holding a peaceful protest, to be very disturbing. I am from Malaysia and the intimidating acts from figures of power are not new to me. Many university students from my home country have fallen victims to draconian and arbitrary misappropriation of law in service of the corrupt authorities of my country. But for me to find this happening in the US, at a rate that is increasingly alarming (not to mention the very high rates of incarceration of minorities and marginalized communities) during my six years here shows me that the system of democratic practice and due process is fast crumbling.
As an exchange scholar, I am supposed to educate my community back home of the democratic cultural and political practices in the US, but instead, all I am finding are acts of violations and increasing intolerance. I hope that this will be resolved very quickly, and the students, who are merely drawing attention to a situation of economic exploitation, be released.
Sexism in philosophy and the ‘rigorous sciences’: What Happens When you think you are too smart for the rules to apply to you
The list owner of the list I was on posted some of these links circa the Colorado case, and more generally, the PR image of philosophy in-house and beyond. I did not read through everything in there since I have some real philosophy to wrestle with now, but there were inferences made there by some of the commentators in the links that there are those who made ‘hostile’ remarks about philosophy that are ignorant about philosophy and how it functions. Also in the laughingphilosophers’ blog, there is a woman philosopher who did point to the real problem with philosophy and the people in it, but I think subsequent comments below did not quite register what she was saying, being more incline to ‘talk philosophy’ that does not bring to bear on the real issue at hand. I am not reposting here, the comments that the list-owner had received and re-posted (with the poster’s name removed) that both supported and rebuked Rebecca Schuman‘s article, and all the other articles relating to the larger issue of sexism in philosophy (and sexual harassment more particularly). As you all know, when public accusations are made on sexual harassment by one person to another, other parties not in the direct line of fire tend to be reticent about stepping in because they fear, rightly or wrongly, that there will be public shaming based on he said, she said.
Sometimes, professional philosophers remind me of my physics professors: the former consider their form of thinking the most rigorous of everyone in the humanities. As someone who has to actually study analytic philosophy (like really study) because of the nature of my work (even though I am officially in a department that mostly do work in critical theory and continental philosophy, which I also work with), I have a taste of the thinking process involved. My physics professors had (have?) the same attitude towards anyone who is not doing physics (or mathematics), whereby all the other fields that are not in the hard physical sciences (biology, medical sciences, etc) are considered as ‘soft sciences,’ insufficiently rigorous, and the people in it as not that smart (and of course, there are more women in them). That attitude could be the reason why some of them behave the way they do, thinking that they are too brilliant for social niceties and awareness. Coming from such a background, I actually used to think that my physics professors were right, but by the time I started studying philosophy, I knew neither of the abovementioned principals are right. I let you be the judge.
A report on this in the Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_25035043/cu-sexual-harassment-philosophy-department (see also http://www.dailycamera.com/cu-news/ci_25039305/cu-boulder-philosophy-faculty-shocked-by-decision-release).
A robust response to the Slate essay: http://laughingphilosopherblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/what-the-lay-public-thinks-it-knows-about-philosophy-today/
Brian Leiter’s brief blog on the subject: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2014/01/colorados-philosophy-department-put-into-a-kind-of-receivership.html
A report from an APA ad-hoc committee on sexual harassment: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.apaonline.org/resource/resmgr/sexualharassmentreport.pdf
An open letter in response to the APA report, from members of the Colorado Dept: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/a-post-from-colorado-climate-committee-co-chairs/ : “The strict rules of confidentiality that govern these matters make it impossible for us to know how many people have been accused of sexual harassment and how many, if any, have been sanctioned after a full inquiry. But from everything that we have been told by our administration, it is a relatively small number of individuals and this certainly coheres with our own experiences and understanding of the matter. We believe that the vast majority of our faculty are decent and highly professional people who care deeply about each other and the welfare of their students, and have not engaged in objectionable behavior of the sort that the report describes. We very much hope that the reputations of innocent people—especially faculty and graduate students in our department—will not be unfairly tarnished by the public release of the report. At the same time, we want to emphasize that the primary victims here are the people who have found themselves on the receiving end of unacceptable behavior and that our primary focus will remain—as it has been for the last several years—to do our best to improve the situation in our Department for them and for all of us. While we firmly believe that it is a relatively small number of individuals who have generated the problem, we are adamant in our belief that any number greater than zero is too many.”
An earlier essay relevant to the larger issue by Jennifer Saul (Sheffield): http://www.salon.com/2013/08/15/philosophy_has_a_sexual_harassment_problem/