JASHB 2008 -- Abstracts
Meggie Crnic, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
During the summer of 1911, mothers brought their babies to compete in the baby beauty contest at the Iowa State Fair. When they arrived they discovered that:
- There were no fatherly judges patting baby heads and chucking dimpled chins. There was no balloting for the prettiest and sweetest. Instead, there was a stern, uncompromising judging of babies on physical points—points that counted just as they did in horses, cattle, and hogs.
- The baby beauty contest had been replaced by a “Better Babies” contest in which physicians used scorecards to scientifically judge the physical and psychological attributes of children. News of the Better Babies contest quickly spread across the nation; by March of 1914 nearly every state had held a Better Babies contest.
In this paper I argue that Better Babies contests provide a window into how the infant welfare movement incorporated and fulfilled industrial ideals in the early 20th century in the United States. My analysis challenges interpretations that place Better Babies contests within the domain of the eugenics movement. I argue that to be a Better Baby was not to be a genetically fit child, but rather was to be a standardized child who would grow into a healthy laborer and productive citizen by working on the farm and in factory. Using sources including the Woman’s Home Companion (the popular woman’s magazine that sponsored the contests), committee and conference reports, newspaper articles, educational pamphlets, and articles written by an anthropometrist-statistician who was affiliated with the contests, I demonstrate the ways in which Better Babies contests illuminate the shift towards industrial ideals such as standardization, scientific management, and mass production in children’s health care. My discussion of Better Babies contests tracks the literal reformation of babies’ bodies to fit new, interrelated ideals of health and citizenship.
Herd Books, Breeders’ Associations, and Natural History in the United States, 1860-1899
Brendan Matz, History of Science and Medicine, Yale University
During the second half of the 19th century, practical animal breeders in the United States devised arrangements to protect their investment of knowledge and skill in improving farm animals. In an effort to increase the market value of improved animals and regulate competition, breeders submitted pedigrees and descriptions of their purebred livestock to public herd books and formed exclusive associations that were dedicated to the shaping and maintenance of specific breeds and the circumscribed exchange of breeding stock. These arrangements were supported by an agricultural press that tended to promote such innovations in the business of breeding and by agricultural exhibitions that helped set breeding goals and standards through prize competitions. However, this systematic collection and categorization of knowledge about animal heredity related to more than animal description and identification and exclusive association for marketing purposes. The practical knowledge developed within an economic context related to natural history theory and practice in complex ways. In this paper I consider the relationship between arrangements devised to protect “intellectual property” in livestock and the natural history tradition in the United States between approximately 1860 and 1899.
Investigating the Criminal Chromosome: Narratives of the XYY Controversy
Ami Karlage, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Johns Hopkins University
In 1974, the Harvard Medical School became embroiled in a controversy surrounding a study that entailed screening male infants for extra sex chromosomes. Critics of the study argued that identifying children with the “criminal chromosome”—an extra Y chromosome—would lead to stigma and environmentally-induced developmental problems. While the critics had little luck with the medical committees and faculties, the director of the study voluntarily shut the screening program down after approximately a year of debate. While the bioethical community has dubbed the event a successful example of the application of ethical tenets to biomedical research, few historians have examined the controversy. Based on a series of oral histories performed in August 2007, I find that the controversy is not nearly so clear-cut an event. A close reading of the diverging details in the three narratives indicates that, in addition to being about the protection of human subjects, the XYY controversy was also about the scientific nature and practices of experimentation and who was qualified to determine such parameters. Alongside informed consent and risk/benefit analyses, participants wrangled over the definition of experimental controls and the methodology for collecting data, over the identity of those involved (as critics, investigators, and experimental subjects) and when the study began and ended. More complicated than a straightforward application of ethical or philosophical principles to biomedical investigation, the XYY controversy demonstrated intraprofessional conflict over the nature of the biomedical endeavor, complicating the presumed relationship between biomedicine and bioethics as well as the connections between the lab and the clinic.
Comparing regulative processes to understand development: An examination of John Tyler Bonner’s Morphogenesis
Mary Sunderland, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
How and why have regenerative phenomena been studied to investigate questions about development? What are the characteristics that make a process “regenerative”? What are the characteristics that make a process “regulative”? These questions motivate my research. My thesis is that changing notions of the concept of regeneration and its relationship to development have influenced the ways in which regenerative phenomena have been studied, the types of processes that have counted as “regenerative” and also the inferences that were made from these studies. In this talk, I examine how studies of regulatory phenomena informed the ideas that John Tyler Bonner advanced in his first book, Morphogenesis, published in 1952. In Morphogenesis Bonner ambitiously aimed to provide an overview of the most important aspects of development, across a wide range of species, to uncover shared developmental mechanisms. This objective led him to survey a wide scope of related evidence about development that otherwise might not have been considered comparatively, including many examples of regulation. Although Bonner did not refer explicitly to these examples as regenerative phenomena many of the regulative processes he described had been previously interpreted as regenerative phenomena. I show that regulatory phenomena were central to Bonner’s analysis of development and also to his conception of regeneration.
Adventures Through Time: Barnum Brown’s Abyssinian Expedition of 1920
Lukas Rieppel, History of Science, Harvard University
Barnum Brown, who dropped out of graduate school at Columbia, worked as curator of fossil reptiles at the American Museum of Natural History during roughly the first half of the 20th Century. His extraordinary life has much to teach us about the practice of natural history collecting during a period when American museums mounted many largescale expeditions all over the world. In my paper, I explore the strategies he used to fashion his identity as a particularly flamboyant explorer and collector. I also argue that his collecting practice fit into and helped articulate a moral economy of extraction that was very much of its time. This latter point is brought into starkest relief by a 1920 expedition to prospect for oil in Ethiopia sponsored by the Anglo-American Oil Company that was led by Barnum Brown. Interestingly, the most important material acquisition to come out of this expedition was not oil but rather the abundant invertebrate fossils, natural history specimens, and cultural artifacts Barnum Brown collected during his time in northeastern Africa.
Stephen Jay Gould vs. Conway Morris: Design Space and Its Implications for Evolution
Keynyn Brysse, History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto
The Burgess Shale is a fossil bed containing the remains of unusual marine invertebrates from shortly after the Cambrian explosion. The Burgess Shale was brought to widespread scientific attention in 1989, with the publication of Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. Gould interpreted the “weird wonders” of the Burgess Shale as unique, unrepeatable experiments in the early history of life, and used this interpretation to argue for a theory of evolution as a highly contingent process. Simon Conway Morris responded to Gould’s contingency theory with his own convergence model of evolution, presented in his 2003 book Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. According to Conway Morris, evolution is a highly convergent process, such that any good morphological design will be achieved independently by multiple groups.
I think a fruitful way to understand the issues which divide Gould and Conway Morris is to look at the theoretical assumptions which underlie their respective commitments to contingency and convergence. I will show that Gould was an evolutionary internalist, who viewed developmental constraints as the crucial factor limiting morphological evolution. Conway Morris, by contrast, is an evolutionary externalist, for whom constraints imposed by the environment are the crucial factor shaping morphological evolution. These very different evolutionary theories can be contrasted by examining how Gould and Conway Morris think organisms occupy and navigate design space. Daniel C. Dennett’s “Design Space” is a theoretical construct containing all hypothetical and actual biological form, and seems to also have an absolute adaptive dimension, which allows him to refer to “Good tricks in Design Space.” The concept of design space appears, sometimes explicitly but more often only implicitly, in the writing of both Gould and Conway Morris, and heavily influences their interpretations of the Burgess Shale, and of evolution itself.