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August 2008

Blog recommendations: In the Pipeline, Medgadget, Relevant History, Bioephemera and bbgm (Arte y Pico chain-blog)

By Biomedicine in museums

We’ve just been hit by a chain-blog game started by Arte y pico [Top art] a few months ago: they asked five other blogs to recommend another five, and so forth, and now the chain is rattling along.

I wouldn’t have thought of participating if it hadn’t been for the fact that one of the most interesting and most beautifully illustrated medical blogs these days, The Sterile Eye by Norwegian clinical video photographer Øystein Horgmo, was the immediate precursor in this chain. Øystein recommends Monash Medical Student, Øystein in Antarctica (another Øystein!), IntraopOrateSushi Or Death — and Biomedicine on Display. In our case with these kind words:

Packed with interesting information and thoughts on medical history, both ancient and contemporary, reading this blog is like watching a making-of-documentary where the museum is the feature film. Always interesting.

On behalf of the Medical Museion blog team: Thank you, Øystein, very much appreciated!

Chain-blogs can be as awful as chain-letters once were. The chances that it will stop pretty soon are high, either because people don’t bother to continue or because they increasingly recommend blogs that have already been cited. This chain is pretty okay, though — it’s always nice to take a few minutes off to think about why one really likes some blogs more than others — and because I think The Sterile Eye is such a pleasure to read, I feel obliged to continue it. So, without having consulted with my co-contributors, I recommend the following five blogs which I find very inspiring for the kind of work we are doing here at Medical Museion:

1) First and foremost In the Pipeline, single-authored by Derek Lowe, a first-rate blog for anyone who wants to understand what goes on behind the scene in the pharma industry. Derek publishes almost daily, he knows what he writes about, keeps a professional distance to the events, yet is passionate about his job. The best science blog I’ve ever come across (the only drawback is that there are rarely any images).

2) Then Medgadget, founded by Michael Ostrovsky in 2004 and co-authored by a team of medical doctors and biomed engineers who write daily about “the latest medical gadgets and technologies, discoveries in medical science, and the progress of the digital revolution in the healthcare industry”. A must for anyone interested in med-tech and its impact on the medical system (the only drawback is that they apparently don’t care about the history and cultural context of the field).

3) Third, Relevant History — I link therefore I am by Alex Pang, a former historian of science who has transmogrified into a research director at the Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley think tank. Alex is one of these creative and independent minds who combines solid humanistic scholarship with an ability to connect very different roads of thinking — and he also writes with a nice personal touch (see also his The End of Cyberspace) (the only drawback is that The End of Cyberspace looks a trifle dark and gloomy … like, well, the future).

4) I also love Bioephemera by Jessica Palmer, a Washington based biologist and artist who posts regularly about all kinds of odd things and images, with an emphasis on biological and medical stuff. A wonderful repository of curiosities and ephemera which might one day become the internet version of the classic Museum of Jurassic Technology (the only drawback is that Jessica’s blog has been included into ScienceBlogs which is a strong recommendation in itself; on the other hand this doesn’t necessarily disqualify her from getting this chain-post).

5) Finally, I wish to recommend bbgm (business, bytes, genes, molecules) by Deepak Singh, a Seattle-based “geek, business developer, strategist, marketer, technologist, scientist, global citizen, and musician” who writes about the social and business aspects of open science, collective intelligence, the semantic web, bioinformatics, drug development, medicine 2.0 etc. with equal gusto (only drawback is that I rarely have time to digest all the interesting content in the latest post before he has posted another).

The rules of this particular game limits the number of recommendations to five. Otherwise I would have added, for example, A Repository for Bottled Monsters by Mike Rhode and his friends/colleagues at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC; Street Anatomy by Vanessa Ruiz; and Indulge in the Fascinating World of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine by Hungarian medical students Imre Kissík and András Székely — all three are very useful for our combined research and curatorial project here at Medical Museion. And personally I’d like to push for a handfull of Swedish blogs, including Det Perfekta Tomrummet by Gustav Holmberg, mymarkup – old school and shit by Erik Stattin (about everything!), and Kuriosakabinettet by Karolina.

If you want to continue the game, see the rules here.

The bottomless pit of confusion that is the biomedical material heritage

By Biomedicine in museums

National Museum of Health and Medicine’s Mike Rhode (‘A Repository for Bottled Monsters’) writes in a comment to Søren’s post the other day that he “feels good about” the fact that our storage problems “amazingly enough, appears worse” than theirs. I’m glad he says “amazingly enough” :-).

Thus, medical museums-in-arms we are, struggling to glean nuggets from the bottomless pit of confusion that is the biomedical material heritage (today’s favourite expression, paraphrased from Theresa Atwood, in turn borrowed from a manuscript by Susanne).

Science as a craft

By Biomedicine in museums

Have said it before, and am saying it again: In the Pipeline is a damned good science blog. Why? Because Derek Lowe (a bench chemist in a pharma company) tells us about laboratory practice in a way that makes you feel you understand what the craft is really about. The posts almost smell and sound like a lab itself.

Take, for example, today’s post about why chemists use vacuum devices so much and what havoc a wrongly applied water aspirator can create. Science studies people — not to mention science communicators and us science museum folks — have something to learn here. Science communication is very much about immediacy. That’s the skill Derek brings to his posts.

Spaghetti, medical object, or new artwork by Damien Hirst?

By Biomedicine in museums

No, it’s not spaghetti waiting to be served in the Medical School cafeteria — it’s intestinal worms (Ascaris sp.).

Which demonstrates that some potential museum artefacts are just so much more evocative than others. (Maybe something for Damien Hirst to consider?)

I wonder if the worms can be preserved in alcohol fumes in a canteen-looking food container like that (with a glass lid on top, perhaps) to enhance the effect? Or does one have to soak them in liquid alcohol in a jar?

(from M.D.O.D. via Kevin, M.D.)

Less frequent posting in August — we are busy writing about curating biomedicine

By Biomedicine in museums

Like many of our readers, the Biomedicine of Display blog team is taking some break periods here in August.

Not because we are on relaxing vacations (most university people in Denmark take theirs in July), but because most of us are very busy writing draft chapters for our joint anthology ‘Curating Biomedicine’ — the book which will summarise our research efforts in the ‘Biomedicine on Display’-project of the last two and a half years.

We won’t stop posting altogether, but you will probably hear less from us over the next two-three weeks.

Evolution Haute Couture: Art and science in the post-biological age — on exhibit in Kaliningrad from today

By Biomedicine in museums

A collection of videodocumentaries of art projects that implement contemporary technologies of artificial life, robotics, and bio- and genetic engineering has just opened in the Kaliningrad branch of the Russian National Centre for Contemporary Arts.

The exhibition — curated by Dmitry Bulatov under the title ‘Evolution Haute Couture: Art and science in the post-biological age’ — contains a row of interesting works including, for example, Floris Kaayk’s ‘Metalosis Maligna’, “a fictitious documentary about a spectacular yet chronically disabling disease which affects patients who have been fitted with medical implants” (quote from here).

Bulatov (who has some interesting views on art and biotech) takes a broad sweep over contemporary and future biomedicine and biotech:

  • Artificial but Actual (Artificial Life)
  • Limits of Modeling (Evolutionary Design)
  • Shining Prostheses (Robotechnics)
  • Body as Technology (Technobody modification, WearComp, Biomechatronics)
  • More than a Copy, Less than Nothingness (Bio-and Genetic Engineering)
  • Semi-Living (Tissue Engineering)
  • Post-Sodom and Post-Gomorrah (Nanoengineering)

from the following perspective:

What is radicalization and redundancy of technological and scientific progress? What is the evolutionary potential of the basic technological trends of the XXI century – robotics, bio-and genetic engineering, nanotechnology – like? Each of these trends actualize the traditionally formed boundaries of beginning and end of human existence, the demarcation of norm and pathology and the distinction of the non-(or semi-)organic model or entity. These – and many other issues – cannot be taken into consideration without the experience of contemporary techno-biological arts; the representatives of which do not so much confirm the technological versions of contemporaneity, as determine their boundaries. Art that is created under the new conditions of postbiology – under the conditions of an artificially fashioned lifespan – cannot help but take this artificiality as its explicit theme. However, time, duration, and life cannot be shown directly but only as documentation. The dominant genre of postbiological art is thus technological documentation: plans, drafts, and videos. It is precisely at this point where documentation becomes indispensable, and produces the life of the living thing: the documentation inscribes the existence of an object in history, and gives the object a lifespan which this existence (independent of whether this object was ‘originally’ living or artificial).

More on the art centre’s website and here. Looks like a good occasion to take a closer look at Kaliningrad (direct flights with Rossiya-Russian Airlines from Copenhagen for about 1500 DKK = approx. 300 USD).
(thanks to Ingeborg for the tip)

A spinning CT scanner as a cool museum artefact

By Biomedicine in museums

One of the problems for museums that want to display contemporary medicine is that many medical devices are hopeless as museum artefacts because they are so damned anonymous.

Take CT scanners for example: huge white or light blue plastic/metal boxes, that’s all.

People who have been scanned for some serious condition may have strong personal feelings about such artefacts — but for the rest of us, they are pretty lousy museum objects. No immediate presence effects.

But yesterday’s post on Imre Kissík’s and András Székely’s ‘Indulge in the fascinating world of radiology and nuclear medicine’ blog almost makes me change my mind. They display a YouTube movie that shows the inner, rapidly spinning parts of a CT scanner in operation (plastic cabinet taken off).

There are actually quite a few spinning CT scanners on YouTube. Here is a General Electric ’64 barettes au travail rot’:


And here are 40 seconds of the brand new General Electric Brightspeed 16-slice CT system:


This unidentified ‘CT at max speed’ is particularly awesome, I think.


(note the background conversation!)

And more here, and so forth.

One thing is that taking the plastic/metal casing off and displaying the inner spinning device makes us better understand how a CT scanner works. It adds to the meaning of it.  But what really strikes me when seeing these clips is how the strip act changes the scanner as a museum artefact — from being an anonymous white silent behemoth to a lively noisy object with a lot of fascinating detail. Strong presence effects!

As a commentator on the ‘CT at max speed’-movie says (his spelling):

Monster Mashine, when you could see this, you never yould lie in it, it’s really fast and scary

In other words: imagine having that washing-machine-centrifugish thing spinning around your body! What if the bearings crack?

Maybe we could acquire a used ‘live’ CT scanner from the National Hospital for our exhibitions? We probably have to comply with some basic security rules for displaying machines at work — but that aside, I think it would be worth trying. So much better to show the real spinning thing than a 30 second bad quality movie on YouTube.

The participatory museum — what's a medical museum 2.0 like?

By Biomedicine in museums

Sorry, there was no posting yesterday. Some of my co-contributors are on vacation, some are busy-busy writing chapters for our forthcoming book, and one is on parental care leave. And I didn’t post because I spent my spare-time yesterday reading a blog that I’ve never heard about before — Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0.

I found it because I had a chat with my colleague Bodil Busk Laursen at nearby Danish Museum of Art & Design the other day. We talked about user-driven acquisitions, user-generated exhibitions and such things, which in turn led to questions like: Is the ‘museum and web 2.0’-discussion restricted to using Facebook for building visitor networks, writing museum blogs etc? Or can museums also learn from the general idea of web 2.0? Can we use the experiences from the participatory web to develop the notion of ‘the participatory museum’?

Well, these days one can rarely come up with a web 2.0-related idea which hasn’t already been around for a year or two. A quick search revealed the existence of Nina Simon’s power-house of a blog, launched in late 2006 and filled with interesting, innovative views about museums and the web. Some of the content it pretty well-known stuff and sometimes it’s a trifle verbose — but more often than not Museum 2.0 is an innovation machine for thinking about the future of museums.

Nina expresses very succinctly what Bodil and I were stumbling to formulate the other day, namely that the participatory web is a powerful analogy for developing the notion of the participatory museum:

The web started with sites (1.0) that are authoritative content distributors–like traditional museums. The user experience with web 1.0 is passive; you are a viewer, a consumer. Web 2.0 removes the authority from the content provider and places it in the hands of the user.

And she then suggests that museums have “the potential to undergo a similar (r)evolution as that on the web, to transform from static content authorities to dynamic platforms for content generation and sharing”:

I believe that visitors can become users, and museums central to social interactions. Web 2.0 opens up opportunity, but it also demonstrates where museums are lacking. The intention of this blog is to explore these opportunities and shortcomings with regard to museums and interactive design.

Her point of departure is the following four key elements of the participatory web:

  1. venue as content platform, not content provider
  2. architecture of participation with network effects
  3. perpetual beta
  4. flexible, modular support for distributed products

and then she translates, very convincingly I think, these four elements into the basic features of the participatory museum. This 20 minute slideshow is a good starter.

There are some bits that I’m not happy with, but the general direction of Nina’s point — to apply the philosophy of the participatory web to the museum world — is excellent. Not to be followed slavishly, but as inspiration for fostering creativity with respect to the way museums relate to their custom… (sorry) visitors in a more participatory way than we usually do. Much food for thought.

So here are four questions for my colleagues when they return from their vacations and chapter writing:

1. what does it mean to turn a medical museum into a ‘content (or aesthetic experience) platform’ rather than just a provider of content (and aesthetic experience)?

2. how can one think of a medical museum in terms of an ‘architecture of participation?

3. how can our exhibitions be ‘perpetual beta’ rather than finished?

4. and what does a ‘flexible, modular support’ look like (other than the obligatory museum café)? What other kinds of museum widgets could we imagine? 

What does 'display' actually mean?

By Biomedicine in museums

The name of this blog was chosen without thinking too much about it. We had some discussions a couple of years ago about the somewhat vague term ‘biomedicine’, but felt that Alberto Cambrosio and Peter Keating’s definition in Biomedical Platforms, 2003 (see earlier post here) was useful.

The ‘display’-part never gave rise to any discussions. I guess it seemed pretty straigthforward — we are a museum and museum have displays, period. Therefore ‘Biomedicine on Display.

In the course of the last couple of years, however, this blog has in practice expanded its field of interest to include the study of many other kinds of biomedical science communication practices and web presences.

So it’s time to do our homework — what do the linguistic experts have to say about ‘display’? The most relevant meanings of the noun ‘display’ are (pace the OED):


  • The act of displaying or unfolding to view or to notice; exhibition, manifestation (1680–)
  • The act of setting forth descriptively; a description (1583–)
  • The presentation of radar echoes or signals on the screen of a cathode-ray tube; a visual presentation of data from a computer, whether by means of a cathode-ray tube or some other device; also, a device or system used for this = visual display (1945–)
  • A specialized pattern of behaviour used by birds as a visual means of communication, often in conjunction with characteristic calls (1901–)
  • An exhibition, a show; a proceeding or occasion consisting in the exhibiting of something (1665–)
  • Show, ostentation (1816–)

Seems like a list of useful varieties. We could also have called this blog ‘Manifesting Biomedicine’, ‘Setting Forth Biomedicine’, ‘Biomedicine on the Screen’, ‘Exhibiting Biomedicine’, ‘Biomedical Ostentation’, and so forth. But ‘Biomedicine on Display’ seems to cover all kinds of presentations, manifestations, ostentations, descriptions, imaging practices, show room activites, exhibitions, web displays etc., in which biomedical ideas and practices are being set forth. And I especially like the derived notion of biomedical display as “a specialized pattern of behaviour used by biomedical researchers and clinicians as a visual means of communication”. So I suggest we keep our present name. Any objections?

Science blogging 2008 in London — for career building and public engagement with science

By Biomedicine in museums

Science blogging has been on the Nature Group‘s radar screen for quite a while. On Saturday 30 August Nature Network organizes the ‘Science Blogging 2008’ meeting in London to promote the genre — especially among scientists and science educators:

What can science bloggers do to maximise their impact? Can blogging contribute to scientific research and careers? How can blogs be used to help educate the public about science? What other emerging online tools will play a role in science?

The day starts with a keynote by physician/journalist Ben Goldacre (who writes The Guardian’s weekly Bad Science column), followed by a panel about “how science blogs can change the public’s perception of scientists and provide a support framework for scientists themselves”. The rest of the day is devoted to breakout sessions: 1) Can blogging unlock your creativity?, 2) How to make friendfeeds and influence people, 3) How to enhance your blog?, 4) Science in Second Life: a virtual tour, 5) Science blogs and online forums as teaching tools, and 6) Communicating Primary Research Publicly.

Read more here.