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Monthly Archives

September 2008

Visit Medical Museion during the Night of Culture in Copenhagen, 10 October

By Biomedicine in museums

kulturnatten2008_posterSame procedure as last year? Yes, same procedure as every year! In other words, also this year Medical Museion participates in the Night of Culture (Kulturnatten) in Copenhagen, when hundreds of museums, galleries and other institutions in the inner city area are open from 6pm until midnight.

During the last eight years, we’ve had between 2,500 and 3,000 visitors passing through the doors in six hours (usually peaks at 9pm). Also this year our staff will be standing prepared all over the museum building to answer questions about the collections and exhibitions. For example, take this opportunity to see our critically acclaimed temporary exhibition Oldetopia: Age and Ageing which closes in mid-December.

A new feature this year are choir performances in the old anatomical theatre: ”Bastionens Kor” directed by Cæcilia Glode and ”Vokalgruppen Kolorit” led by Niels Græsholm. You can also have your lung capacity measured by physicians and nurses from the Danish Lung Society (Danmarks Lungeforening).

To get access to Medical Museion and all the other events during the Night of Culture in Copenhagen you will need a special pass, which can be bought here for 75 DKK.

(for a Danish version of this post, see our new Danish blog, Museionblog).

Biomedical identity vs. mundane personal identity — an anecdotal observation of neonatal surveillance

By Biomedicine in museums

As I wrote in a previous post, our little newborn was transferred from the maternity ward to the neonatal clinic to keep her under observation for a couple of days (because of an infected thumb; never neglect small wounds in small children, they have a weak immune system!).

To keep my paternal anxiety under control, I began to look around and take some photographs of this peculiar, high-tech medical space. And what especially triggered my curiosity (besides the mysterious use of old historical images, see earlier post) was the monitoring system.

‘Our’ ward team cares for twelwe patients, from very prematurely born (down to 21 weeks!) to newborns with all kinds of medical conditions, most of them much more serious than our infant’s. Each is kept under surveillance with respect to heart beat frequence, oxygen saturation level, blood pressure, and so forth.

The vital data from each patient are displayed on a monitor above the bed (incubator in the serious cases). All twelwe patients in the ward are then summarized on a big screen in the ‘control room’.

If, for example, the oxygen saturation level falls below 85%, an alarm sounds, a yellow pop-up screen flashes on screens in the ‘control room’, and a nurse or physician goes to attend to the little patient.

What intrigued me wasn’t the system as such, however — I guess such monitoring platforms (in this case Philips IntelliVue MP90) are pretty much standard equipment in most neonatal wards and emergency medicine rooms in the rich parts of the world — but rather how the system’s visualization of the monitored vital data began to change my conception of our newborn’s identity. Within a few hours, I went from thinking about her in terms of mundane identity to constructing an entirely new, biomedical personal identity.

Mundane identity: Already when we came to the neonatal clinic, a couple of days after the delivery, our little girl had, in our eyes, acquired a fairly stable identity: the way she opened her eyes, her crying, sleeping, waking, eating and shitting ‘habits’, the way she had a hickup after eating, body surface temperature, etc. We would immediately have found out if she had been replaced with another baby of the same physiognomy and size.

The ‘biomedical identity’ is quite different, however. A human individual can also be thought of in terms of the many kinds of invisible vital measurement parameters that clinical medicine has made use of throughout the 20th century — from simple blood grouping and blood cell counts to the hundreds of biomarkers and physiological processes that can be measured in contemporary diagnostic laboratories. For example, in Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity (2003), anthropologist Joseph Dumit showed how PET scan images are incorporated into doctors’ and patients’ understandings of the personal identity of the scanned individual.

So here was our newborn — seemingly well and happy in spite of her infected thumb, with her quite unique hickup and other features of her budding mundane personal identity in place — laying asleep with a measuring device taped onto her left foot. On the monitors a new biomedical identity was emerging: curves and numbers representing the two variables that the doctors had chosen to measure: oxygen saturation level and pulse rate.

Watching the screens in the ‘control room’, we could also see how her biomedical identity differed from the other infants. We were not allowed to visit the others — so we couldn’t construct the mundane identities of the others, except for occasional cryings here and there. The other infants had biomedical identities only.

All this made me think about how my daughter will experience the world when she in turn becomes a mother thirty years from now? In a near future when nano-sized diagnostic devices may be able to monitor 30, 50 or 100 biochemical and physiological parameters, when the data can be sent via new generations of miniaturized internal RFID transponders to her mobile ‘phone’ (or whatever such a thing will then be called), which in turn will transmit continuous vital data from her and everybody else to the transnational population bio-control center in Beijing.

Will she then just take for granted that a personal identity equals the sum of biological parameters and that the difference between ‘you’ and ‘me’ primarily resides on the screen in the bio-control center? I ask because I sort of care for her future, and because this possible conjuntion between emerging technologies, biopolitics and surveillance technology may be closer than we think (see also

Guess the 2008 Nobel Prize awards

By Biomedicine in museums

I’m amazed nobody has thought of this before, viz., making a guessing contest about who will be awarded the Nobel prizes. But apparently Medgadget is the first to do so.

The rules of their Guess-A-Nobel contest are easy: post your guess which scientist(s) or discovery(ies) will be awarded in their comment section here. You don’t need to motivate it further. You can take a guess at the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the prizes on Physics and Chemistry, respectively.

Unfortunately, Medgadget isn’t as well-endowed as the Nobel Foundation, so there are no large Swedish krona awards ín wait. The winner(s) each get an iPod nano, however, and the reputation for being good at Nobel divination, of course 🙂

It’s a good idea — but has this really not been done before? Upplands-Bro county library (in Sweden) has a guess-a-literature-prize contest where the winner gets free entrance to the Nobel lecture. Any others?

Added 29 Sept 1:30pm: My good collegaue Svante Lindqvist at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm points out in a mail that the British betting and gambling company Ladbrokes have accepted bets for Nobel Prize winners for years (but that’s something different than a public contest, of course)

Free from sponsored blogging

By Biomedicine in museums

Universities aren’t precisely drawback-free zones — yet I’ve been thinking about how privileged university-based blogs are when I see some of our science blogging peers who (have to, or feel they have to?) fill their blogs with banner ads and Google Adsense links. A university financed blog doesn’t have to think about blog ad networks, average payment per blog post, pay-per-clicks, pay-for-post marketing strategies, banner advertising spending, or speculate about how to provide better value for advertisers. And we don’t have to meet with target audience advertising agencies and their ilk. That’s a privilege.

Are science, technology and medicine studies hyperprofessionalised?

By Biomedicine in museums

Yes, if we shall believe the Aarhus Network for Science, Technology and Medicine Studies which is hosting a one-day conference in Aarhus, Denmark, 23 October, under the heading ‘Challenging hyperprofessionalism: The intradisciplinarity of science, technology and medicine studies’.

To present “the richness of what is going on across the disciplines”, the organisers invite “research based papers or posters, including work-in-progress, broadly within science, technology and medicine studies”, especially contributions that address the intradisciplinarity issue.

Each paper will only be allotted 20 minutes for presentation and questions (not much time, really!). Titles and 100 word abstracts are due 8 October (send to Slightly more info here.

Writing the history of Karolinska Institute, 1810-2010

By Biomedicine in museums

Following two succesful earlier meetings (in Stockholm in 2006 and in Gothenburg 2007), the Swedish medical history network organizes its third conference, again in Stockholm, on Thursday 29 January 2009. The main item on the meeting agenda is the planned project for writing the history of the Karolinska Institute, founded in 1810, and today one of the world’s leading medical research universities. As the project involves up to ten Swedish medical historians in 2008 and 2009, it will probably dominate the meeting, but the organizers promise that there will be plenty of time for presentation of other current research projects as well. Conference language is Swedish, but you don’t need a Swedish passport to attend. For inquiries, contact Roger Qvarsell,,

Examining the medical blogosegment

By Biomedicine in museums

Last year, this blog participated in an online survey of medical blogs undertaken by Ivor Kovic, Ileana Lulic and Gordana Brumini at Rijeka University School of Medicine in Croatia. Now they have published the results in a paper titled “Examining the medical blogosphere: an online survey of medical bloggers” in the last issue of Journal of Medical Internet Research, one of the top-ranked journals in the health informatics.

Among the results:

  • 6 out of 10 medical bloggers are men (more balanced than I thought)
  • 1 out of 3 is a physician (that’s pretty much — will probably grow)
  • over 50% have published a scientific paper (impressive!)
  • 1 out of 4 medical bloggers prefer to be anonymous (bad habit!)
  • 60% of the respondents spend 20 hours or more per week on the internet (not unsurprisingly)

In other words, the typical medical blogger is a male medical doctor with some scientific training who spends most of his spare-time on the internet. Not surprising, I guess 🙂

You can also see a summary of the report in this slide show presentation.

Geographies of technoscience — an online reader

By Biomedicine in museums

A group of people from geography and STS departments at University College London, Cambridge and Southampton (Gail Davies, Kezia Barker, Brian BalmerRichard Milne, and Rob Doubleday) have put together an online reader on the geographies of contemporary technoscience.

“Part of a more general ‘spatial turn’” (i.e., yet another turn!), the explicit aim of the project is to draw attention to the way that space matters in the production of science and technology and to the implications of the circulation of expertise and materials in the situating of science and technology.

A nifty web resource of potential great use also for people interested in medical science studies and the contemporary history of medicine. See the introduction to the project here.

Lennart Nilsson Award for virtual autopsy techniques

By Biomedicine in museums

The 10th Lennart Nilsson Award for scientific photography has been given to Anders Persson, Director of the Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization (CMIV) at Linköping University in Sweden, for his techniques for capturing 3D images inside the human body. Persson and his colleagues at the CMIV produce the images by combining ultrasound, MRI- and PET-scanning images.

The technique, which is particularly useful for post-mortem imaging, has been featured on CBS’s Crime Scene Investigaton show. Says the award foundation in their press release:

Persson’s imaging methods combine cutting-edge technology with great artistry and educational value. He reveals the hidden mysteries of the body with unique precision, producing images that can be understood and interpreted by the lay public and experts alike.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Lennart Nilsson Award, a photo exhibition will be arranged at Galleri Kontrast in Stockholm, 11 October – 2 November. Further info from Staffan Larsson, Lennart Nilsson Award Foundation,

The geography of the medical heritage — a touch of history in the clinic

By Biomedicine in museums

We use to think of hospitals and clinics as almost history-free zones. But sometimes medical historical images, artefacts and records show up in the most unexpected medical spaces.

Like last week, when I spent a couple of days with our daughter in the neonatal clinic at the Danish National Hospital, i.e., where they care for babies that are born too early (down to 24th gestation week!) and other newborns with more or less serious medical conditions (fortunately ours was a less serious case).

The neonatal clinic is a really fascinating place for an historian of contemporary medicine and museum curator. It’s packed with monitoring systems that measure the basic vital parameters. They use all kinds of high-tech electronic gadgets: incubators, CPAPs, automatic infusion pumps. Beep-beep everywhere. Definitely a mobile free zone, and much more so than in an aircraft: the staff probably meant it seriously when they said that a single phone on standby can stop all the infusion pumps in the ward!

But they had more on show than science fiction-looking technology for our future collections. Behind the toilets, in a short hallway leading to the parents’ day area, I discovered four large images of museum artefacts — in fact, images of 19th century objects on display in the 1970s permanent exhibition of the former Medical History Museum (now Medical Museion):

The bed and the Lister carbolic spray are still on display in our permanent galleries, although nowaday in other arrangements.

None of the items on the pics have much to do with neonatal care and the print quality is not exactly good. Yet some time, someone (maybe the head of the clinic?) decided to hang them there, partly stuck away. Why? To add a slight historical touch to the high-tech ambience of the clinic? To create some balance?

These images made me think of the geography of the medical historical heritage. The medical heritage is not just a heap of things in medical museums — it is a dynamic field, which is distributed and put to use in a variety of spaces over time. Medical historical images, artefacts and records circulate between patients, medical staff, manufacturers, clinics, hospital storage rooms, archives, collections, and exhibitions (and are sometimes pulled out of circulation and deposited as heritage sediments in closed museum repositories).

Heritage is a very different thing when it appears in designated museums like ours (a sort of ‘temple’ for medical heritage) and when it is distributed, even in the form of images, around the clinics of the Danish National Hospital and in other hospitals, institutions, organisations and private homes in the region, where it functions more like memorial shrines.  

The spatial distribution and dynamic relation between the ‘worship’ of heritage in temples and shrines is an interesting topic. The way medical museums collect, manage, display and make sense of this heritage is very much dependent on how the overall geography — including the production, circulation, distribution, consumption, performance and eventual destruction — of local heritages is understood and conceptualised.

Anybody willing to expand on this? Anyone out there who can develop his/her thoughts on the ‘geography of the medical heritage’?