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December 2008

Den ubesmittet undfangede vingummibamse

By Biomedicine in museums

Alle medicinske museer med et minimum af selvagtelse bør have et væld af sjove og unyttige dimser som kan sælges for en slik i museumsbutikken. Som fx. dette billede af den invitrofertiliseringsudfordrede vingummibamse:

Som er en central detalje af “Immaculate Confection” (som jo er aktuel i denne Jesusbarnstætte tid):

Medens vi venter på at få den i vores butik (når vi en gang får en butik 🙂 ) så kan du købe begge online fra Moist Production Shop, for levering lige efter nytår.

Glædelig Jul og Godt Nyt År!

Emotions in science — reinventing the wheel

By Biomedicine in museums

I’m fascinated by how often scholars of science studies reinvent the wheel — because they are ignorant of other approaches to science than their own myopic perspective.

For example, I just stumbled over an otherwise excellent article — “Counting Corncrakes: The Affective Science of the UK Corncrake Census”, Social Studies of Science, vol 38, 377-405, 2008 — in which Jamie Lorimer, a postdoc at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment, discusses how emotions play a role in scientific work.

Lorimer observed, during his field work, how surveyors, researchers and their study objects were linked in a way that triggered “a variety of emotional responses among surveyors and researchers”. These “complex and multi-faceted” emotions, Lorimer suggests, provide “the vital motivations” that compel investigators to their work. And continues:

Although social studies of the field and laboratory sciences are beginning to concern themselves with the body, they have not yet fully engaged with the role of emotion in scientific practice. In Latour’s famous account of his trip to Boa Vista, for example, we hear little about what he and his research subjects were feeling at the time, what they enjoyed about their work and what they found frustrating. Perhaps this general reluctance to discuss emotion is a hangover from the radical symmetry and anti-ontological stance advocated by early actor-network theory, which effaced the specific skills and feelings of humans (Lorimer 2008, p. 398).

What Lorimer says, is that the community of actor network theorists (ANTs), headed by Bruno Latour (a follower of Michel Serres), have effaced the emotional dimension of scientific work. And that he is now filling out this lacuna by introducing affect into science studies:

This paper has shown that affect plays a vital role in motivating field scientists, many of whom work long hours in challenging conditions for little material reward. They do it because they enjoy it; in Massumi’s (1996) terms affect provides the ‘vital glue’ that impels these human–corncrake interactions … it is likely that there is a clear topography of fun, awe or intellectual challenge that can be had in the field (Lorimer 2008, p. 398).

Well, the importance of affect may be new to some students of science studies. But the rest of us, especially we who read and write biographies and autobiographies of scientists, have known this for — yes, centuries! In fact, a focus on the affective dimension of science is one of the defining traits of the genre of scientific biography.

Lorimer’s article illustrate one of the dangers of intellectual movements like ANT — they form cognitively closed communities that become so absorbed in their own terminology that they don’t realize that there exist other analytical approaches to the world. And when they find lacunas in the construct they believe they have found out someting new. We may expect to see many post-ANT scholars reinventing lots of wheels in the years to come.

Museumsudstillinger i 'perpetual beta'

By Biomedicine in museums

“En udstilling opleves ofte som meget færdig. Alt er bestemt og sat i scene. Publikum føler alt for sjældent, at det gør en forskel, om de kom den ene dag eller den næste, at det betød noget, om de var der eller ej”,

skrev Camilla igår. Enig, det er en udfordring for museerne idag. Og det rejser spørgsmålet om muligheden for et museum 2.0.

Ikke i betydningen at bruge web 2.0-teknologier (sociale netværkstjenester m.m) som supplement til det traditionelle museum — det gør museerne jo allerede i stor udstrækning (fx benytter vi os af både Facebook og blogs).

Men i betydningen at museerne lærer af udviklingen inden for webmediet, som meget tydeligt er gået fra en situation, hvor brugerne var mere eller mindre passive konsumenter af webprodukter til at blive aktive medskabere af produkter. Dvs. at museerne begynder at organisere sig analogt til ‘the participatory web’.

Det er den betydning af museum 2.0 som Nina Simon bliver ved med at hamre ind i den kollektive museum&web-bevidsthed med sin blog Museum 2.0.

En af grundideerne i web 2.0 er, som Nina har påpeget, ‘perpetual beta’, dvs. at en webapplikation ikke opfattes som færdig, men at den hele tiden en under konstant afprøvning med udgangspunkt i brugernes respons og tilbagemeldinger. Dvs. hvor man tidligere udviklede appikationen inden for software-virksomheden og først lagde den ud på nettet når den var ‘færdig’, så har man i de sidste ti år i højere grad inddraget brugerne allerede under udviklingsarbejdet.

Hvordan ville ‘perpetual beta’-udstillinger se ud? Ja, fx handler det vel om at gøre op med den traditionelle kuratorrolle, dvs. at kuratorerne sidder på lukkede museumskontor og udvikler udstillingen uden at brugerne har indsyn i planlægningsprocessen — og så BANG får de lov at se resultatet — og bagefter sker der, som Camilla påpeger, ikke en dyt — andet end at man skifter en pære ud i ny og næ.

At tænke udstillilnger i ‘perpetual beta’ ville indbære at de besøgende inddrages på et meget tidligere stadium — så at udstillingen er under kontinuerlig udvikling og aldrig egentlig bliver ‘færdig’. At museet ikke har nogen ‘grand opening’-event med champagne og snitter til udvalgte inviterede gæster, men en kontinuerlig åbning, hvor publikum er med fra starten og derigennem påvirke valget af genstande, foreslår lyssætning, prøvelæser tekster (der så evt. bliver skiftet ud), etc. undervejs. Udstillingen bliver en kontinuerlig udviklingsprocess snarare end et produkt som vises frem på åbningsdagen, og derefter kun justeres i detaljerne. 

Jeg tror ikke alle udstillinger behøver være ‘perpetual beta’. Det er ikke et formål i sig selv at publikum skal sætte et aftryk. Men museumsverden ville må godt af at eksperimentere mere med udstillingsformerne, og ‘perpetual beta’-konceptet er et godt bud på en udstillingsfilosofi som ville imødegå nogle af de problemer Camilla rejste i sin post i går.

Det ville også være meget sjovere for kuratorerne at arbejde på den måde.

Material Beliefs

By Biomedicine in museums

I’ve just learnt about a new interesting project called Material Beliefs, which takes emerging biomedical and cybernetic technology out of the laboratories and into public spaces. 

Material Beliefs focuses on technologies that blur the boundaries between the body and materials. They are also interested in how design can be used to stimulate discussion about the value of body-material hybridity. Rather than focusing on the outcomes of science and technology, they wisely see them as unfinished and ongoing practices.

Sounds like a project that we might be able to learn from.

Material Beliefs is based in the Department of Design at Goldsmiths (University of London) and is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the UK. See much more on their integrated website/blog here.

Dismantling Oldetopia

By Biomedicine in museums

This week our museum staff is closing down the temporary exhibition ‘Oldetopia‘, which opened back in October 2007 (14 month is a long time for a temporary show).

oldeto-019All the artifacts will be handed back — either to our own storage facilities or to our generous lenders. For example, a set of delicate surgical knives and other equipment that we used to show aesthetic surgery are carefully packed to be sent back to the plastic surgery clinic at the National Hospital here in Copenhagen.

Below, our conservator Nicole Rehné walks away with some stuffed poultry, the (animal) remains (no living animals were harmed in the exhibition!) of the pioneering endocrinological experiments performed by Danish medical doctor Knud Sand in the 1930s. oldeto-020

We intend to keep the stuffed ones in storage and are not at all thinking of repatriating them to the indigenous fowl population in the South East Asian jungles 🙂

oldeto-016The wall texts are scraped off. They looked good — but it’s hard work to remove them without destroying the underlying wall-paper (many grateful thanks to the designer who kept the wall texts short). Here Sven Erik Hansen, our in-house physician and guest researcher, removes letters — first the consonants, then the vowels. While our administrator, Carsten, concentrates on the headlines:

Soon the next temporary exhibition will fill the ground level show rooms. From Wednesday 21 January and three months on you can see Design4Science. More about that later. 

(thanks, Bente, for letting me use the Danish original on Museionblog)

The medical avatar may well be a way to introduce the future to you

By Biomedicine in museums

Just a comment triggered by the announcement for the 3rd annual graduate student conference at the Department of Comparative Literature, Stanford University, 10-11 April 2009 on the theme avatars, personae, heteronyms and pseudonyms.

The organisers take the Sanskrit word avatāra as their point of departure (in Hindu theology, an avatar is a deity that descends into a lower realm, i.e., what Xians call an incarnation): “How do we make ourselves visible, or readable, to the world at large? How do we portray or define ourselves­ to ourselves?”:

The virtualization of certain areas of our societies has provided new fora for experimenting with and reflecting on the images we construct and project, the personae we mimic and adopt, and the ways in which we interact with each other. That said, virtual culture may merely highlight issues that have emerged in different forms through visual art and literature both transnationally and transtemporally: for example, the use of gender-altering pseudonyms as a method of alternative self- representation; the adoption of myriad personae as a tool in artistic creation and performance; and the veneration of icons both religious and social.

Accordingly, the conference is proposed to deal with “the various descents, ascents, descendants and ascendancies of the avatar, as well as the various representational iterations of alternate or constructed personae, such as pseudonyms”, i.e. papers might include topics like:

  • oracles and prophets
  • icons as objects, icons as people
  • masks
  • poetic personae
  • literary hoaxes; invented authors and their reception
  • ghostwriters
  • female writers with male pseudonyms and vice versa
  • gender, performance, corporeality, drag, self-portraiture
  • digital personae; dystopic/utopic movement toward the virtual
  • archetypes (Jungian, etc.)
  • “personality” or celebrity self-construction, “avatars” of human ideals, cultural “icon” worship, public personae and the culture of self-representation
  • orality vs. textuality; textual history & hermeneutics
  • hiding/obscuring vs. highlighting/exaggerating

For some reason it all reminds my of Richard Satava’s late 1990s notion of ‘medical avatar’. Satava — who had been in charge of the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) combat care program and later their telemedicine project — had a vision of a multi-dimensional 3D-scanner representation of the whole body, which recorded all possible kinds of patient data — brain waves, blood flow, heartbeat, inner organ structure etc. — in real time:

The patient will walk through a doorway, like the security scanner at an airport, and we will get all the information we need from a true suspended hologram. You can actually feel the beat of the floating heart even though nothing is there

Forget about bloodless avatars in Second Life; Satava’s ‘medical avatar’ was a bloody realistic avatar. The head above (made by Alexander Tsiaras, founder and CEO of AnatomicalTravelogue) is taken from a critical paper by Claudia Reiche where it is accompanied by a quote from Satava:

What you are looking at here is bits and bytes. Zeros and ones. But it’s also a living, breathing, caring human being. This may well be a way to introduce the future to you.

Would be interesting to see if somebody will use the occasion of the Stanford meeting to follow the notion of ‘medical avatar’ through the last ten years of multidimensional medical imaging literature. If so, send an 500 words abstract to by 10 January.

Postgrad course on the recent history of power, policies and health

By Biomedicine in museums

The recently founded Nordic Network of Medical History (chaired by Astri Andresen in Bergen) is organising a three-day postgrad course on “Power, policies and health” (3 ects points), 11-14 May 2009, at the University of Copenhagen. The aim is to present

some theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of power and policies in the field of health, namely power studies (how to study the exercise of power and the processes of problematisation), relations between research and policymaking (when and how does research and policymaking interact), the anthropology of policy (analyses of how policy discourses ‘work’). Two methodological and design approaches are presented oral history as a means to study policy processes and comparative studies of health policies. Focus is on recent history.

PhD-students with different disciplinary backgrounds are invited to register. The number of participants is limited to 20. An important part of the course is discussion of participants’ projects (participants are supposed to submit short texts before the course begins). There is no course fee, and each participant will get a 800 DKK bursary per day to cover food and accommodation (but you’ll have to pay for travel). Faculty includes Virginia Berridge, Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Susan Wright, Danish School of Education, University of Aarhus; and Signild Vallgårda, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen. Registration with Susanne Fray, Further info here, or from Signild Vallgårda,

The history of biomedicine/biotech and economic policy

By Biomedicine in museums

Two quotes from yesterday’s online media caught my interest as a historian of contemporary biomedicine:

First from an interview in yesterday’s Nature online with former Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Elias Zerhouni:

The economic stimulus package is $500 billion, with $1 billion for science. It’s outrageous. This is the future of our country. So now we’re subsidizing the industries of the past at the expense of investments in the industries of the future. It’s almost an insult, frankly.

Second from a post on yesterday’s Medgadget about a European Union (EU) funded project that aims to develop a microchip that can do DNA analysis for clinical applications:

This is one of the examples of pan-European cooperation that we constantly see over the wires, that never seem to make it past EU’s bureaucratic directives … It seems to us that an average 10 person startup from Silicon Valley tends to deliver results better than multinational projects run by Brussels.

Both quotes remind me how direly we need historical studies of the long-term interaction between medical science/tech development and economic policy.

History of Genetics Day, Norwich 2009

By Biomedicine in museums

A History of Genetics Day will take place at the John Innes Centre, Norwich (UK) on 9 September 2009. An international line-up of historians of science will speak, including

  • Robert Olby: William Bateson and the establishment of the John Innes Horticultural Institution
  • Marsha Richmond: Institutionalizing Mendelism: Women in the John Innes Workforce
  • Donald Forsdyke: William Bateson’s contributions to evolutionary theory
  • Ted Porter: Biometry and the question of blending inheritance
  • Oren Harman: Evolutionary chromosomes: C. D. Darlington and Cytogenetics
  • Jenny Marie: Genetics in 1930s Britain: a context for genetics at the John Innes Horticultural Institution and the Plant Breeding Institute
  • Soraya de Chadarevian: Genetics in the atomic age
  • Mike Gale: From Plant Breeding Institute to Crop Genetics
  • Keith Chater: Focus and diversity in the history of bacterial genetics
  • Sabina Leonelli: Arabidopsis, the botanical Drosophila: from thale cress to model organism

The conference will be accompanied by a historical exhibition drawing on the John Innes Foundation Historical Collections. More info here.