2 de enero de 2019

HSS 2019 Call for contributors 'Quality control in history of science'

Do historians repeat themselves? Replication, fact-checking and quality control in history of science

In the past few years, disciplines varying from social psychology to cancer research have been confronted with the ‘replication crisis’. Many widely accepted theories in these fields turned out to be not reproducible  – which no-one had noticed until now because no-one had bothered to check. Although replication is standard in science in theory, in practice research outcomes were regularly accepted as scientific truths without any replication attempts. Scientists are now worried that they have been, and still are, building on facts that lack a solid foundation.

In this panel we want to explore to what extent historians of science face similar problems. In a recent article (https://edu.nl/rm6ka), Hallie Lieberman and Eric Schatzberg have argued that our quality controls are meagre: reviewers hardly ever check primary sources, researchers cite earlier work without trying to reproduce it, and with that, falsehoods easily become historical facts. Their main example is Rachel Maines’  classic book The Technology of Orgasm (1999). In this work, Maine combined history of sexuality, history of medicine, and history of technology to claim that Victorian doctors regularly used genital massage (first by hand, later by vibrator) to treat women diagnosed with hysteria. Lieberman and Schatzberg argue that Maines’ claim is based on misquotation and misinterpretation of primary sources. According to them, the most problematic aspect here is not that Maines’ failed to give sufficient evidence for her claim, but that hardly anyone noticed this lack of evidence in the twenty years since the publication of the book, and that the criticism that was given on parts of the book (most notably in an excellent article by Helen King in 2011) did not prevent it from becoming a classic, being cited often and making its way into popular culture.

Lieberman and Schatzberg argue that this is not an isolated incident, but instead just the tip of the iceberg. Are they right? Do we lack proper academic quality control? Does the peer review system work? Should historians try to replicate each other’s work more often, and if so, how? What does ‘replication’ mean in the context of history of science? These are examples of questions we would like to explore in this session; contributions on related themes are also more than welcome.



If you want to contribute, please contact Hieke Huistra (Utrecht University), h.m.huistra@uu.nl, with a short description of your ideas and a couple of lines on your current work – it doesn’t have to be a polished abstract yet. Since the deadline is approaching quickly, we will have to evaluate incoming ideas on a rolling basis; so if you are interested, please let us know as soon as possible, and no later than 31 December 2018.