Author Archives: Evan Hepler-Smith

About Evan Hepler-Smith

Historian of science and technology. Resident of Newark, NJ.

Book Review: Hunter Heyck, Age of System

Jason Oakes reviews Hunter Heyck, Age of System: Understanding the Development of Modern Social Sciences (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015)

Jason Oakes is a postdoctoral scholar in the philosophy department at UC Davis, where he works on the history of growth models in 20th century biology and the human sciences. We asked Jason to review Hunter Heyck’s new book on the social sciences in the mid-twentieth century. Here’s what he had to say.

You can reach Jason at oakes(at)ucdavis(dot)edu

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There exist tree or root structures in rhizomes; conversely, a tree branch or root division may begin to burgeon into a rhizome.
-Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (1981)

The notion of “system” is a commonplace background concept. Many research specialties have a systems name for one of their problems areas, and it lives in popular and public cultures as well. There is the financial system, the ecosystem, the solar system, and the social system, sometimes simply called “the system,” standing in for social arrangements that feel stultifying yet seem outside of immediate personal control. The idea’s continued presence in the early 21st century makes it difficult to remember that not too long ago it was even more pervasive. Hunter Heyck’s Age of System: Understanding the Development of the Modern Social Sciences, re-acquaints us with the span of time from the interwar period to the Ford Administration when “system” was not just a piece of familiar intellectual furniture, but one of the central organizing concepts in economics, anthropology, sociology, and political science.

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Hit me with your best SHOT

I spent last weekend in Albuquerque, at the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) annual meeting. On the way from the airport to my motel, the cab driver took me on an unsolicited “Breaking Bad” tour of the city. We saw the motel where lots of drug deals went down in the show (and, he noted, in real life.) We skirted the parking garage that was the site of a significant plot development. We waved hello to Jesse Pinkman’s house.

Local color, "European hospitality." Who needs the conference hotel?

Local color, “European hospitality.” Who needs the conference hotel?

In the spirit of my cab ride, here’s an ad hoc excursion through a few things that went on over the weekend. Continue reading

We’re Back, or, Monday on the Blog with George

American Science is back from summer vacation.

As you will have noticed, we have a new platform and webpage. Like a self-conscious adolescent on the first day of blog high school, we have traded the JNCOs and Vans of Blogger for a more buttoned-up wardrobe. We’re also going to be trying some new bloggy things this year. Check out our homepage and our twitter account, @americansciblog, for daily links posts and more on new features and a new team member(!).

Apropos of our return to blog normalcy: lately, I’ve been reading up on what various scientists had to say about the resumption of international scientific relations after the end of World War I. During the war, most scientists in the belligerent nations had hewed enthusiastically to a saying attributed to Fritz Haber: “During peacetime a scientist belongs to the world, but during wartime he belongs to his country.” (Nobody embodied this better than Haber, celebrated as a humanitarian hero for developing a fertilizer production process held to have staved off mass starvation, and vilified as a war criminal for his enthusiastic wartime leadership of the German chemical warfare effort.) Continue reading

So Tell Me About TSCA Reform, Part II

For an overview of the recent history of chemical regulation in America and the proposals to restructure it currently under consideration by the Senate, see my post of last Friday.

In this post, I’ll get into a little more detail on how these two bills, Udall-Vitter and Boxer-Markey, deal with several of the issues at the heart of calls to reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). As I covered in my previous post, the Udall-Vitter bill stands a better chance of being approved in something close to its current form, so I will discuss this bill in more detail. Continue reading

So Tell Me About TSCA Reform

Perhaps you have heard: over the past couple of weeks, the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works has begun to consider a pair of dueling bills to overhaul the regulation of chemicals in America. Perhaps you have seen this debate described under the heading of “TSCA reform.” Perhaps you have wondered what TSCA is, why everybody seems to want to reform it, and what substantive differences lie behind the competing proposals for doing so.

Perhaps you haven’t.  But you should! The bills under consideration have significant stakes for human health, the environment, and businesses that produce, processe, trade in, or use any of the tens of thousands of chemicals in American commerce. And – not to be glib about such weighty matters – chemical regulation is also pretty fun grist for nerding out.

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A very recent history of Histories of the Future

“The future is a great historical resource.”

This, to quote Erika Milam, was the premise of Histories of the Future, a workshop held last Friday and Saturday at Princeton. Milam and co-organizer Joanna Radin brought together a dozen workshop participants and another dozen or two audience members to pay serious (and playful) attention to science fiction as a subject of historical study.*

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