Séminaire d’histoire et philosophie des sciences : Chimie, science et société
Organisé par : Claude Debru (ENS) et Carsten Reinhardt (Bielefeld)
Invité par le Département de philosophie et le collectif "Histoire et philosophie des sciences" (CHPS) de l’École normale supérieure, Carsten Reinhardt, professeur d’histoire des sciences à l’université de Bielefeld (historien de la chimie) donne une série de quatre conférences qui traitent, à l’intérieur du thème "Sciences et société", des notions d’expertise et de régulation, de la recherche industrielle et de l’évolution des laboratoires, et de l’évolution récente des méthodes physiques de la chimie.
Ressources en ligne
- Expertise and Regulation (le 4 mars 2010) — Carsten Reinhardt
How does science interact with other social systems? In order to organize and structure social life, modern societies depend on scientific knowledge. At the same time, this impact of science on society has a reversal effect: science itself is deeply influenced by its applications in neighboring fields. In my lecture, I will tackle this problem with the notions of expertise and regulation, the latter stemming from concepts of Georges Canguilhem and Michel Foucault. While building on this, I will try to develop some of the epistemic and social features that describe the forms of scientific knowledge at issue here, giving rise to what has been called recently regulatory knowledge. For making my points, I will present two cases :
– First, forensic science. In the first half of the nineteenth century, analytical chemistry reached a level of development that permitted its application not only in chemistry itself, but also in neighboring fields such as forensic science, agriculture and toxicology. At the same time, the juridical system changed from a closed, inquisition-like procedure to a public jury system. In this process, chemists replaced physicians as expert witnesses at court, arguing that the analytical methods of their science enabled them to reach impartial and objective knowledge—in contrast with the narrative case descriptions of medical doctors. The aim of this lecture is to show the interactive emergence of analytical chemistry as a sub-discipline of chemistry and the newly-reached status of chemists as experts at court. Drawing on the German situation in the middle of the nineteenth century, I argue that the juridical system and analytical chemistry interacted in ways that were crucial for the development of both sides, and led to the emergence of a new type of scientist, the public chemist.
– Second, the establishment of threshold values, or boundary values, by a commission of the German National Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) from the 1950s to the 1970s. This part studies an important sub-system of the regulatory regime of dangerous substances at the workplace where boundary values both constructed and deconstructed the hazards of chemicals. The focus will be on the boundary work that enabled the involved scientists and bureaucrats to control the risk of chemical substances and their uncertain effects. In debating the notion of boundary values, I will restrict myself to the control of chemical substances at the workplace, and will not take into account other fields where such values are important as well, e.g., radiation protection, or the environment at large.
- Science in a Closed Context: The Case of Industrial Research, c.1900 (le 11 mars 2010) — Carsten Reinhardt
What happens when science—its methods, standards, practices as well as some of its goals, values, and organizational structures—is transferred from an "open" to a "closed" context? Much of science was, and is, done in environments that hinder free communication, the uses of results and the choice of problems: the military is one example, business another. The lecture gives a brief overview of the emergence of the corporate research system in the German chemical industry during the late 1800s and early 1900s. It analyzes its key characteristics with regard to similarities to and overlap with academic science. On the one hand, and in the better developed fields, industrial research became quite independent from its academic counterpart. On the other hand, and in more insecure and innovative areas, corporate innovation heavily depended on academic input of concepts and technologies. The focus will then be on the communication channels and modes of collaboration between university and industry, and the degrees of openess and closure required by both sides for successful cooperation. The patent system is presented as an effective communication system for industrial research, enabling the exchange of ideas while securing corporate interest in property rights. At the same time, and together with academic journals and books, it allowed for an efficient balance of academic desires and industrial needs: what had been patented, could be published more safely. Surprisingly, or maybe not so, the seemingly open structure of academic science emerges as a doubtful case, at least in chemistry, c.1900. It appears that both sides, industry and university, followed similar rules and had similar aims, although they concentrated on separate parts of the innovation system then in existence.
- Laboratories, Old and New (c.1900, c.1970) (le 18 mars 2010) — Carsten Reinhardt
Twentieth-century chemistry experienced a transformation that replaced chemical methods, most notably chemical reactions, with physical methods, most importantly spectroscopies of various kinds. With this transformation in the analytical parts of chemical practice came changes in the functions and the organization of the chemical laboratory. In 1900, the laboratory was a place for human labor, based on manual procedures, and focusing on sense impressions. It was designed to enhance education, to channel communication (including visual communication), and to sustain the hierarchy of the research group. Above all, it was a place for producing, and of dealing with, a stream of substances. In contrast, around 1970, the chemical laboratory had to accommodate a whole array of machines, with NMR-, IR-, UV-, and mass-spectroscopy taking over large domains of chemical work. Sensory perception was replaced by data measurement, and manual dexterity in shaking test tubes had to give way for an aptitude for tinkering with electronic gadgets. From lab to shop? Basically, the functions of the "shop" were the same as those of the "lab": education, communication, and research. Nevertheless, I argue that we recognize far-reaching differences. Large centralized labs, built around the Arbeitssaal, in 1900. Small specialized shops, built around the instrument room, in 1970. These changes of space (how the laboratory is built, its topography) relate to differences in place (where the laboratories and their users are located, their geography). The modern, instrument-based laboratory depends more heavily on its external relations, often done in a collaborative manner (the "collaboratory"), while the traditional laboratory is more inward-bound, and often rests on an internal hierarchy. In my lecture, I will compare these two types of chemical laboratories, using some examples and arguing that the "shop" did not completely replace the "lab", but complemented it.
- Physical Methods of Chemistry, 1950–1980 (le 25 mars 2010) — Carsten Reinhardt
In mid-twentieth century, chemists took up novel kinds of instrumentation that had originated in physics and high-technology. Chemists integrated nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), mass spectrometry, infrared and ultraviolet spectroscopy—to name only the most important techniques—in their research projects, and directed their research programs according to the opportunities and needs afforded by their instruments. Some scientists concentrated on the development of problem-solving, instrument-based methods for use in research fields they knew well. In doing so, they merged the objects of chemical inquiry—molecular structures and dynamics—with high-technological instruments. In introducing physical methods in chemical research and routine analysis, the chemical sciences and technologies underwent a major transformation. Its most important method, the chemical reaction, was supplemented by physical methods; and its practitioner, the chemist, was partially displaced by technical instruments. The intention of the lecture is to present some individual research strategies during this crucial transformation of twentieth-century chemistry. Furthermore, it will present some stories and incidents, describing the experiences of some of the involved scientists during their interactions with the instruments.
Claude Debru (ENS)
Claude Debru est philosophe, professeur de philosophie des sciences à l’École normale supérieure, membre du département de philosophie et responsable du collectif " Histoire, philosophie, sciences " de l’ENS. Il a été élu correspondant de l’Académie des sciences (section " Biologie humaine et sciences médicales ") et, depuis le 15 mars 2011, a été élu membre de l’Académie des sciences. Il est également membre de la Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina.
Carsten Reinhardt (Bielefeld)