Talk at AAAS Meeting, February 17, 2012

I am happy to announce that I will be giving a talk at the 2012 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which will be held in Vancouver, Canada, February 16-20.

The theme of this year’s meeting is “Flattening the World: Building the Global Knowledge Society”–a topic that was very near and dear to the hearts of the members of the Philosophical Breakfast Club! In my paper, “Global Science and the Public Good in the 19th century: Meteorology, Tidalogy, Magnetism,” I will discuss the way that William Whewell and John Herschel spearheaded international scientific cooperation (see full abstract below).

My paper will be part of a session entitled “Creating a Global Knowledge Society: Lessons from History, Philosophy and Sociology,” which will be presented at 10am on Friday, February 17th. The session was organized by Heather Douglas; the other speakers will be Alan Richardson and Ed Hackett. It should be a stimulating session!

William Whewell

In the nineteenth century, global scientific cooperation was spearheaded by the British scientists John Herschel and William Whewell. They were Influenced by the seventeenth-century philosopher and politician Francis Bacon, who believed that science should be for the public good, to bring about “the relief of man’s estate.” Herschel and Whewell saw global cooperation as necessary not only to uncover new knowledge but also to bring about a global public good. Their efforts led to international cooperation in studying meteorology, the tides, and geomagnetism. Whewell’s world-wide study of tidal patterns made it much safer for ships to sail the seas; Herschel’s work in promoting global meteorological research spurred research on the relation between weather and solar activity and the relation between atmospheric conditions and the intensity of terrestrial magnetism. Whewell and Herschel joined forces in promoting a network of global magnetic observatories to gather geomagnetic data. This information would, they believed, not only help uncover the nature of the universe’s fundamental forces, but also be valuable for navigation, in explaining and predicting the variation of the mariner’s compass. Their example can help us today in creating global knowledge societies that work for the public good.

For more information about the AAAS meeting, or to register, see here.


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About the Author

Laura J. Snyder, Ph.D., is a science historian, philosopher and writer whose most recent book, The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends who Transformed Science and Changed the World, was an Official Selection of the TED Book Club, a Scientific American Notable Book, and winner of the 2011 Royal Institution of Australia Poll for Favorite Science Book. It was also named an "Outstanding Academic Title" in history of science and technology by the American Library Association. Snyder is Professor of Philosophy at St. John's University in New York City and writes frequently about science and ideas for The Wall Street Journal. She is a Fulbright Scholar, a Life Member of Clare Hall College, Cambridge, and Past President of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science.

 She is currently working on a book about how new optical technologies in the 17th century revolutionized not only science, but also art and the rest of culture. Follow Laura Snyder on Twitter and Facebook.

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