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    ABSTRACT: The Aschheim–Zondek reaction is generally regarded as the first reliable hormone test for pregnancy and as a major product of the ‘heroic age’ of reproductive endocrinology. Invented in Berlin in the late 1920s, by the mid 1930s a diagnostic laboratory in Edinburgh was performing thousands of tests every year for doctors around Britain. In her classic history of antenatal care, sociologist Ann Oakley claimed that the Aschheim–Zondek test launched a ‘modern era’ of obstetric knowledge, which asserted its superiority over that of pregnant women. This article reconsiders Oakley’s claim by examining how pregnancy testing worked in practice. It explains the British adoption of the test in terms less of the medicalisation of pregnancy than of clinicians’ increasing general reliance on laboratory services for differential diagnosis. Crucially, the Aschheim–Zondek reaction was a test not directly for the fetus, but for placental tissue. It was used, less as a yes-or-no test for ordinary pregnancy, than as a versatile diagnostic tool for the early detection of malignant tumours and hormonal deficiencies believed to cause miscarriage. This test was as much a product of oncology and the little-explored world of laboratory services as of reproductive medicine.
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 09/2014; 47. DOI:10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.12.002
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    ABSTRACT: The Royal Society Conversaziones were biannual social evenings at which distinguished guests could learn about the latest scientific developments. The Conversazione in May 1952 featured an object that came to be called King Arthur's Table. It was a planetary equatorium, made in Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory at the behest of Sir Lawrence Bragg. Conceived by the historian of science Derek de Solla Price as a huge, tangible realization of Chaucerian astronomy, it was displayed at the new Whipple Museum of the History of Science, discarded, stored incognito, catalogued with that whimsical name, and finally re-identified in 2012. This article examines the biography of that object and, through it, the early, inchoate years of the discipline of history of science in Cambridge. The process of disciplinary establishment involved a range of actors beyond well-known figures such as Herbert Butterfield and Joseph Needham; the roles of Price and Bragg are highlighted here. Study of these individuals, and of the collaboration that brought about the reconstruction, reveals much about the establishment of a discipline, as well as changing scholarly and curatorial attitudes towards replicas.
    Notes and Records of The Royal Society 06/2014; 68(2):111-34. DOI:10.1098/rsnr.2013.0062
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    Endeavour 05/2014; 38(2). DOI:10.1016/j.endeavour.2014.04.001
  • Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A 12/2013; 44(4):632–633. DOI:10.1016/j.shpsa.2013.07.007
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    ABSTRACT: Synthetic biology is often described as a project that applies rational design methods to the organic world. Although humans have influenced organic lineages in many ways, it is nonetheless reasonable to place synthetic biology towards one end of a continuum between purely 'blind' processes of organic modification at one extreme, and wholly rational, design-led processes at the other. An example from evolutionary electronics illustrates some of the constraints imposed by the rational design methodology itself. These constraints reinforce the limitations of the synthetic biology ideal, limitations that are often freely acknowledged by synthetic biology's own practitioners. The synthetic biology methodology reflects a series of constraints imposed on finite human designers who wish, as far as is practicable, to communicate with each other and to intervene in nature in reasonably targeted and well-understood ways. This is better understood as indicative of an underlying awareness of human limitations, rather than as expressive of an objectionable impulse to mastery over nature.
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 07/2013; 44(4). DOI:10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.05.011
  • The Lancet 01/2013; 381(9863):286-7. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60123-3
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    ABSTRACT: Since the mid-1990s, governments and health organizations around the world have adopted policies designed to increase women’s intake of the B-vitamin ‘folic acid’ before and during the first weeks of pregnancy. Building on initial clinical research in the United Kingdom, folic acid supplementation has been shown to lower the incidence of neural tube defects (NTDs). Recent debate has focused principally on the need for mandatory fortification of grain products with this vitamin. This article takes a longer view, tracing the transformation of folic acid from a routine prenatal supplement to reduce the risk of anaemia to a routine ‘pre-conceptional’ supplement to ‘prevent’ birth defects. Understood in the 1950s in relation to social problems of poverty and malnutrition, NTDs were by the end of the century more likely to be attributed to individual failings. This transition was closely associated with a second. Folic acid supplements were initially prescribed to ‘high-risk’ women who had previously borne a child with a NTD. By the mid-1990s, they were recommended for all women of childbearing age. The acceptance of folic acid as a ‘risk-reducing drug’ both relied upon and helped to advance the development of preventive and clinical practices concerned with women’s health before pregnancy.
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 01/2013; 47. DOI:10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.10.009
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    ABSTRACT: Michael Devitt (2008, 2010) has argued that species have intrinsic essences. This paper rebuts Devitt's arguments, but in so doing it shores up the anti-essentialist consensus in two ways that have more general interest. First, species membership can be explanatory even when species have no essences; that is, Tamsin's membership of the tiger species can explain her stripyness, without this committing us to any further claim about essential properties of tigers. Second, even the views of species that appear most congenial to essentialism-namely phenetic and genotypic cluster accounts-do not entail strong forms of intrinsic essentialism.
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 10/2012; DOI:10.1016/j.shpsc.2012.09.013
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    ABSTRACT: This paper investigates John Dee’s relationship with two kinds of alchemist: the authorities whose works he read, and the contemporary practitioners with whom he exchanged texts and ideas. Both strands coincide in the reception of works attributed to the famous English alchemist, George Ripley (d. c. 1490). Dee’s keen interest in Ripley appears from the number of transcriptions he made of ‘Ripleian’ writings, including the Bosome book, a manuscript discovered in 1574 and believed to have been written in Ripley’s own hand. In 1583, Dee and his associate Edward Kelley left England for East Central Europe, taking with them a proportion of Dee’s vast library, including alchemical books—the contents of which would soon pique the interest of continental practitioners. Kelley used Ripley’s works, including the Bosome book, not only as sources of practical information, but as a means of furthering his own relationships with colleagues and patrons: transactions that in turn influenced Ripley’s posthumous continental reception. The resulting circulation of texts allows us to trace, with unusual precision, the spread of English alchemical ideas in the Holy Roman Empire from the late sixteenth century.
    Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A 09/2012; 43(3):498–508. DOI:10.1016/j.shpsa.2011.12.009
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    Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A 09/2012; 43(3):432–436. DOI:10.1016/j.shpsa.2011.12.001
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