History of Science; an Annual Review of Literature, Research and Teaching

Print ISSN: 0073-2753
En replacant la vie et les travaux de Woltereck (R.) dans le contexte de la culture allemande de la fin du XIX e siecle et du debut du XX e , l'A. demontre l'impact de la valeur historiographique sur l'histoire de la biologie de la Republique de Weimar
My paper will focus on the role of social mistrust in bringing about changes in experimental practice in medicine. Between 1940 and 1960, academic researchers in the United States introduced a series of radically new experimental practices to evaluate new therapies: random allocation of patients to " experimental " or " control " treatments, " blind " assessment of therapeutics, the increased use of objective measures of therapeutic outcomes, and the statistical analysis of results. These innovations were justified by rhetorical appeals about the need to remove therapeutic evaluation from the control of " untrustworthy " drug manufacturers and " unreliable " practitioners. Social mistrust played a key role in establishing the new methodological canons. Reformers relied on a prior tradition of social criticism of drug marketing to convince colleagues to accept innovative research procedures. I will argue that cultural changes in epistemological standards and beliefs cannot by themselves explain the acceptance of new epistemological standards. One must also look to whose evidence and practices are mistrusted.
THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE Einstein maintained discussions with colleagues in virtually every discipline. His interactions with Freud on scientific matters—the best-known exchange Einstein had with the psychologists—are known not to have been satisfactory (e.g., Jones, 1963). They were constantly at loggerheads over whether psychoanalysis is a science. For example, a draft of Einstein’s reply circa 1927 to someone who suggested that Einstein permit himself to be psychoanalyzed reads thus: “I regret that I cannot accede to your request, because I should like very much to remain in the darkness of not having been analyzed” (Hoffmann and Dukas, 1979). Further evidence for Einstein’s disagreement with Freud’s psychoanalysis can be found in the Einstein Archives.
From the late nineteenth century, colonial India experienced a sustained institutionalization of bacteriology. Several laboratories were established starting with the Imperial Bacteriological Laboratory at Poona (1890); the Bacteriological Laboratory at Agra (1892); the Plague Research Laboratory in Bombay (1896); the Pasteur Institutes of India at Kasauli (1900), Coonoor (1907), Rangoon (1916), Shillong (1917) and Calcutta (1924); and the Central Research Institute (CRI) established at Kasauli in 1905. With the setting up of these institutes, issues of laboratory research and ethics assumed critical dimensions in India. The institutes needed and used massive animal resources. To give one example, the production of a single (Semple) vaccine in one Pasteur institute required six thousand rabbits annually.1 This paper seeks to situate animal experimentation in Indian laboratories within the social history of colonialism. How did science harness its beasts of burden in the Empire? The paper argues that animal experimentation in Indian laboratories needs to be seen within a context in which Indian animals became subjects and resources of the British Empire. The process was a complex one, since debates about animal experimentation in Indian laboratories were shaped both by late Victorian moralities and by Hindu animal sensibilities growing around the contemporary Cow Protection movement. British attitudes towards the local animal population in India reflected their attitudes to the local human population; a mixture of romanticism and authoritarianism. Animal experimentation was legitimized and legalized in colonial India through processes by which the British assumed moral and political agency, by designating Indians as cruel and childlike. No animal experiment legislation was ever introduced in British India, despite a strong movement in favour of it. More importantly, the anti-vivisection movement died out in twentieth-century India almost as rapidly as it had arisen, although sentiments towards animals remained strong and politically volatile. Science, particularly bacteriology, came to the colony in the guise of a positive moral force. This secured immunity from alternative moral critiques of its methods, and as a result a potentially explosive circumstance was mitigated through a moral and political resolution. The issue was not just about the establishment of the Pasteurian method in the colony, but about developing colonial research institutions as establishments of cure and consensus. This reflected not just the genesis of a particular research institution or tradition, but the consensual and simultaneous building of a society, its morality and its scientific tradition.
This paper starts to unravel the reasons behind an apparent contradiction within the history of surgical asepsis, by looking closely at the resistance to Lister and antisepsis, and focusing on the relationship between Lister’s theory of infection and the dominant theory of the time, humoralism. While the evidence to be considered stems partly from use of primary material, the central technique to be employed in these papers diverges from traditional historiography by concerning itself with the content of the theories behind the two innovations of antisepsis and asepsis. In doing so it draws upon a strategy derived from social anthropology, specifically the French school of structuralism-semiotics. In this case it is not belief or kin systems but scientific theories which are the topic of analysis. The result of this exercise is a radical re-writing of the history of surgical sterility, in which, for instance, Lister was accorded accolades by the medical profession, to this day, only when his ideas for sterile surgical practice — the use of antiseptics — no longer threatened to become received knowledge, because they had been superseded by other quite different practices, namely aseptic techniques. Asepsis is shown to be not a development of Listerian antisepsis at all, but an entirely novel process, based on a completely different theory: humoralism. It did not create resistance because it was not based on germ theory, a theory which had disturbing implications for surgery and surgeons.
Top-cited authors
Roger Cooter
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Robert S. Westman
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Agustí Nieto-Galan
  • Autonomous University of Barcelona