In his lecture “Laws of nature, historical contingency, and the wolves and moose of Isle Royale,” Dr. John A. Vucetich seeks to explain a new approach to the study of ecology that he uses with the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project, which is the largest, continuously running predator/prey study in the world. In his study of population dynamics on the island, he believes that unlike other scientific fields, like chemistry or physics, ecology is not strictly law-based. Instead it is better studied like other historical events. He refers to this as historical contingency and he defines his process in two parts. This process explains population dynamics through a series of disparate random events, each of which has a legacy that has effects comparable in length to the waiting time in between these events. Each candidate event is crucial to understanding the predator/prey relationship on Isle Royale and more specifically the predation rate of the moose. Such candidate events in his analysis include novel disease, catastrophic winter, genetic rescue by introducing new wolves to the island, and the end of positive effects from the genetic rescue. Periods in between these candidate events are characterized as either top-down or bottom-up. It is these individual events that can be quantifiably explained and then compared to the laws of nature. Continue reading →
With summer drawing to a close, I took the opportunity to ride the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Albany, Oregon to Union Station in Los Angeles. I’d never taken the train for such a long trip, 28 hours each way. On such a long trip landscapes pass by, fixed in their space but transient in the rider’s experience. Each moment on the train creates a snapshot of the land. Being a rider is significantly different than being a driver on the interstate – not having to worry about truck traffic frees the mind to wander. As my mind wandered, four snapshots of human interaction with the passing terrain leapt out at me.
The trip starts in Albany, Oregon. Seat of Linn County (‘The Grass Seed Capital of the World’), Albany quickly gives way to the rural Willamette Valley. Sheep, hay, and grass seed accompany the rider all the way to Eugene. In Oregon’s third city the tracks turn southeast to climb the Cascades through the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests. The transition from an agricultural landscape to a logging landscape is abrupt. Evergreen stands of varying ages blanket the landscape along with clearcuts and a web of logging roads. The Willamette played a part in the bitter spotted owl and old growth forest controversies. But, to a layman’s eyes on the train, the forest looks like a forest, not an historically controversial landscape. In this case, the train delves into the depths of environmental conflict but also shrouds it with the trappings of a scenic landscape. One hundred years ago, Einstein used the train to teach physicists the hidden truths of relativity. Today, as the train runs through the forest, it teaches us the often hidden truth that aesthetic beauty can obscure the extent of human alteration to an ecosystem. Continue reading →
What images does wilderness evoke? For many, wilderness means pristine landscapes, scenic vistas, quietude, and wide open spaces. Many Americans may be surprised to know that, legally, wilderness has only been enshrined as a public reality for 50 years. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, surrounded by an unlikely coalition of elected officials and preservationists. To celebrate the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary, Oregon State University’s Spring Creek Project hosted a panel discussion on 2 May to consider the Act’s genesis, life, and future.
Dr. Jacob Hamblin discussed important environmental moments leading up to the act. He particularly singled out public outcry over the Bureau of Reclamation’s Echo Park Project. The Bureau planned to build a series of dams along the Colorado, including within Grand Canyon National Park. Hamblin argued that potential incursions into ‘protected’ federal lands raised popular environmental consciousness and incentivized politicians to support preservation measures. With this background in mind, he asked the question “Is it possible to have a community of sincerity without common purpose?” That the Wilderness Act passed, with a variety of definitions for ‘wilderness’ built into its text, seems to indicate that such a community did in fact coalesce in the early 1960’s. Continue reading →
Congratulations to Ph.D. student Linda Richards, who has published an article in Peace and Change: A Journal of Peace Research! The title is “Fallout Suits and Human Rights: Disrupting the Technocratic Narrative,” and it challenges the way we think about radiation effects historically. As she writes, “the topic of radiation exposure is a disputed maze of scientific discrepancy and historical incongruity.”
Linda shows us how we can begin to navigate this maze and frame the story differently: instead of relying solely on the pronouncements of scientists and government experts, we can try to understand radiation effects as an important lens for seeing the international human rights movement. The article itself follows the Paulings’ attempts to the sue the U.S. government for radiation effects due to nuclear testing. Linda shows how these “fallout suits” reveal differences between scientific evidence and government pronouncements. Like a photograph, she writes, the fallout suits provide a snapshot of a crucial moment in time when protecting against nuclear threats became not just a scientific subject, but a human right issue.
Linda has been able to travel to multiple archives in her dissertation research, including the National Archives, Chemical Heritage Foundation, and even the archives of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. This paper makes heavy use of archives closer to home, highlighting some of OSU’s valuable collections, especially the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling collections right here on campus.
We are all so delighted that Linda Richards is helping to raise the profile of this topic, these archives, and this university!
I started reading The Hidden Forest by Jon Luoma in December. Subtitled The Biography of an Ecosystem, the book details the history of the 16,000-acre H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and the scientists who have worked there, uncovering the roles of soils, organisms, natural events, and human impacts on a complex forest ecosystem. Set aside in 1948 as a living laboratory, Andrews is on the western side of the Cascade Range, and is administered jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State University. It became a charter member of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program in 1980, a network of two-dozen sites around the country.
During the winter break, I made arrangements to stay overnight at the Andrews forest. Although the research facility is open year-round, heavy snowfalls in the winter months close many of the access roads. There was about a foot of accumulated snow on the ground when I went, but the road was clear to facility. When I got out of my car, the sound of rushing water, peaceful yet exciting, filled the air. The music of Lookout Creek was to be my constant companion for my stay. I meet the facilities manager, who checked me into my simple apartment, and the caretaker. When the two of them left at 5:00pm, I was alone in the woods. I busied myself with some short hikes, cooking soup for my evening meal, and reading The Hidden Forest.
My reading, augmented by my first experience in the Andrews forest, compelled me to write about this wonderful Oregon State treasure. The research done at Andrews Experimental Forest led to some significant insights in forest ecology as well as providing evidence for the revision of timber management policies and practices. The eruption of Mount St. Helens, the spotted owl controversy, and the teeming life in the soil of old-growth forests are among the highlights of this absorbing study. It suggests many paper and dissertation topics.
OSU’s History of Science Program congratulates three of our graduate student veterans this term, as they advanced to candidacy during Week 10. They now have the vaunted status of “ABD,” which either means “all but dissertation” or “anything but dissertation,” depending on how you look at it It was a pleasure to be part of the process getting them to this stage, and now all three have launched into intensive research:
Rachel Blake is working on the history of science and medicine, under Prof. Michael A. Osborne. Her dissertation will be on French and German influences on medical education in Alsace in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Barbara Canavan is working on the history of science, disease, and environment, under the supervision of Prof. Anita Guerrini. Her dissertation will be on the development of virology as a discipline, and on the networks of scientists who attempted to understand avian influenza.
Laura Cray is working on the history of biology and environment, under the supervision of Prof. Michael A. Osborne. Her dissertation will be on entomological research in the United States after the creation of land-grant colleges.
Congrats to all three, and to Professors Osborne and Guerrini, for their hard work in graduate supervision.
On October 14, James Capshew invited his audience at the Autzen House Center for the Humanities to stop and smell the pine cones—or at least contemplate their place in the human understanding of time. His lecture entitled, “The Fascinations of Age: Bristlecone Pines Between History and Imagination,” explored Capshew’s most recent research into the history of dendrochronology and the lure of the bristle cone pine in the imaginations of scientists and artists alike. Continue reading →
As I plug away on the prospectus for my doctoral research, I ponder all that I have learned from the history of science and medicine in the past two years. My background and interests have led me to the intersection of history, ecology, virology, climate, infectious disease, and technology. It is humbling to confront the need to bring it all together in a scholarly and unique way. What is the nexus of these diverse topics? All I need to do is to come up with a research question that, when answered, would shed new light on what others have done before…and for that new light to truly have us look at things in a new way. Easy, right? Not so much. Here is my start and I welcome comments. Continue reading →
Ph.D. student Brenda Kellar has been working on the history of honey bee migration along with human beings in the United States. Her article “Honeybees Across America,” began as a research presentation to the Oregon Beekeepers’ Association, and now has been picked up by the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association. She shows how at critical moments of migration in North America, bees and humans enabled each other. That’s part of a much longer history: “Human cultures for thousands of years have used the honey bee and her products as symbols for industry, social structure, cleanliness, holiness, chastity, and much more,” Kellar writes. “These symbols can be found in all forms of material culture produced by human populations.” Click here to read more!
Mark Lynas is an optimist. On February 29th, Mr. Lynas lectured here at OSU at LaSells Stewart Center on his book, The God Species. According to Mr. Lynas, humans are a God species and consequently we have to “run the planet as if we were gods”. Not the kind of Gods found in Greek mythology, when humans were still learning the nature of the world, but kind, benevolent gods who recognize that we have to be good stewards of our planet. Mr. Lynas related that the earth is estimated to be approximately 3.7 billion years old and Homo sapiens are estimated to have been on the earth 100,000 years. Mr. Lynas stated, “We, as humans, have gone from poking sticks in an anthill to creating global communication systems”. At the risk of sounding anthropocentric, we have come a long way. Continue reading →
This blog keeps track of recent activities among faculty and students in Oregon State's unique program in History of Science. We have numerous course offerings for undergraduates, and we offer opportunities to pursue Master's and Doctoral degrees. Have fun reading!