The paradox that is Ada Lovelace, the “mother”of computer science

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Portrait of Countess Ada Lovelace [Source: Wikimedia Commons]
In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted a posthumous pardon to British computer pioneer, Alan Turing. This came almost six decades after he was (sadly) convicted of “gross indecency” for having an affair with another man. His conviction overshadowed his significant contributions to the field of theoretical computer science and even put an unfair, early end to his life.

Social prejudices may have scarred Turing’s clean image in the field of computer science. But that did not stop his being recognized widely as the “father” of computer science, primarily for his Turing machine, an abstract model of a general purpose computer. However, the unintended consequences of social exclusion and gender stereotypes may have been just the reasons for another computing genius to carry on her work unrestrained. This forms the crux of Imogen R. Coe and Alexander Ferworn’s article The Life and Contributions of Countess Ada Lovelace in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine (December 2016). Continue reading “The paradox that is Ada Lovelace, the “mother”of computer science”

The Mystical Origins of Modern Science and Medicine

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Portrait of Paracelsus [Image source: Wikimedia Commons]
Theoretical scientist and astronomer Stephen Hawking recently warned that the best way to ensure the survival of humanity was to “spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race.” On the brighter side, he added that the end of planet Earth would become a certainty only in the “in the next 1,000 or 10,000 years.” Still, the search for habitable planets has gained momentum with efforts led by government agencies like NASA and billionaire entrepreneurs like Elon Musk.

Humanism is the ethical and philosophical stance that emphasizes the value of human beings, affirmed by their ability to improve human lives through reason. We do not know if Hawking and Elon Musk call themselves “humanists”, but they do believe that the challenges of this age demand new and ingenious solutions even if it goes against conventionally accepted wisdom. Interestingly, a group of alternative medical practitioners in the Renaissance Era, the Paracelsians , also believed that theirs was a “violent age”. The Paracelsians sought new sources to solve the challenges of their age—including mystical. divine and occult sources—as Allen Debus elaborates in his book, Man And Nature In The Renaissance. Continue reading “The Mystical Origins of Modern Science and Medicine”

How the pregnancy test traveled from the laboratory into the hands of ordinary women

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Early e.p.t advertisement [Courtesy: Jezebel.com]

Whatever individual women (and men) may feel about having children, the home pregnancy test (HPT) has become one of the most common diagnostic tools available over the counter today. In recent times, Indian pharmaceutical companies have marketed the product both to the “traditional house-wife” as well as to the “Generation Z’ers” using glamorous Bollywood stars.

The now ubiquitous home pregnancy test was very different back when it was first launched in the United States during the late 1970s. It came at a time when women were collectively organizing themselves across the world. Medical professionals and government regulators alike felt unequipped and threatened by the emergence of this new technology. Joan H Robinson analyzes the historical phenomenon of the home pregnancy test (HPT) in a well researched and extremely readable article in the October 2016 issue of Social Studies of Science. Using scholarship in science, technology and society studies (STS), Robinson narrates how various institutions navigated a tortuous legal and technological maze in society, to result in the now uncontested product. Continue reading “How the pregnancy test traveled from the laboratory into the hands of ordinary women”

Galileo: The heretic who wasn’t

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Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Students venturing into the social studies of science will quickly realize that the origins of modern science cannot be studied without understanding the role that organized religion played in its development. Indeed, there has been a legacy where historians of science have overplayed the hypothesis that science and religion are fundamentally opposed to each other. The condemnation of Galileo Galilei by the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church in 1633 is widely presented as the paradigmatic case of the interminable conflict between science and religion. However, the study of Galileo’s life, work, and his trial requires more than the simplistic thesis of an authoritarian, religious institution silencing a singular, scientific genius.

Continue reading “Galileo: The heretic who wasn’t”

The Sociological Roots of Science

Edgar Zilsel is considered one of the pioneers in the social studies of science and among the earliest to identify the sociological conditions which led to the development of modern science. In his seminal article “The Sociological Roots of Science”, Zilsel attempts to trace the emergence of modern science as a sociological process in the early stages of European capitalism. While acknowledging the influence of other “half-scientific” (oriental and Arabic) cultures on Western civilization he submits that he has attempted only a “greatly simplified analysis” of the sociological conditions which made modern science possible.

Continue reading “The Sociological Roots of Science”