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”

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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”

Redefining the romance between the egg and the sperm

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Image source: Wikipedia Commons

Stephen and Kathleen Man Gyllenhaal’s upcoming documentary In Utero (“in the womb”) promises to be a fascinating look at life within the womb and its lasting impact on human behavior. The film’s trailer offers many diverse perspectives into how our experiences within the womb shape our future and the future of the world. Among the many revelations in the film, the directors suggest that the way we understand sex – that, a strong and active male sperm shoots up the vaginal canal to storm a weak, passive female egg – could be wrong. This submission, based on recent science, can redefine the male-centric narration of biological reproduction. Continue reading “Redefining the romance between the egg and the sperm”

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”