Held in conjunction with Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science

The HPS Research Seminar Series runs on selected Mondays during Semester time.

Refreshments are provided in the HPS Common Room, Level 3 Carslaw Building from 4.30pm before the Seminar.

All Welcome. No Booking Required. Free

Research Seminar Series - Semester 1, 2016
Date Venue Speaker Topic
Feb 29th

CCANSEA Meeting Room

Madsen Building

Professor Ofer Gal

University of Sydney

'8 Comments on Interpretation.’


I am going to discuss some basic rules-of-thumb about the interpretation of texts in the history of science and philosophy, with particular attention to the early modern period, from which my examples will come.


March 7th

CCANSEA Meeting Room


Madsen Building

 Prof Robin Hendry

Durham University

United Kingdom.

I tentatively explore the historical evidence for a bold claim: that theories of molecular structure have, since the 1860s, developed through a series of conservative extensions, despite some apparently radical theoretical and conceptual change during this time. A conservative extension of a theory is one where its inferential content before the extension (i.e. that which determines its explanatory and predictive power) is a proper subset of its inferential content afterwards. This will happen when a theory is extended or reinterpreted so that inferences can be made concerning phenomena about which no inferences were previously made.             

 March 21st

CCANSEA Meeting Room


Madsen Building

Prof Sarah Ferber

School of Humanities and Social Inquiry

University of Wollongong

‘“Healthy Dying”: What’s in a Name?’"

The Healthy Dying Initiative is an Australian public health promotion campaign which aims to educate the public into planning for future palliative care. This article investigates uses of the dissonant term ‘healthy dying’, from its first use by Robert Kastenbaum in 1979, to the branding of the current Tasmanian campaign. Kastenbaum recognised ‘healthy dying’ as a paradox, but it has become naturalised as part of an argument about social health, rather than patient health. The paper will show that, unlike terms such as ‘good death’ or ‘dying well’, ‘healthy dying’ is open to considerable distortion according to the aims of governments and health service providers. In particular, the idea of health which posits ‘socially healthy’ outcomes of cost-saving in palliative care is critiqued here, along with the goal of denial of medical attention to people in aged care. Both goals undermine Kastenbaum’s initial more nuanced use of the term.

It should be noted that the paper will not be a bioethics presentation: it is best understood as cultural history of medical ethics. The disciplinary parameters of the paper will be canvassed at the start.



April 4th




College of Asia and the Pacific

Australian National University


Deng Xiaoping’s Spittoon: the Rise of Phlegm within the Chinese World.

China’s post-Cultural Revolution leader Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) always had a spittoon by his chair in formal meetings. He shocked foreign dignitaries like Jimmy Carter, Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger by hacking and spitting globules of phlegm into the spittoon at strategic moments in negotiations. This is just one of many examples that illustrate the prominent role of phlegm in the political, social and spiritual worlds of contemporary China. A major concept in medical science, phlegm is one of the most important causes and symptoms of disease, and a defining measure of hygiene and health since its rise to prominence in the Song dynasty (960–1127). The history of phlegm, therefore, is key to understanding an ubiquitous yet puzzling feature of Chinese daily life. This talk will trace the trajectory of phlegm from a minor body fluid to a major medical concept and national concern. It will pay special attention to ?yurvedic and Greco-Islamic influences in the development of this concept, illuminating the historical connections between Chinese medicine and other medical traditions of the world. 

 April 18th




Dept of Biological Sciences

Macquarie University


Behavioural and quantitative geneticists routinely employ the heritability statistic to make causal claims about the ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ of a given trait. These studies investigate the relative effects of genetic and environmental differences on differences in a phenotype. The proportional effect on phenotype due to genetic variation is summarised in the heritability statistic (H2 or h2). Since Richard Lewontin’s influential (1974) paper, there has been debate about the utility of the heritability statistic for making causal claims. Some, like Lewontin, argue that a more useful and informative approach to apportioning the causal responsibility of genetic and environmental variation is the norm of reaction (NOR). The NOR is a visual representation of individual genotypes in a population, and their phenotypic effects over various environments. Lewontin argues that the NOR is superior to the heritability statistic as it conveys causal information which H2 does not. But just how such information is conveyed and exactly what that information is remains underdeveloped. In line with Lewontin, I will argue that the NOR presents a deeper explanation about causal relationships between genotype, environment, and phenotype than the heritability statistic alone. I demonstrate this by appealing to the concepts ‘stability’ and ‘invariance’ outlined by Woodward (2003, 2010) under his interventionist framework for causation. These features can be used to distinguish causal relationships and assess their relative explanatory depth, and can be ascertained using an NOR and not a heritability statistic.



 Dr Andrea le Moli


Universtiy of Palermo






Dr Sonja van Wichelen


University of Sydney



NEWS 2015

2015 NSW Premier’s Award for General History

It gives us great pleasure to announce that HPS Honorary Professor Warwick Anderson and Ian R Mackay have won the 2015 NSW Premier’s Award for General History for ‘Intolerant Bodies: A Short History of Autoimmunity’
Previous winners include Inga Clendinnen, Richard Bosworth and Chris Clark (now Regius Professor of History at Cambridge).

Warwick Anderson is now the only historian to have won this award twice (previously in 2009 for The Collectors of Lost Souls).

Congratulations to Warwick Anderson and Ian R Mackay!


The Journal of the History of Ideas is pleased to announce the winner of the Selma V. Forkosch Prize for the best article published in the Journal of the History of Ideas each year.

The winners for 2010 are Ofer Gal and Raz Chen-Morris, for "Baroque Optics and the Disappearance of the Observer: From Kepler's Optics to Descartes' Doubt," Volume 71, Number 2, pages 191-217.


2014 Sydney Winter International Graduate School (SWIGS)

2014 SWIGS
2014 SWIGS

The first History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) Sydney Winter International Graduate School (SWIGS) welcomed 12 local and international graduate students to its inaugural program last week.

The week-long initiative saw students from as far afield as Cambridge, Columbia, Brown and Princeton participating in an advanced seminar tutored by visiting convener Professor Anthony Grafton from Princeton University and University of Sydney Associate Professor Ofer Gal

The theme of the seminar - Representation and Causation in Early Modern Science - explored some of the reflections and embedded assumptions about the structures and functions of representation in epistemology, metaphysics, politics and natural philosophy.

"The first SWIGS program has been a great success," Associate Professor Gal said.

"It was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the University's commitment to first class scholarship, in which research and teaching are inseparable, and it demonstrated again that the best institutions in the world will gladly pay for their students and scholars to study with us."

The Faculty of Science plans to build on the success of this year's program, making SWIGS an annual event in the international HPS field, with changing themes and conveners.

Through such programs, the University offers more opportunities for the brightest students from around the globe to experience world-class research and teaching excellence.



Congratulations to Professor Warwick Anderson, who has just been awarded a Laureate Fellowship! This is a huge win for history of medicine and Science studies.

Professor Anderson’s Laureate project ‘Southern racial conceptions: comparative histories and contemporary legacies’ aims to reveal intense scientific debate about what it meant to be human in the southern hemisphere during the twentieth century, placing Australian racial thought in a new context. Through comparative study, it shows the distinctive character and scope of racial ideas in southern settler societies, and assesses their global impact.The Australian reported on the awards in an article within the Higher Education section entitled “Fellowships reward shining stars” The Australian. Further information can be found on the ARC.


24TH AUGUST 2011
Sydney Ideas

Recent delegation from Jiao Tong University, May 2011

The Unit recently hosted a delegation from the History and Philosophy of Science Department of the Jiao Tong University, Shanghai China.

Prof. Weixing, Prof. Guan, Prof. Dong and Prof Zengjian attended a talk presented to the Physics Department by Ass. Professor Ofer Gal, enjoyed a tour of the campus with Hans Pols, attended the regular Monday evening HPS research seminar and traditional pub dinner afterwards. On Tuesday members of the unit and the delegation met at the Darlington Centre which provided an opportunity to share recent research and to discuss future collaborative possibilities between the two universities. On Wednesday the delegation attended a lunch hosted by the Dean of Science.

Jiao Tong University Newsletter


John Forge won the 2010 Eureka Prize for Research in Ethics for his book The Responsible Scientist: A Philosophical Inquiry, which examines the social, moral and legal responsibilities faced by scientists.


Professor Warwick Anderson was awarded the 2010 Ludwick Fleck Prize for this work The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen