Category Archives: environmental studies

Two islands, three themes, parts 1 & 2, then four themes

This 10-minute video is the first of three that use the science of population growth to introduce themes that apply to all of science (audio only).
The second part is audio only.
The third part is video or audio.

The Social Construction of Life: Critical Thinking about Biology in Society

This book aims to expand the boundaries of the influences that readers consider when interpreting the practices and products of the life sciences (“biology”) and their impact on society. The chapter topics include: Interpreting Ideas of Nature; The structure of origin stories; Multiple layers in influencing an audience: The case of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species; Metaphors of coordination and development; What causes a disease?—the consequences of hereditarianism in the case of pellagra; How changeable are IQ test scores?; Social negotiations around genetic screening; Intersecting processes involving genes and environment. Continue reading

Now It Is Impossible ‘Simply To Continue Along Previous Lines’: A Partial Design Sketch of Enactable Social Theorizing

Working Paper:
Abstract: A compilation of 39 notes provides the basis for two shifts: from shaping a better social theory to allowing for social theorizing; and from representing social dynamics to enacting the social theorizing so as to repeatedly define and pursue engagements in the heterogeneous dynamics that intersect in all kinds of society-making. A key move is to bring the multiple strandedness of changing social life into the center by combining, on one hand, the analysis of intersecting processes, which link across scales in the production of any outcome and in their own on-going transformation, and, on the other hand, a participatory group process, the historical scan, to generate a repeatable group-specific praxis.
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Living in History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology

In 1984 Michael Bradie, one of a series of philosophers of science who took sabbaticals at Richard Lewontin’s lab where I was working on my Ph.D. in ecology, encouraged me to attend the next meetings of what was then HPSSB. At St. Mary’s in 1985 I gave my first history of science talk (on H.T. Odum) and was excited to hang out with people who were attracted to—or, at least, comfortable with—crossing boundaries among history, philosophy, sociology, and biology. These meetings gave me confidence—and foolhardiness—to pursue a career path that has not respected disciplinary boundaries. I became a regular IS/HPSSB participant and began to organize sessions that fostered the discipline-transgressing qualities I valued. This series of blog posts provides some pre-history to this conjunction of planets and then sketches where it led.
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Update on “Alternation between complexities of situation studied and the situation of the studier: A series of writing projects”

I provide an update on the ambitious writing plan I formulated during a workshop in October 2016 and posted in February 2017. The “alternation” referred to in the title of the posts concerns the insufficiency of critical accounts of science—its concepts or its practice—without also exploring how people come together to make changes in the lives and work, including work in and about science.
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The hidden complexity of simple models, or Why theorists of all kinds should be troubled by unmodeled variables having dynamical lives of their own

Can ecological theory generate principles that could be usefully generalized across ecological situations? Particularism has been a perennial attraction in ecology, but a new source of doubt gained momentum by the end of the 1980s after theorists started looking at “indirect interactions”—effects mediated through the populations not immediately in focus, or, more generally, through “hidden variables” that have their own dynamics. How much do indirect effects confound principles derived on the basis of observing the direct interactions among populations? My exploration of this question should challenge not only ecologists, but theorists in all fields that make use of models of any kind of sub-system elevated from the complexity in which the sub-system is actually embedded.
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From complexity to construction to intersecting processes: Puzzles for theoretical and social inquiry

Although stable systems may be extremely rare as a fraction of the complex ecological systems being sampled (as shown in the 1970s theoretical work of Robert May), they can be readily constructed over time by the addition of populations from a pool of populations or by elimination of populations from
systems not at a steady state. The implications identified in this paper of such a constructionist perspective could challenge not only ecologists, but also theorists in all fields that make use of models without a process of construction over time of the complexity of the situation studied. This paper centers not so much on advancing this perspective, but on two consequent puzzles: Why does the constructionist view seem difficult for theorists to take up? What social implications should be drawn from the resulting view of complexity, especially to the extent that critical events cannot be predicted?
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The Truth is the Whole: Essays in Honor of Richard Levins

The Truth is the Whole: Essays in Honor of Richard Levins is now available as a 300-page paperback through online retailers in North America, Europe, and Australia.
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Expanding teaching to match my intellectual framework

I’m rethinking an earlier post I noted that my teaching emphasizes only two of the five items that I consider to be linked together in my intellectual framework.

I’m often introducing alternatives, but not so often drawing students into building the constituency to support what is implied by the alternative. I put the alternative out there as if I’m saying it’s good and interesting, now you explore it—it’s up to you—just think about it.

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My ontology and epistemology in tension with my pedagogy

A transcript of a work-in-progress presentation about ontology, epistemology, and pedagogy— specifically, my ontology, epistemology, and pedagogy. More specifically, how they might be affected by our current time of crisis.
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