‘a microscope in the field is worth two in the lab’

NikonH1968
From the archives … though unfortunately I can’t remember which, and the photocopy I have of this ad for the Nikon H “hand or field microscope” only indicates the date of publication: April 1968.

The man’s clothing seems more appropriate to the office than to the field (or the lab, for that matter), but I suppose the rolled sleeves indicate that he is “at work.”

I don’t think you could find a clearer illustration of the twentieth-century effort to bring lab-like instrumentation and rigor to field biology. Of course, most biologists didn’t approach the “lab in the field” with such literal-mindedness.

According to this account by Bill Amos, the Nikon H, which was only on the market for a few years, was based on a field-microscope design from the 1930s.

Click the image for a larger version with legible text.

science under scrutiny

Reposting below an overview of some of my work on endangered species, regulation, and ethics, which I wrote in December 2012 for the web site of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Original version is here.

Science under Scrutiny: How Endangered Species Protection Reshaped Twentieth-Century Field Biology

Since the 1970s, studies that involve attaching radio-tags to whales and other wild animals have been subject to rigorous ethical and environmental regulations. Photograph by Brandon Southall. Courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Since the 1970s, studies that involve attaching radio-tags to whales and other wild animals have been subject to rigorous ethical and environmental regulations. Photograph by Brandon Southall. Courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scientists played a central role in the emergence of a movement to protect endangered species from extinction in the twentieth century. This movement, in turn, reshaped scientific practices, communities, and personas and reoriented research toward new goals. Among other things, vast databases of species were constructed that both reflected the state of the art in biological knowledge and helped to determine the future paths of, and legal constraints on, biological research. Endangered species became objects simultaneously of intense epistemological interest and of special ethical care. This entanglement of ethics and epistemology, social movements and scientific knowledge, is the subject of ongoing research affiliated with the Sciences of the Archive project in Department II of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.
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Demarcating Wilderness and Disciplining Wildlife: Radiotracking Large Carnivores in Yellowstone and Chitwan National Parks

Demarcating Wilderness and Disciplining Wildlife: Radiotracking Large Carnivores in Yellowstone and Chitwan National Parks, in Civilizing Nature: National Parks in Global Historical Perspective, ed. Bernhard Gißibl, Sabine Höhler, and Patrick Kupper (New York: Berghahn, 2012), pp. 173-188.

science vs. paperwork

Scientists get frustrated with paperwork. No surprise there — we all do. But when the paperwork has to do with the very conditions under which new knowledge can be produced, its consequences are more significant than a mere waste of time or the emotional anguish of deciphering bureaucratese. Science can be risky in a number of ways, and in the past half-century or so there has been an efflorescence of efforts to formally manage that risk without undermining scientists’ ability to do what we value them (and pay them) for: find out new, fascinating, and potentially useful things about the world. That balancing act hasn’t always been easy — rather, hasn’t ever been easy — to perform. Continue reading

One Infrastructure, Many Global Visions: The Commercialization and Diversification of Argos, a Satellite-Based Environmental Surveillance System

One Infrastructure, Many Global Visions: The Commercialization and Diversification of Argos, a Satellite-Based Environmental Surveillance System, Social Studies of Science 42, no. 6 (2012): 846-71.

a revolutionary new technology … from 1960

In the past day or two a bunch of people have forwarded me an article in the New York Times about a new wildlife tracking device, touted by the author and some of his interviewees as potentially revolutionary for ecology and wildlife management — as revolutionary, the author suggests, as the smartphone and Facebook have been for human communication.

Revolutionary claims are no surprise in science journalism, but this one seems unusually thin. The collar combines an accelerometer with a GPS receiver, but the main advance seems to lie in calibration efforts that the developers are doing with a captive mountain lion (“Mischief”) in Colorado to match movement patterns with certain activities — stalking and killing a rabbit, for instance — and to calculate the corresponding expenditure of energy. Nice if it works, but not exactly Copernican. Continue reading