Visualizing the dynamics of science

Peter Taylor
S&TS 700, Special topics seminar, Spring 1995

Course description:
This experimental seminar examines visual (pictorial and diagrammatic) in contrast to textual, narrative representations in science (="strand A"), and recent innovations in science studies for mapping the processes of, and influences on scientific practice (="strand B"). Students will evaluate different interpretations and methods in the light of a semester-long practical project developing and refining their own "maps" of episodes in science. Each class meeting will combine student-led discussion of readings with workshop-style presentations and exercises related to the practical projects.

Some elaboration:
Strand A: Interpreting diagrammatic and pictorial representations in science:
When scientists use diagrams or pictures to accompany texts and lectures, they make multiple references: to the phenomena overtly represented; to analogous phenomena or devices; and to previous pictures and their conventions of pictorial representation. When formulating diagrams they have to delimit the phenomenon, choose and organize components, and render onto a flat surface three-dimensional entities and processes that change over time. They must do all this in a manner that facilitates the viewer's comprehension of the diagrams, illuminates their theory and, more broadly, generates support for their scientific agenda. How this all works has in recent years become an active topic of research in the history, sociology and philosophy of science.

"The whole process of viewing -- with respect to its temporal features, its hither-and-thither perceptual shooting, its selective attention to nodal points in the visual array, and the fluidity with which it operates colusively with our desire for ready recognition of forms -- seems to me to be fundamentally unlike the process of reading in its ways, means and ends. Ideally, I would banish the word "reading" and all other categories derived from liteary interpretaion, in order to see if it is possible to reinstate the analysis of what is irreducibly visual about visual images." (Kemp 1990)

Strand B: Mapping the dynamics of science:
Sociologists and historians of science have been advocating "ecological" or "network" analysis of scientific knowledge and activity, integrating diverse social, historical, conceptual, methodological, rhetorical elements. Difficult questions immediately arise: What is entailed by the metaphors of ecology and network, beyond the very general characterization that there are many factors interacting? What makes something a resource (or a node)? How are resources arranged into networks? What are their shapes? How can we represent the complexity of the dyanmics of science? I have done some exploration of a graphic methodology, mapping, designed to assist researchers at both levels--in science and in science studies--to work with the complexity of their material. By analyzing the implications and limitations of diagrammatic representations (including mapping and students' own approaches), this seminar should give more substance to the ecological and network metaphors.

Course Requirements & Mechanics

0. The exact format and emphasis of the seminar will be arranged with the students and depends on their number and interests. By negotiation, research papers could be substitute for the practical project. What follows constitute my initial ideal:

1. Each class meeting will combine student-led discussion of readings with workshop-style presentations and exercises on the practical project.

2. Readings. Books and xeroxes will be available in the Biology & Society reading (aka │advising▓) room (Clark Hall 278; open from 8.30-4.30 M-F only). They can be read there or borrowed briefly to make a photocopy. Get a copycard to simplify this photocopying.

3. Discussion framing and leading. Students will divide up the responsibility for framing and leading the discussion for each week (except for a few introductory weeks led by PT.) This means you choose topics, review potential readings from the list below and locate additional ones, decide (in consultation with PT) on a framing for your week and on readings we all should do, make sure there's a copy of that reading in Clark 278, prepare a presentation on the readings (in particular, on their relevance to the practical projects), and lead the discussion.

4. Use the class email bulletin board ( for submitting one or two questions for the discussion, one heuristic (about interpreting or making pictures or maps) per week, and for other communication. I'll automatically subscribe everyone unless you ask me not to. Arrange to read your messages regularly.

5. The practical project is your own exploratory work on pictorial representation of some episode of science in the making.

6. Deadlines for interim submissions and final report:
Early February
Initial description of proposed case study
late February
Annotated bibliography of reading completed or planned; Revised statement of case study; Sketches
March, before spring break
Working sketches, maps, etc.
late April
Focussed in class presentations (visitors invited)
May 12
Final Project Report/Portfolio

7. Extensions are given only if they are negotiated well in advance, and if you get more than 2 weeks behind the schedule above, you must propose an acceptable revised schedule. I do not want any prolonged incompletes from this course!

8. Submission of one or two suggested additions or substitutions to the readings, with a brief note explaining the recommendations, where they fit in chronologically and conceptually. Due: 5/5 -- or earlier if you want us to read them this semester.

9. Grading:
50% Class participation, Discussion leading, Submission of discussion questions and heuristics, Narrative, Bibliographic suggestions
50% Practical projects, including workshop presentations and interim submissions (see deadlines above).

10. Would-be auditors must discuss their case with PT, and they will be expected to participate fully in the course, including taking their turn at framing and leading discussions and working on a mapping project.

Potential discussion topics and initial reading suggestions (version Jan 24, '95)

Week 1 Introduction to course, to each other (using a map), and to strand A -- in the form of a lecture based on:
Taylor, P. J. and A. S. Blum (1991). │Ecosystems as circuits: Diagrams and the limits of physical analogies.▓ Biology & Philosophy 6: 275-294.

Week 2 Introduction to mapping, intersecting strands, and other diagramming (strand B)
Taylor, P. (1990). │Mapping ecologists' ecologies of knowledge.▓ PSA 1990 Vol. 2: 95-109.
Taylor, P. and Y. Haila (1989). │Mapping Workshops for Teaching Ecology.▓ Bull. Ecol. Soc. Am. 70(2): 123-125.
Taylor, P. J. (1995). │Building on construction: An exploration of heterogeneous constructionism, using an analogy from psychology and a sketch from socio-economic modeling.▓ Perspectives on Science, 3(1) in press

Strand A:
Overviews and Collections
Lynch, M. and S. Woolgar (1988). │Introduction: Sociological orientations to representational practice in science.▓ Human Studies 11: 99-116.
Taylor, P. J. and A. S. Blum (1991). │Pictorial representation in biology.▓ Biology & Philosophy 6: 125-134.

Lynch, M. and S. Woolgar (1988). │Representation in scientific practice.▓ Human Studies 11(2/3).
Latour, B. (1985). │Les "Vues" de L'Esprit.▓ Culture Technique 14.
Douard collection (spring 94 workshop)
Biology & Philosophy 6(2). Special issue on Pictorial representation in biology (copy in Clark 278)
Mukerji & Rudwick bibliography (copy in Clark 278)

Narratives vs. pictorial representation
Kemp, M. (1990). The science of art: Optical themes in Western Art from Brunellesci to Seurat. New Haven, Yale University Press.
Mitchell, W. J. T. (Ed.) (1980). The language of images. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Changing techniques and persistent conventions
Blum, A. (1993). Picturing nature: Illustration in 19th-Century American Zoology. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Rudwick, M. (1976). │The emergence of visual language for geological science, 1760-1840.▓ History of Science 14: 149-195.

Representing females
Moore, L. J. and A. Clarke (1995). │Clitoral conventions and transgressions: Twentieth century anatomical representations.▓ Feminist Studies. in press.
Schiebinger on skeletons and on mammals

Readings and presentation by Steve Allison on the mediations required to create so-called 'realistic' representations in museums

Maps and cartography
Harley, J. B. (1990). "Maps, knowledge, power," in D. Cosgrove and S. Daniels (Eds.), The iconography of landscape. New York: Cambridge University Press, 277-312.
Harley, J. B. (1989). │Deconstructing the map.▓ Cartographica 26: 1-20.
Wood, D. (1992). The power of maps. New York, Guilford.
Geographic Informational Systems (G.I.S.)

Complexity theorists
Odum, H. T. (1983). Systems ecology: An introduction. New York, Wiley.
Taylor, P. J. and A. S. Blum (1991). │Ecosystems as circuits: Diagrams and the limits of physical analogies.▓ Biology & Philosophy 6: 275-294.
include video from Sante Fe Institute on complexity
Soft system science

High theory
Mitchell, W. J. T. (1986). Iconology. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Cognitive science interpretations
Larkin, H. and H. A. Simon (1987). │Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth ten thousand words.▓ Cognitive Science 11: 65-99.

Law, J. and M. Lynch (1988). │Lists, field guides, and the descriptive organization of seeing: Birdwatching as an exemplary observational activity.▓ Human Studies 11: 271-303.
Lynch, M. (1988). │The externalized retina: Selection and mathematization in the visual documentation of objects in the life sciences.▓ Human Studies 11: 201-234.
Lynch, M. (1991). │Science in the age of mechanical reproduction: Moral and epistemic relations between diagrams and photographs.▓ Biology and Philosophy.6:205-226

Strand B:
Visual thinking
Arnheim, R. (1980). "A plea for visual thinking," in W. J. T. Mitchell (Ed.), The language of images. Chicago, 171-179.

Consider how they are used by Latour, e.g., in --
Latour, B. (1987). Science in Action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Milton Keynes, Open University Press.
Latour, B. (1993). │On technical mediation.▓
Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.
(incl. Lynch on diagrams being meaningless)

Fine grained reconstructions
Gooding, D. (1992). "Putting agency back into experiment," in A. Pickering (Ed.), Science as practice and culture. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 65-112.
Gorman, M. E. (1992). Simulating science: Heuristics, mental models, and technoscientific thinking. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.