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Description of Project

There is a long tradition of scientists seeking to find and explain essential, biological differences between men and women. This has been hotly debated among scientists. For example, the now infamous theory of Phrenology said that women and people of color were less intelligent than white men because of the size and shape of their skulls (Gall, 1796). After years of intense debate between scientists, almost no scientists today believe in Phrenology. Who were the critics, and how did they win? Did they persuade their colleagues to change their minds, or push them out of science? What are the most effective ways to spread scientific ideas, or defend them against criticism? Why do a few scientists still defend phrenology today? The history of science is not only about the scientific facts. It is also about the people doing science, their social connections, prestige, rivalries, identities, and more. This project looks at a debate among scientists that is still ongoing. A recent movement to conduct feminist biology research challenges older, difference-based biology research. We aim to understand how this debate has played out socially among scientists, and what roles both data and ideology play in that debate.

 

Description of Work

Research assistants do not need any special background in science or biology for this project, although students with a biology or psychology background might find it especially interesting. Research assistants will gather biographical and career information about scientists, such as their gender, academic advisors, and when they got their degree. They will also help with timelines and literature review. RAs will help with preliminary data analysis by exploring how the data they gathered about scientists’ careers relates to the ideas they have and the success of their work. Working on this project will significantly sharpen students’ research skills with finding information in academic databases, internet search engines, and digital historical archives. It will also improve their skill at reading and synthesizing academic publications, which is essential for senior theses and graduate school.

 

Graduate student: Jeff Lockhart

Supervising faculty: Elizabeth Bruch

 Credits possible: 1-3

Hours per week expected: 3-9

Positions available: 4