Classifying Impairment in Western Societies

In my previous two blogs I criticised the notion that there is a single identity of impairment. In my second blog in particular I argued that there are commonly two ways to consider the identity of an impaired person: the subjective and objective aspects of impairment. Subjective impairments are those that logically affect the life of a person given a particular circumstance; i.e. I find it hard to hear people on my mobile / cell phone in all but the most acoustically sophisticated and quiet surroundings, but I have no problem texting people. Thus my subjective hearing impairment only affects limited elements of my life and the environments that I work in. Objective impairments, on the other hand, are those that are defined by, and often imposed on the identity of a person by, the greater society. For instance, in my book God, Money and Politics (Hayhoe 2008a) I argued that asylums and schools for the blind were founded on the notion that “being blind” became a student’s identity, and one that had to be controlled morally, economically and even politically within the confines of their institution in order to control the society beyond its walls. In this blog I look at this objective aspect of impairment in particular, and the core qualities which (despite national and cultural differences) the greater Western society, or westernised societies classifies people as impaired.…

Weekly Roundup

A snapshot of the current Egyptian collective consciousness, as seen on Twitter, on Computational History.

Will Thomas writes thoughts on expertise and the state on Ether Wave Propaganda.

Japan has abandoned its annual Antarctic whale hunt before the end of the season because of “repeated harassment” by US activists, Sky News reports.

Matthew C. Nisbet reports from the AAAS Annual meeting on Age of Engagement.

Paul Newall blogs on “Astrology and its problems: Popper, Kuhn, and Feyerabend“.

RealClimate describes how an idea originating in a blog post resulted in a scientific paper.

Some Thoughts on the Study of Historical State Expertise…

What are today’s most important science policy issues and challenges?

While I love my history and philosophy of science, and find them important for understanding the nature of modern science, I also do my best to engage with one of the only areas of public and political discourse where my historical and philosophical study of science might prove useful – science policymaking. It’s often remarked that science policy has a dual nature, or at least an inherent ambiguity, as the term covers both scientific input on policy-making (“science for policy”), and policy-making for working scientists (“policy for science”).  Within those two very widely defined areas there is everything from crafting environmental policy meant to manage the great lakes and generating epidemiological models to help understand what the best national health strategy is (science for policy) to building and negotiating new innovation frameworks, determining the values behind government granting schemes, and providing and facilitating digital networks for working scientists (policy for science).

With all that in mind, I’m curious to hear what historians and philosophers of science think are the important issues of science policy today, out of all the various issues that could be listed under that vague yet still reasonably narrow banner.

I’m also curious, especially if anyone has strong opinions on this, whether their historical and philosophical context aids them in deciding their position on such policy issues, or whether they choose their stances based on partisanship, ideology, greed, whatever non-academic decision vector.  I’m excited to hear, regardless.…

Weekly Roundup

Ernan McMullin Notre Dame philosopher of science Professor Ernan McMullin has died at the age of 86. McMullin had made many contributions to the philosophy of science, including questions concerning the social dimensions of science.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer has announced that it is to close its drug-development laboratory in Sandwich, Kent, and fire most of its 2,400 staff. On natureNews, columnist Colin Macilwain argues that the Pharmaceutical industry has not delivered its promise to create better drugs and more jobs. He calls regulators to resist the industry pressure and to loosen patent laws and ease up the free flow of research information.

A recent clip from the successful sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which follows the life of a group of physicists.  Not only is it funny by itself, it also reveals that for practicing scientists, apparently, a conference panel on “Science and Society” is exactly the right place to randomly talk about stuff and things.

Alice Bell, blogging for The Guardian, argues that “Sexual discrimination in science may be institutional“.

Is there a liberal bias in social psychology?

NASA plans to investigate Europa for signs of life, in blatant disregard of HAL’s warning.…

Susan Haack on Scientism and its Discontents

Does science get more credit than it deserves? Philosopher Susan Haack thinks that it does. In a talk entitled “Six Signs of Scientism” she has recently given at the Rotman School of Philosophy, the University of Western Ontario, she identifies six ways in which science is given too much credence and for the wrong reasons in areas such as law and policy. She explains why, in her view, the question of demarcation between science and non-science is the wrong question to pose, and what role science and scientists should play in public debates.


Book Review: The Disappearing Spoon, by Sam Kean

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Sometimes the right book finds you at the right time, and it shifts your perception just a little, just enough to make a difference. It reminds you of something important you haven’t thought of in a while, or it shows you a new way of looking at and interacting with the world. For me this winter, that book has been The Disappearing Spoon, by Sam Kean. I heard a very fuzzy description of the book at a holiday party, something about the periodic table and political history. As someone eternally interested in chemistry and its impact on society at large, I was intrigued.

The book accompanied me through a whirlwind holiday travel season, and as I read little kernels of story about each of the elements in the periodic table, I found myself unable to stop bringing them up in conversation. As my family pulled foil over Christmas leftovers and discussed my life as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh: “Did you know that aluminum used to be more expensive than gold, and that Pittsburgh is where the guy who figured out how to isolate it cheaply set up shop?” As news of the flood in Brisbane hit American televisions: “Did you hear that Australian astronomers used chromium to provide evidence that the fine structure constant may change over time?” As friends argued about how pharmaceutical companies should respond to decline effect and toasted the New Year: “In 1932, Gerhard Domagk tested the first antibacterial drug, Prontosil, on his sick daughter in order to save her arm. If he had gotten caught doing it, he would have been arrested.”…

Weekly Roundup

McGill Office for Science and Society, developed and run by some of the most engaging chemistry professors, hosts a collection of news bulletins and informative content on the value of chemical knowledge in everyday life.

A Toronto statistician has cracked some kinds of Ontario scratch lottery tickets — statistics wins again.

Matthew Nisbet at Age of Engagement discusses embedding climate change education in TV programs. You know, like how every kids show would have an anti-smoking episode? Wow.

NASA’s Kepler observatory has been discovering new planets at a furious rate. Can we stop worrying about the environment yet Curtis?

No, then how about if we terraform Mars?…

Subjective and Objective Aspects of Deafness and Blindness

In order to simplify a definition of deafness and blindness, it is necessary to see these conceptualizations in the context of a social and cultural epistemology of impairment. Firstly, impairment can be defined by the individual given particular circumstances: what an individual can do in given circumstances. This can be referred to as Subjective Impairment, and is so called because it examines each person’s trait according to its context and subject: the environment, the task, the man, the woman, the girl or the boy, not the impaired identity of the person. For instance, I have no hearing impairment whilst I am reading a book, but I have a walking impairment when I am carrying heavy shopping bags. Thus, my identification as a hearing impaired person by others is based on a number of different subjective concepts to those of a perception of my lived reality in many situations; i.e. although my hearing problem only takes up a little of my life and its degree of annoyance or impairment is dependent on individual circumstances, this is felt to control enough of my normal existence to constitute disadvantage, suffering or discomfort.…