Three things happened.
First, Steve Fuller came to our department. In a casual lunchtime talk, he argued that science studies—meaning not history and philosophy of science—has succeeded by giving people what they want. In Steve’s view this unfortunately seems to be mostly apolitical legitimation. Cory Lewis made the point that what history and philosophy of science has to offer the outside world—what we can sell people—is teaching and explanation. Obvious? Maybe. True? Yes! That was the original mission of The Bubble Chamber: to use our skills as historians and philosophers of science to analyze, explain, and debate science in a way that is accessible to everyone.
Second, Will Thomas of Etherwave Propaganda had some insightful and provocative reflections on the state of academic blogging:
Secondly, historians continue to use blogs mainly as a soapbox from which we can dictate little parables to whomever might wander by, essentially like miniature articles. I believe historians continue to nurture a fear of the unrefined. We are extraordinarily reticent to show ourselves in a state of uncertainty, investigation, and, above all, internal disagreement. Harry Collins once called scientific knowledge akin to ships in bottles, and the sociology of scientific knowledge an investigation into how scientists got those ships in there. By that token, it is strange that historians still seem to prefer to present the world with their own ships in bottles, much more so than scientists themselves.
To me (as regular readers will know), this propensity is indicative of a deeper aspect of scholarly culture, which chooses topics, methods, and modes of presentation in such a way that minimizes the need for intensive collaboration and criticism. Blogs—we can rename them if we think we need a more dignified term—could yet be a wonderful tool for scholarly exchanges of information, for dialogue while our work remains in an unrefined state. But that, I think, would depend on a change in the way we see and challenge ourselves. In the meantime, I do hope EWP at least sends a signal to other scattered souls who hope for a more collaborative and critical scholarly culture that we’re neither imagining our discontents, nor pathologically pugnacious.
Let me take Will one step further: if academia is to survive the next 100 years, this will have to be how it does. And let me take it one step in another direction: this disagreement and discussion of unfinished ideas need not be strictly internal; we need to be willing to discuss and debate with anyone, based on the merits of their contributions not on their academic qualifications. And I think that means we have to write in a way that actively seeks to bring more people into the conversation. The Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective is doing something really interesting and valuable, but accessible it is not.
Third, frogheart.ca wished us goodbye-ish. Did we only make one post in 2012? Yes. Are we saying goodbye? No! But we are changing. We are widening our contributor base to include anyone from history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, economics, or whatever flavour of science studies you may like. We are also widening our mandate to include anything from these disciplines that might be of public interest. Accessibility is our watchword and science is our topic, but otherwise anything goes. If you are interested in joining us, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me a little about yourself and your interests.