Logo der Universität Wien

Featured Project: small RNAs, scientific pluralism and the renaissance of Lamarck

Opens internal link in current windowSophie Juliane Veigl

The second half of the 20th century is often referred to as the “golden age of molecular biology”. This era was conceptually most influenced by two dogmata: The modern synthesis of evolution, which succeeded in merging Darwinian evolutionary theory with Mendelian genetics, and the central dogma of molecular biology, which claims ontological primacy of DNA in every process of life. Those two paradigms can justly be said to nurture most reductionist thinking in biological theorizing as well as in popular science.
Yet, in the age of postgenomics, evidence is accumulating which cannot be aligned with those two most fundamental paradigms. Accounts of “Lamarckian” inheritance, meaning the transmission of adaptive, acquired traits to future generations are intensely debated in the literature. A small RNA mediated mechanism of the inheritance of acquired traits offers mechanistic insights into other possible modes of evolution and inheritance.
Naturally, a mechanism which involves RNA and not DNA as the material basis of hereditary information and proposes a rather Lamarckian and not Darwinian mode of inheritance is hard to reconcile with the legacy of the golden age of molecular biology. Yet, the question arises, how can those two non-reducible, complementary accounts  be integrated into a consistent explanatory framework?
It is my aim to introduce scientific pluralism as both consequence and solution to this problem. Explanatory pluralism maintains that certain phenomena might only be fully captured if approached by more than one explanation. Thus, embracing small RNA based inheritance of acquired traits as a complementary mechanism might maximize the explanatory potential of our best theories of evolution and inheritance.

Guest Lecture by Prof. Martina Merz and Dr. Sophie Ritson

Wed, 15 March 2017, 3:00 pm @ Hs. 3E, Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG), Universitätsstraße 7, 1010 Wien

The “750 GeV Bump” in the Light of the Tri-Relation between Media, Theory, and Experiment

On 15 Dec 2015 the two biggest experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider independently announced results, illustrated by a ‘bump’ around 750 GeV of small significance, which indicated the possibility of ‘new physics’. The announcement was followed by a flurry of activity. Within only two days, theoretical physicists had uploaded several dozen papers on the resonance at 750 GeV while major newspapers and physicists’ blogs spread the news across wider communities and publics. Behind the scenes, experimental physicists in the ATLAS and CMS collaborations gathered additional data and continued their analysis under heightened attention. Those watching the LHC were concerned with the evolving status of the 750 GeV resonance with additional data: would the observed excess become a ‘discovery’ of new physics or would it disappear, rendering the initial result a statistical fluctuation? The status of the observed 750 GeV resonance assumed special importance in view of the belief and hope of physicists that the LHC would discover novel phenomena. Half a year later, in August 2016, this belief was tempered when both experiments declared that the bump was a statistical fluke.
This recent episode of a non-discovery provides an interesting and multifaceted study case for STS and HPS scholarship. In this paper, we will explore the management of credibility as it is exposed and performed within the lively public debate involving different actor groups and media (e.g. preprints, blog posts, talks, newspaper articles). With a focus on the tri-relation between media, theory and experiment, this paper will investigate also how credibility is attributed to distinct actor groups differentially. In addressing these issues, we will pay attention to how this episode of a non-discovery brings to the fore the implicit and explicit norms and standards underlying experimental and theoretical practice.

Martina Merz is Professor of Science Studies at the Department of Science Communication and Higher Education Research, Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt | Wien | Graz. Sophie Ritson is a post-doctoral researcher in the project "Producing Novelty and Securing Credibility: LHC Experiments in STS-Perspective", funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

Guest Lecture by Dr. Johannes Jäger

Wed, 25 January 2017, 3:15 pm @ DK-Besprechungszimmer UZA-2H360

Putting the gene in its place: The resurgence of organismic thinking in developmental biology

During the second half of the 20th Century, biological research has become increasingly dominated by reductionist thinking. This trend is exemplified by the strong gene-centered focus of fields such as developmental and evolutionary biology. Unfortunately, reductionism is completely inadequate as an ontological foundation for the life sciences, and we are now beginning to feel the consequences of its severe conceptual limitations. Luckily, a solution to this problem has always been at hand: long before the rise of reductionism, organicism provided a suitable framework for the study of living systems. It acknowledges the special organizational characteristics and ontological status of organisms, without falling into the trap of a mystical vitalism. Since the turn of the century, we see an encouraging revival of various organicist traditions in different fields of biology. In this talk, I intend to trace some of the roots of this revival through the dark ages of molecular biology, and to provide an overview over some crucial contributions that illustrate how organicist thinking can lead to a deeper and more satisfying understanding and appreciation of the phenomenon of life.

Dr. Johannes Jäger is the scientific director of the KLI in Klosterneuburg.

Guest Lecture by Dr. Erwin Dekker

Wed, 11 January 2017, 5:15 pm @ Hs. 2H, Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG), Universitätsstraße 7

Left Luggage: The importance of Viennese culture for understanding Austrian economics

Histories of economics typically ignore the social and cultural context of the theorists. But, recently a number of scholars, including Tony Judt and Corey Robin, have attempted to discredit Austrian economics by emphasizing the (cultural) distance between the context in which the Austrians made their contributions and our current society. This article argues that they fundamentally misunderstand and misrepresent the Austrian and Habsburg context. It is argued that the relevant context, particularly for the interwar contributions of Mises, Schumpeter, Hayek and Popper is the despair about the breakdown of their civilization, because of the rise of mass political movements and ideologies such as socialism and fascism. A better understanding of that context does not only enrich the meaning of Austrian economics, but it also demonstrates that it increases their relevance for contemporary social discussions.

Erwin Dekker is assistant professor in cultural economics at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam (NL).

Guest Lecture by Prof. Gregory Radick

Wed, 7 December 2016, 5:15 pm @ Hs. 2H, Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG), Universitätsstraße 7

What, if anything, is Social Darwinism?

What, in the late 2010s, should an introduction to "Social Darwinism" cover, and how?  In this talk I want to articulate some of the challenges confronting any historian who wants to give the large and complex historical and historiographic difficulties that surround the topic their due, but in a way that still *introduces* the topic (as distinct from, say, denying that there's a topic to introduce, declaring interest in it to be a mark of the unsophisticated mind, etc.).  I'll also try to say a little about how far these challenges are generic ones, besetting any attempt to survey complex historical terrain, and how far they're unique to the particular scientific-ideological swamps where "social Darwinism" lies.

Gregory Radick is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds (UK).

Guest Lecture by Prof. Christina Wessely (in German)

Wed, 23 November 2016, 5:15 pm @ Hs. 2H, Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG), Universitätsstraße 7

Milieux. Umgebungen des Lebendigen in der Moderne

Fragen, die das Verhältnis vom Lokalen zum Globalen zum Inhalt haben, die sich mit den Beziehungen des Subjekts zu seiner Umwelt beschäftigen und daher an einer Vertiefung von Umgebungswissen interessiert sind, ziehen sich quer durch die Disziplinen und können als Kernthemen moderner Wissenschaft gelten. So unterschiedlich und vielschichtig sowohl diese Fragen als auch die Antworten darauf ausfallen, verweisen sie – wenn auch nicht immer explizit – strukturell doch vielfach auf einen Begriff, der historisch an prominenter Stelle zwischen diesen Themen und Problemstellungen vermittelt hat: Milieu. Der Vortrag widmet sich in einem ersten Schritt der Geschichte und Theorie des Milieubegriffs, um im Anschluss daran mit der Meeresbiologie einen wissenschaftliche Disziplin in den Blick zu nehmen, an dem er um 1900 eine besonders prominente Rolle gespielt hat. Er geht von der These aus, dass die marine Biologie im Umfeld der Einrichtung zoologischer Stationen an den europäischen Küsten seit den 1870er Jahren als zentraler Schauplatz der Entwicklung der modernen Ökologie gelten muss, und dass sich die Genese des Wissens von den Beziehungen zwischen Organismus und Umgebung insbesondere deren materieller Forschungsausrüstung verdankt.

Christina Wessely ist Professorin für Kulturgeschichte des Wissens an der Leuphana Universität Lüneburg (D).

Public Lecture by Prof. Mitchell G. Ash (English version)

Wed, 19 October 2016, 5:15 pm @ DK-Besprechungszimmer UZA-2H360

Scientific Changes in Times of Political Upheaval: Thoughts on Re-Starting a Long-Term Research Project

During the academic year 1990-1991, while I was a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg/Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin I witnessed the eventful first year of German unification, and was at times also an eyewitness to the impact of these events for the reconstruction of the higher education and science landscape in Berlin, the new German states in the former German Democratic Republic as well as the new Federal Republic as a whole. As early as 1991 I began to conceptualize a comparative historical study of the renegotiation of the relations of science and politics in times of radical political change. At that time the project was to focus only on the four breaks in German history during the 20th century, symbolized by the dates 1918, 1933, 1945 and 1990. In subsequent years I published articles and book chapters about science and higher education during and following each of these regime changes, a thesis paper with ideas about a comparison (English 1999, German 2004), and a number of discussions of the analytical and theoretical foundations of the project. Best known of these is „Wissenschaft und Politik als Ressourcen füreinander“ (2002); further discussions appeared in 2006 and 2010.

In this talk I take up this project again and offer further reflections on the „resource approach“ as well as the topic itself, including the issue of whether and how the impact on science and higher education of the numerous breaks in Austrian history during the same period might be integrated into the project.

Mitchell G. Ash is Emeritus Professor of Modern History at the University of Vienna and speaker of the Doktoratskolleg.

Public Lecture by Prof. Mitchell G. Ash (deutsche Fassung)

Wed, 19 October 2016, 5:15 pm @ DK-Besprechungszimmer UZA-2H360

Wissenschaftswandlungen in politischen Umbruchzeiten: Gedanken zur Weiterführung eines langjährigen Forschungsprojekts

1990-1991 war ich als Fellow am Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin Zeuge des ereignisreichen ersten Jahres der deutschen Vereinigung und auch teilweise Augenzeuge der Folgen dieser Ereignisse für die Neugestaltung der Hochschul- und Wissenschaftslandschaft in Berlin, in den neuen Bundesländern sowie in der neuen Bundesrepublik insgesamt. Bereits 1991 konzipierte ich ein vergleichendes Projekt, eine historische Studie der Neugestaltung des Verhältnisses von Wissenschaft und Politik in politischen Umbruchszeiten. Damals hatte ich lediglich die vier Umbrüche der deutschen Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert, die mit den Daten 1918, 1933, 1945 und eben auch 1990 symbolisiert werden, im Visier. In den folgenden Jahren publizierte ich Aufsätze über Wissenschaftswandlungen in allen dieser Umbruchzeiten, einen thesenartigen Überblick zu allen vier Umbrüchen im Vergleich (Englisch 1999, Deutsch 2004) sowie mehrere Texte zur analytisch-theoretischen Grundlage des Projekts („Wissenschaft und Politik als Ressourcen füreinander" [2002], Folgetexte 2006, 2010).

Im Vortrag wird dieses Projekt neu aufgegriffen und Reflexionen zum Ressourcenansatz sowie zum Gegenstand desselben, namentlich zur Frage nach der Einbeziehung der vielen Umbrüche der österreichischen Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert, angestellt.

Mitchell G. Ash ist emeritierter Professor für Neuere Geschichte an der Universität Wien und Sprecher der Faculty des Doktoratskollegs.

Guest Lecture (in German) by Prof. Moritz Epple

Wed, 15 June 2016, 5:00 pm @ Hs. 2i, Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG)

Das Theaitetos-Problem: Überlegungen zu einer Geschichte schwacher Wissensbestände

Während Philosophie und Wissenschaftsgeschichte lange Zeit Wissen und Wissenschaft als ein Phänomen besonderer epistemischer oder sozialer Stärke interpretiert haben, weisen viele neuere Studien darauf hin, dass sowohl in Phasen der Entstehung wie auch in vielen anderen Situationen historische Wissensbestände fragil, marginal, epistemisch defizitär oder in anderer Hinsicht schwach sind. Der Vortrag stellt einen Rahmen vor, innerhalb dessen eine Arbeitsgruppe des Frankfurter SFB 1095 den Formen und Funktionen schwacher Wissensbestände aus verschiedenen Perspektiven nachgehen möchte. Um diesen Rahmen zu erläutern, werde ich einerseits auf Beispiele aus der "Analysis Situs" oder "Topologie" des 19. Jahrhunderts, andererseits aus dem Feld des Wissens vom Wetter im 18. Jahrhundert zurückgreifen.

Prof. Moritz Epple ist Leiter der Arbeitsgruppe Wissenschaftsgeschichte am Historischen Seminar der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt/Main.

Guest Lecture (in German) by Prof. Volker Hess

Wed, 1 June 2016, 5:15 pm @ Hs. 2i, Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG)

Die Papiermaschine - klinische Forschung im frühen 20. Jahrhundert

Die Klinik sei nur der Vorhof, das Labor aber der Tempel der medizinischen Wissenschaft, hatte Claude Bernard in seiner berühmten Introduction a l'Étude de la Médicine Expérimentale (1865) knapp und bündig resümiert. Der umgekehrte Weg war jedoch schwer. Die neuen Verfahren und Erkenntnisse ließen sich nur mühsam aus dem Labor in die Klinik überführen. Mehr noch: Wie Christopher Lawrence und andere gezeigt haben, standen viele Kliniker den neuen Laborwissenschaften distanziert bis kritisch gegenüber. Sie waren zwar bereit, diese wie im Falle der Histopathologie oder Bakteriologie für Diagnose und Behandlung zu nutzen, aber nicht, die klinische Medizin den Laborwissenschaften unterzuordnen. In den letzten Jahren wurden einige Studien zur Zusammenarbeit zwischen Labor und Klinik vorgelegt, die auf die Anwendung laborexperimenteller Verfahren in der Klinik abheben, wie beispielsweise die enge Zusammenarbeit zwischen Chirurgie und experimenteller Physiologie bei der Entwicklung der zerebralen Lokalisationslehre (Guenther 2016) oder der Problem-orientierte pragmatische Einbezug laborexperimenteller Praktiken bei der Lösung schwieriger klinischer Fälle (Sturdy 2007).

Mein Beitrag schlägt eine andere Perspektive auf das schwierige Verhältnis von Klinik und Labor vor. Anhand einer größeren klinischen Studie über das hyperkinetische Syndrom (1925) möchte ich exemplarisch erörtern, wie die Beschreibung und Analyse von psychischen Veränderungen nach einem neurophysiologischen Modell reorganisiert wurde, um unabhängig von klinischen Krankheitsbilder pathophysiologische Reaktionstypen zu identifizieren und darzustellen. Die damit verbundenen clinical activities (Risse/Warner 1992) werde ich von der veröffentlichten Studie über die Datenerhebung und -verarbeitung bis hin zur ursprünglichen Beobachtung am Krankenbett anhand der damals verwendeten Materialien Schritt für Schritt rekonstruieren und zur Diskussion stellen. Schließlich wird der Beitrag auch auf das neue narrative der Falldarstellung eingehen, das diese Verwissenschaftlichung des Pathologischen nach sich zog.

Die genaue Rekonstruktion zeigt allerdings, dass Klinik und Labor nicht durch die Implementation laborexperimenteller Forschungspraktiken enggeführt wurden, sondern durch die Mobilisierung der Schreib- und Verwaltungstechniken des Krankenhauses: Vordrucke und Akten, Registratur und Archiv, Schreibstube und Büro, Stenographie und Matrizendrucker bildeten ein Forschungsinstrument, das – vergleichbar einem physiologischen Kurvenschreiber – medizinisches Wissen organisierte, darstellte und generierte. Dieses Ensemble aus einfachen Materialien und Papiertechniken möchte ich als Papermaschine begriffen wissen.

Volker Hess ist Professor für Geschichte der Medizin an der Charité Berlin.

Guest Lecture by Prof. Maria Kronfeldner

Wed, 4 May 2016, 5:15 pm @ Hs. 2i, Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG)

Should we eliminate human nature talk? Essentialism, dehumanization and the elimination question

The concept of human nature is currently under attack: scientifically it has been criticized for relying on outdated essentialist thinking and politically it has been criticized because it facilitates dehumanization. Given post-essentialism and dehumanization, should we stop using the term human nature, i.e., should we eliminate human nature talk in science as well as society? Revisionists claim that the concept of human nature can be freed from outdated essentialist baggage. If so, a successor notion could then be reclaimed for proper scientific usage.

Eliminativists, by contrast, claim that what is left after revision is scientifically useless. Both sides so far mostly ignore the politics of human nature. They ignore that the concept of human nature transgresses the boundary between science and society, with dehumanization as a dark side of the concept’s usage in society. This paper will show that, first, there is no way to get rid of dehumanization and that, second, the elimination question is relying on value-laden epistemic attitudes, in particular clarity and conceptual continuity, which are hard to trade-off. The talk concludes with applying a precautionary principle: given that the risk of misuse is high and the prize of elimination is low, we should eliminate human nature talk.

Maria Kronfeldner is Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy, Central European University Budapest (HU).

Public Lecture by Prof. Gerd B. Müller

Wed, 6 April 2016, 5:15 pm @ UZA-2H360

Evolving Evolutionary Theory

The standard theory of evolution is undergoing revision. The rise of molecular biology and evolutionary developmental biology, the -omics revolution, the recognition of niche construction theory and of multiple inheritance systems, among other advances in biological research, provide a wealth of new knowledge regarding the mechanisms of evolutionary change. An expanded theoretical framework is necessary for accommodating the novel concepts arising from these fields. This lecture will provide an overview of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis currently in the making and the debate that has resulted from different approaches to the reform of evolutionary theory.

Gerd B. Müller is Professor of Theoretical Biology at the University of Vienna and a member of the DK Faculty.

Alumni In Conversation

Wed, 16 March 2016, 5:15 pm @ UZA-2H360

A panel on the experiences of internationally successful IK/DK alumni

Miles MacLeod, John Michael and Jan Surman will join current DK fellows and faculty for a discussion on their academic careers during and after their time with the program. 

Miles MacLeod is an Assistant Professor for Philosophy of Science at the Department of Philosophy, University of Twente (NL).

John Michael is Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Cognitive Science, Central European University, Budapest (HU).

Jan Surman is Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Leibniz Graduate School “History, Knowledge, Media in East Central Europe”, Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, Marburg (DE).


DK Program The Sciences in Historical, Philosophical and Cultural Contexts
UZA2/Rotunde - Althanstrasse 14, Ebene 3, Stiege H
1090 Wien
GPS: 48.23287, 16.358927
T: +43-1-4277-40872
F: +43-1-4277-40870
University of Vienna | Universitätsring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43-1-4277-0