Philosophy Research Seminar - Expertise at the Extreme: The many (philosophical) challenges of doing science in extreme environments - Dr Vanessa Heggie (Birmingham)

28 February 2019, 2.00 PM - 28 February 2019, 3.30 PM

G2, Cotham House


The twentieth century is an age of extreme science: for the first time human beings attempted to do scientific work at all three of the globe’s ‘poles’ (north, south, and the ‘third pole’ of Everest), as well as going further – putting human bodies into non-earthly environments.  The practical challenges of these environments, especially the risk of death or catastrophic injury, have been widely discussed by historians and scientists – indeed the physical challenge of Antarctic, Arctic and high altitude science is a constitutive part of its practitioners’ claims to expertise. Embodied, experiential, and non-replicable, extreme science challenges some of the traditional representations of scientific practice: here the field offered more truths than the laboratory, even when conditions in the field could not be controlled, and participants could not be objective about their observations.  This paper will investigate the ways in which truth and facts (and expertise) were ‘made’ in extreme environments, concentrating on the biomedical sciences in cold, hot, and high spaces of the earth; it will make the case that, far from being remote and exotic, these spaces offer excellent, and representative, case studies for modern scientific practice.

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