International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-M240
Individual papers
Exploring Ecological Theory

History Earth: How the geo-physical globe put together our planet

Simon Whitehouse** (Florida State University, United States)

The photographic image of Earth has become a common mental representation of the Age of Ecology since the advancement of Cold War satellite technology. Little scholarship, however, has examined how the planet increased in its visual accuracy during the post-war era and how artists and scientists came together to present the Earth to the general public. In many major North American scientific institutions where the evolution and physical make-up of Earth is studied, the Rand McNally Geo-Physical Earth globe has been the main artifact that helped the public visually conceive the planet. Although the globe has been commonly appreciated for its aesthetic appeal in natural history museums, planetariums, university departments, and public libraries, little recognition has been given to how the holistic image of Earth was incrementally put together. This study rests on a broad foundation of primary source research. Through photographic representation in major American magazine publications, archival research from the Rand McNally and Company records in Chicago, oral history interviews with globe manufacturers, geographers, museum professionals, and cartographers, the proposed paper hopes to show how some of the top post-war visual artists and scientists painstakingly put the Earth together in globe form. This presentation aims to ask the following questions: How does an artifact like the six-foot Earth globe represent the development of inter-disciplinary fields of post-war biology, astronomy, oceanography, geography, geology, and cartography? How can the globe continue to be used as an object to communicate global environmental problems of the present day?

Telling the origins of the neutral theory of ecology

William Bausman (University of Minnesota, United States)

The unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography has proved to be both very controversial and a lasting presence in community ecology. One persistent epistemological question asks how the neutral theory can be useful given its 'obviously false' assumption that all individuals in a community are functionally equivalent. I believe asking this question is prompted by a particular narrative about the origin and development of the neutral theory - the origin story Stephen Hubbell, its chief innovator, tells. In this way, the philosophy of the neutral theory has been founded upon its history. But that history is not the only one available. Different epistemological questions and different answers to these questions can be prompted by different narratives of the origin and development of the theory. In this paper I take Hubbell's origin story as the jumping off point for telling the origins of the neutral theory. I critique his origin story considered as a historical claim by outlining three different but interrelated narratives of how the neutral theory of ecology grows out of the history of community ecology after 1950. The first narrative foregrounds the construction of formal models of biodiversity patterns. The second narrative foregrounds empirical and theoretical work on whether tropical communities are in taxonomic equilibrium. And the third narrative foregrounds the existence of Kimura's neutral theory, the MBL model in paleobiology, and the debates over the proper role of "null hypotheses" in biology. A very different historical picture of the origins of the theory emerges from these narratives than from the origin story. And a different epistemic picture of the usefulness of the neutral theory follows from these different origins. For example, empirical work on tropical forests has evidenced that tropical trees are functionally equivalent and so this assumption is not obviously false in general.

From Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden (1809-1894) to microbiome: History of commensalism

Brice Poreau (Laboratoire Sciences, Société, Historicité, Éducation et Pratiques, France)

Commensalism is a biological association in which one partner (the commensal) benefits while neither harming nor benefitting the host. Parasitism and mutualism were well defined during the nineteenth century and commensalism was theorized during the second part of that century. Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden (1809-1894), a Belgian professor at the University of Louvain, developed this concept of commensalism. In his 1875 publication Animal Parasites and Messmates, Van Beneden presented 264 examples of commensalism. His conception was widely accepted by his contemporaries and commensalism has continued to be used as a concept right up to the present day. In our presentation, we examine the development of commensalism during the nineteenth century and the use of the concept in contemporary science. We have used hitherto unpublished archival material for Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden to explore the pertinence of his concept. From an epistemological point of view, commensalism can be seen as a marker of the new domains in the life sciences such as microbiology and genetics. Through their use of different models of the concept, these two sciences gave a new sense to commensalism with the new concept of microbiome. We propose to establish the historical and epistemological links between the past concept of commensalism and the microbiome.