‘Seeing Science Sideways’ – a historian’s humorous take on the lives of scientists


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Did you hear the joke about the biologist who had twins? She baptized one and kept the other as a control.

Science is not a joking matter – or is it? Joe Cain, the 2011 Horning Visiting Scholar at Oregon State University, argues that wry observation is an important part of science. He will present a series of three free public lectures at OSU that begin at 4 p.m. on April 26, 28, and 29. All will be held in the Memorial Union Room 213.

“Seeing Science Sideways” will look at science from the point of view of an observer rather than a participant. The lectures will examine the lives of scientists, as well as the people they interact with, the places they work and play, and what they do when they’re working — and when they kick back.

A historian who works in a college of science, Cain believes his kind of study tells us a lot about science and how it works, and that it can be done without either complicity with its subjects or undermining their work.

Cain is a senior lecturer in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College, London. His research interests include the history of evolutionary studies, the history of American science, and the history of natural history. In 2009 he published a new edition of Darwin’s “Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” and a collection of essays on new trends in the history of Darwinism, “Descended from Darwin.” He has won awards for his teaching, public engagement, and photography.

Cain’s lectures will be published by the OSU Press as the fifth volume in the Horning Visiting Scholars Publication Series.

The schedule of lectures is:

  • Tuesday, April 26: Theme: Play. Studying jokes and pranks reveals a lot about scientists and their disciplines, especially their informal worlds.
  • Thursday, April 28: Theme: Romance. The image of the lone researcher tucked away in an isolated lab is simply a myth. Studies of collaborations between intimate partners provide a springboard for rethinking patterns of work and the flow of creativity found at the heart of scientific activity.
  • Friday, April 29: Theme: Home. Peeling away the layers of the world called home can make visible many of the social, political, and institutional connections that shape the science of a particular era.

For more information, contact the OSU History Department at 541-737-8560 or visit http://oregonstate.edu/cla/history/ or http://www.ucl.ac.uk/sts/staff/cain/projects/seeing.