Lone Star Historians of Science—2015

by Bruce Hunt, University of Texas at Austin

The Lone Star History of Science Group held its twenty-eighth annual meeting on 3 April 2015 at the University of Houston. The gathering was hosted by Ioanna Semendeferi of the University of Houston and Cyrus Mody, then of Rice University and now of the University of Maastricht.

Left to right: Barron Preston, Laura Stark, Anthony Stranges, Cyrus Mody, Steve Kirkpatrick, Alistair Sponsel, Ioanna Semendeferi, Anna Fay Williams, Bruce Hunt, Tom Williams, John Lisle, Megan Raby, Karl Stephan, Eric Williams, and Mitch Aso. Not pictured: Helen Hattab, Ioannis Pavlidis, Jimmy Schafer, and Pam Stephan.

Left to right: Barron Preston, Laura Stark, Anthony Stranges, Cyrus Mody, Steve Kirkpatrick, Alistair Sponsel, Ioanna Semendeferi, Anna Fay Williams, Bruce Hunt, Tom Williams, John Lisle, Megan Raby, Karl Stephan, Eric Williams, and Mitch Aso. Not pictured: Helen Hattab, Ioannis Pavlidis, Jimmy Schafer, and Pam Stephan.

2015’s Lone Star meeting actually had two speakers. First, Laura Stark of Vanderbilt University spoke in UH’s “Ethics in Science” series. Her talk, “Welfare, Work, and Witness: Why Clinical Research Can Survive the Death of a Healthy Subject,” addressed how the growth of new relationships among American colleges, church organizations, and government agencies after the Second World War helped prepare the way for healthy people to serve routinely as “normal controls” in large-scale medical experiments—to the point that the occasional death of such a participant could be handled as a “routine tragedy.” After a break for some refreshments and conversation, the group next heard from Alistair Sponsel, also of Vanderbilt, whose Lone Star talk, “Writing the Origin with Burned Fingers: Darwin’s Penance for the ‘Sin of Speculation,’” offered a fascinating new angle on why Darwin hesitated so long before publishing his “speculations” on evolution. The key, Alistair suggested, is to be found in Darwin’s misgivings not about evolution itself, but about writing a theoretical book at all, for he had “burned his fingers” years before when he had promised but never delivered a grand account of the history of the earth and its inhabitants inspired by his work on the formation of coral reefs.

After some lively discussion, the group went off to Eric’s Restaurant at the Hilton Hotel on the UH campus and enjoyed a very pleasant dinner. Alistair, who grew up in San Antonio, had attended the 2002 Lone Star meeting back in his student days, and he said it had long been one of his personal ambitions to come back and speak before the group—an ambition the group was very happy to be able to help him fulfill.

Each spring, the Lone Star Group draws together historians of science, technology, and medicine from around Texas to discuss their shared interests and enjoy a friendly dinner. Its constitution, adopted over drinks in an Austin restaurant in 1988, provides that there shall be “no officers, no by-laws, and no dues,” and the group remains resolutely informal. More information about the Lone Star group, including a list of past meetings and some photographs, can be found at http://lonestarhistoryofsciencegroup.blogspot.com/.

The next Lone Star meeting will be held in Austin in March or April 2016. Anyone interested in being added to the Lone Star e-mail list should contact Professor Bruce Hunt of the University of Texas History Department at bjhunt@austin.utexas.edu.