At some point in America in the 1940s, T. D. Lysenko's neo-Lamarckian hereditary theories transformed from a set of disputed doctrines into a prime exemplar of "pseudoscience." This paper explores the context in which this theory acquired this pejorative status by examining American efforts to refute Lysenkoism both before and after the famous August 1948 endorsement of Lysenko's doctrines by the Stalinist state, with particular attention to the translation efforts of Theodosius Dobzhansky. After enumerating numerous tactics for combating perceived pseudoscience, (...) the Lysenko case is then juxtaposed with another American case of alleged pseudoscience: the notorious 1950 scandal surrounding Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision (1950, Worlds in Collision. New York: Macmillan). On several levels, the characterization of Lysenkoism as pseudoscientific served as a template for casting other rejected theories, including Velikovsky's, in the same light. (shrink)
This paper takes three distinct passes through the history of Machine Translation (MT) in the Soviet Union, which is typically understood as concentrating in a single boom period that lasted from roughly 1955 to 1965. In both the Soviet Union and the United States—in explicit competition with each other—there was a tremendous wave of investment in adapting computers to nonnumerical tasks that has only recently drawn the attention of historians, primarily focusing on the American example. The Soviet Union, however, quickly (...) came to assume prominence in the field both in terms of scale and diversity of approaches. At the same moment, Soviet linguists excavated a forgotten precursor, P. P. Smirnov-Troianskii, who had designed a translating machine in the early 1930s. Juxtaposing the multiple contexts in which Smirnov-Troianskii’s machine was reconceptualized and reappropriated for various ends, the article demonstrates the fundamental embodying of the algorithm in the early days of MT and also how the proliferation of narratives about Soviet MT exposes fault lines in contemporary historiography. (shrink)
Much of the scholarship in the history of science has undervalued the significance of the debates around language choice and language use. After surveying various historiographical trends characterizing the relationship of science to language, this introduction explores the role of language-choice in nation-building, education, publication and transnational exchanges. It concludes with a brief summary of the four case studies in this special issue, which explore the German, Greek, English and Russian languages in the context of the sciences in nineteenth-century Europe.
Contingencies of the early nuclear arms race Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-23 DOI 10.1007/s11016-010-9495-z Authors S. S. Schweber, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University, Science Center 371, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA Alex Wellerstein, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University, Science Center 371, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA Ethan Pollock, Department of History, Box N, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA Barton J. Bernstein, History Department, Building 200, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2024, USA Michael D. Gordin, History (...) Department, 305 Dickinson Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796. (shrink)
SUMMARYMachine Translation is now ubiquitous in discussions of translation. The roots of this phenomenon — first publicly unveiled in the so-called ‘Georgetown-IBM Experiment’ on 9 January 1954 — displayed not only the technological utopianism still associated with dreams of a universal computer translator, but was deeply enmeshed in the political pressures of the Cold War and a dominating conception of scientific writing as both the goal of machine translation as well as its method. Machine translation was created, in part, as (...) a solution to a perceived crisis sparked by the massive expansion of Soviet science. Scientific prose was also perceived as linguistically simpler, and so served as the model for how to turn a language into a series of algorithms. This paper follows the rise of the Georgetown program — the largest single program in the world — from 1954 to the collapse of MT in 1964. (shrink)
This paper explores the significant – albeit little-known – impact that physicist Albert Einstein's theory of relativity had on the development of the science of linguistics. Both Max Talmey, a physician who played a key role in the development of early twentieth-century constructed-language movements, and Benjamin Lee Whorf, who is closely associated with the notion of ‘linguistic relativity’, drew on their understanding of relativity to develop their ideas (and, in Talmey's case, also on his personal relationship with Einstein). Linguistic relativity, (...) which posits that humans’ linguistic categories shape their perceptions of nature, has often been tied to ‘relativism’ in the social sciences and humanities. In contrast, Talmey's commitment to reformulating the language of Einsteinian relativity – especially through a constructed language he built in the 1920s and 1930s – emphasized the significance of ‘invariance’ simultaneously in the scientific doctrine and in the language in which it was discussed. The semiotic flexibility of Einstein's ‘relativity theory’ as it was widely (and wildly) appropriated outside the small community of theoretical physicists enabled the two opposing moves, while obscuring the historical linkage between physics and linguistics for both. (shrink)
Until the 1860s, science in Russia was principally conducted in Latin, French, and German. In the years leading up to and following the creation of the Russian Chemical Society in 1868, Russian chemists – treated in this article as both a representative sample of Russian scientists and also practitioners of the flagship science of the period – debated both the merits of developing a nomenclature that would enable Russian to “hold” modern inorganic and organic chemistry, and the practicability of doing (...) so. The article explores debates over whether Russian syntax could be adapted to represent chemical compounds according to emerging western conventions or in a sui generis manner, as well as the struggles of Russian scientists to use French and German to communicate with their foreign counterparts, arguing that the details of these debates highlight both the fruitfulness and the limits of using “standardization” as a framework for linguistic codification. (shrink)