4S Newsletter Volume 02 Issue 02 (Spring, 1977)


Quote of the issue: “A new society resembles a new baby: all hope and weak sphincters,” (about the 4S professional society in 1977) Harold Orlans.

Issue in brief (PDF is here: 1977 Volume 2 Issue 2 Spring).

  1. The call for the second annual meeting (to be held in Cambridge, Mass.) is in here, but the real fun is in the “Thoughts and Opinion” section, which features:
  2. “Councillor’s Commentary: Nicholas Mullins”
  3. “On 4S: Harold Orlans”
  4. “The Internationality of 4S: Michael Moravcsik”
  5. “Retrospective TA: Ruth Schwartz Cowan, et al”
  6. “Letter to the Editor: David Bloor”

This newsletter (see the picture, as if it where signed by Trevor Pinch for us later on) is a nice historical piece. According to the council minutes, by January of 1977, 4S boasted 539 members (note to self: chart these). Council minutes also indicate that the professional society was still working hard to determine if a professional society journal partnership could be developed — candidates at the time were none other than the Social Studies of Science, Minerva, and Newsletter on Science, Technology & Human Values. I know that it is just part of training in STS, but we all develop early-on an appreciation for the question (roughly paraphrased here) “how did now-stable things get that way?” and (thank you chapter 7 of David Noble’s Forces of Production) “What roads were not taken?” … might be interesting, as a thought-experiment, to consider what STS might look like if the professional journal were Minerva rather than STHV …

The Mullins address seems like it could have been written last year it is so accurate. The idea that the social studies of science should be brought together under the same umbrella without defining that space in the shade too much is the way I think about 4S and EASST meetings as well as all the journals worth reading in STS proper. Still, I wonder if this strength (to my mind, being the openness and ill-defined boundaries) might also come with a few costs — perhaps unknown. I am primarily thinking about the undertow of tenure committees being potentially unable to categorize, for example, a journal article in an interdisciplinary area like STS if you are housed in a political science department or a sociology department where “in-house” hierarchies are much more obvious to committee members. What would really have been the cost to tighten-up the boundaries for STS at some point in the recent past? Frankly, I see areas like STS as incubators for fresh insight that can be taken back to enliven other, more traditional disciplinary areas — in much, if not all, of my work I try to do this.

Harold Orlans, whose name may have drifted into the past for some readers, was a remarkable post-WWII scholar in the US — obit here. His commentary is gigantic, in only the way that somebody like Orlans could remark:

Science is important, so is carpentry, industry, music, farming, and garbage collection; none can claim primary, and, at this juncture, the nation may well benefit more from greater expenditures for garbage collection than for graduate education and scientific research.

So we can firmly see that overproduction of PhDs was a concern even in 1977. Also, he makes some off-the-wall comments too, like this one about the nascent 4S group:

A new society resembles a new baby: all hope and weak sphincters. The opportunity to sort things out, to identify and meet members’ interests, accompanies an opportunity to attract new members and define the character of a new fraternity.

For us, one comment of his could not come at a better time — as we struggle to make state theory a serious concern in STS. Orlans says that three groups of scholars need to be represented in STS, which are currently not (and, to my knowledge, still not really):

1. Political Scientists and students Public Administration.

2. Spokespersons of Scientific Institutions.

3. Staff of Governmental Science Programs.

The next piece is about the internationality of 4S by Michael J. Moravcsik. The opening line frames the issue of concern nicely:

At the first annual meeting of 4S, the following motion was passed: “It is the strong desire of this society that the participation in its activities be available to interested people in all countries of the world.

Moravcsik goes onto to say that the very idea that this sort of superfluous comment is necessary possibly signals something wrong. As a “poke in the cage” to 4S, he writes:

Assuming laissez-faire, do interested persons from developing countries have equal opportunities to participate in these modes of professional communication within 4s?

I’m sure you know that the answer was then and is still “No.” Citing Merton’s — the first president of 4S’s — own Matthew Effect, along with issues of reputation, informal group interaction, etc., we have not been able to fix this issue regard “developing nations.” The first solution, he contends, is better publicity — after all, how international can you be if you only advertise in a handful of US and European journals?

Also, here is a quote that makes you wonder WHAT has really been done to remedy these matters since 1977. He writes:

To avoid misunderstanding, I want to emphasize that I abhor quotas, consider reverse discrimination stupid and detestable, and view many of today’s “affirmative action” activities as counterproductive. At no point do I want to even appear to suggest that the above steps be taken without adhering to the usual scientific and scholarly standards, and evaluation by merit only.

For Cowan’s reflections on Technology Assessment (TA) from the 1976 meeting or Bloor’s letter to the editor — check it out, seriously! — because it is about the previous issue (1977, Volume 01, Issue 01) where Bloor’s then-new book Knowledge and Social Imagery was reviewed by two scholars — one for, one against Bloor’s work — and Bloor fights back a bit.

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