Monday, October 15, 2012

HSS Climate Survey
 Check your inboxes! If you are a current or former member of History of Science Society (HSS), you should have received a link to a survey from the HSS Executive Committee and Women’s Caucus yesterday evening. As I understand it, the survey is intended to be a first step toward a better understanding of where HSS stands with regard to fostering diversity and inclusiveness at our Annual Meeting. At the last HSS meeting, the Women's Causcus had a conversation about the question of how much the position of women and women's history has changed in our field since the publication of the Report on "Women in the History of Science, 1973 to 1981." A significant number of members expressed an interest in expanding our conversation about equity in the society to include race, sexual orientation, and disability. There was agreement that a survey was needed to bring the issue to the broader HSS community and to provide an empirical basis for any further action.

I strongly support this action and I hope you'll take the time to complete the survey. I  found the process of responding to be a really enlightening process. I found myself thinking in a broader way about the challenges that face our field and about the cultures of annual professional meetings. Although I enjoy and have found HSS meetings very productive, I definitely think there is room for improvement. Although the history of science supports diverse viewpoints, it is no secret that in other areas, particularly racial diversity, our homogeneity is plain to see. The Graduate Student and Early Career Caucus has done a great job improving the experience for more junior members of our society, but more efforts in this direction are also needed and, I think, would complement efforts toward increasing diversity. I was impressed by the degree to which the survey solicited written responses for clarifications and further thoughts, and I know those involved in putting it together would appreciate as full a response as possible.

Many thanks to Georgina Montgomery and our own alumna Erika Milam for spearheading this effort as the co-chairs of the Women's Caucus, and to Lynn Nyhart and the Executive Committee for their sponsorship. Many thanks as well to the graduate students who helped to organize and provide feedback early on, including our own Meridith Beck Sayre and Scott Prinster.

If you are a new student and have not yet joined HSS, there's no time like the present!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kepler in Space

Just wanted to share my first blog post over on my website. Did you know that space travel was a popular theme in early-modern fiction?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sneaky CAPTCHA images contribute to the digitization effort

Recognize this image?  Of course  you do.

These goofy CAPTCHA images serve as the gatekeeper on many websites such as Facebook, Amazon, and Ticketmaster. Part of their function is to prove that the user is a human rather than a spamming computer, but thanks to the work of Luis von Ahm, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon, the CAPTCHA is also contributing to the digitization of  books and periodicals. Somehow I hadn't heard about this additional function, although I've filled out perhaps hundreds of these little boxes in the past several years... I blame my dissertator tunnel vision for this.

Despite advances in Optical Character Recognition (OCR), computers are not yet able to match the human mind's amazing ability to recognize symbols such as text, even when they are inconsistent, distorted, or poorly reproduced. Von Ahm has developed a version of the CAPTCHA program, called reCAPTCHA, in which the user is asked to type in two words instead of one. One of these words serves to confirm that the user is human, but the other is an image from a book or periodical, and our response helps to translate the image into text. Several users are given the same image, and if they consistently interpret the image as the same word, it is considered successfully converted to text.

Here's an article from the NPR website with more information about this program:

and also an article in <i>Science</i>: