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Darwin-L Message Log 6:79 (February 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<6:79>From sctlowe@kraken.itc.gu.edu.au  Mon Feb 14 17:38:00 1994

Date: Tue, 15 Feb 1994 09:03:49 +1000 (EST)
From: Ian Lowe <I.Lowe@sct.gu.edu.au>
Subject: Coming out of the closeted modem
To: DARWIN-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

The emergence of other antipodeans has encouraged me to reveal my
existence, as we were all recently encouraged to do.  I was inspired to
respond to the discussion of the invisible hand.  Just as most Marxists do
not appear to have read Marx any more thoroughly than most Christians
appear to have read the teaching of the one they follow, so most of the
flat-earth economists who talk about the invisible hand clearly have a
very superficial acquaintance with the writings of Adam Smith.  Smith saw
himself primarily as a moral philosopher, but even in the Wealth of
Nations he revealed a much more sophisticated understanding of markets
than most modern neo-classical economists.  He noted the inevitable
tendency of merchants to collude to raise prices and suppress wages, for
example, and saw a crucial role for government in regulating the economic
exchanges between unequal parties.  This would be a much better world if
the economists who are in plague proportions in advisory roles to
English-speaking governments had actually read a bit more of Adam Smith.
Of course, it would be better still if they had read Galbraith and
Schumpeter, but it is probably unrealistic to expect the twentieth century
to have impacted on their intellectual carapaces...  For those interested
in Smith, my colleague Athol Fitzgibbon has a major work on his thinking
in press - Cambridge University Press later this year, methinks.

My name is Ian Lowe and I am a lapsed physicist who has been primarily
interested in the politics of science and technology for the last twenty
years or so.  I work at Griffith University in the Australian city of
Brisbane, about half-way up the east coast.  For Americans, it is about the
same latitude as Miami, with a similar climate and vegetation; the
human fauna doesn't have the same age profile, mercifully!  It is the rainy
season now, so it is difficult to concentrate!  For Europeans, it is much
closer to the equator than anywhere in Europe, being analogous to the
moister parts of north Africa...

Despite our part of Australia being commonly known as
the Deep North and usually having the sort of politicians Americans
associate with their southern states, Griffith University is unique in
this country in requiring all science students to undertake a compulsory
first year course in Science, Technology and Society.  This includes the
history and philosophy of science, the sociology of the scientific
community, the politics of science and the role of science and technology
in the economy.  Lots of room for what are still seen as seditious ideas
by some of the scientists, though the program has now been running for
twenty years!  I also convene a second year course on the modern
industrial state, extending from its historical origins to the political
problems involved in trying to steer it away from the current, palpably
unsustainable, course of development.  Other courses in such areas as the
social impact of the biomedical sciences, the role of technology in
economic development and the ethical implications of scientific work allow
those students who are so inclined to make STS their major within the
science degree.  Many do; most of the more blinkered scientists still do at
least one of our options.  As I have also recently been landed with the job of
being Head of the School of Science, I have an opportunity to impose my
scurrilous ideas on the science program more generally.  Watch this space!

My morning engagement with Darwin-L is a source of inspiration; long may it
continue!  My e-mail address is I.Lowe@sct.gu.edu.au; for snail-mail,
School of Science, Griffith University, Nathan 4111, Australia.  The
telephone is 61 7 875 7610, but remember we are GMT + 10 hours!

Ian Lowe

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