Darwin-L Message Log 3:41 (November 1993)

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.

<3:41>From ronald@uhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu  Sat Nov  6 15:02:55 1993

Date: Sat, 6 Nov 93 11:06:24 HST
From: Ron Amundson <ronald@uhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu>
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Teaching the historical sciences

Bob and List:

  To the excellent examples already given of activities
teaching historical sciences, I'll add a poorly remembered one.
I saw it on a science television program in which principles of
epidemiology were taught to a high school class.  It's probably
unusable as is, unless a biologist/epidemiologist reader
recognizes it and fills in some blanks.

  Each student was given a petri dish with medium.  One dish
had been infected with some bacterium, but no one knew which one.
There was a sequence of interactions among the students,
amounting to the exchange of petri-dish swabbings.  These took
place over some time, to allow a newly infected petri dish to
grow enough bacteria to pass on to future "acquaintances".
Records of the sequences of interactions were kept; not every
dish interacted with all other dishes.

  The dishes were stored, and after a period of time, examined
for infection.  The task was to reconstruct the sequence of
infections (and thus the originally infected dish) from the known
sequence of interactions and the final pattern of infected

  This is not _pure_ historical reconstruction, of course, but
the reconstruction of one kind of historical information (passing
of infections) from another (the known sequence of interactions).
One can think of various complexities which might be introduced -
- e.g., only some of the interactions might be recorded, some
interactions might be one-directional, or the actual infection
might be introduced (unbeknownst to the students) to one dish at
some point _during_ the sequence of interactions rather than at
the beginning.  It would seem that the interaction sequence ought
to be controlled somewhat by the instructor -- some patterns of
interactions would make the pattern of infections
unreconstructable (if all dishes were infected or if only two
were and neither had interacted with any other dishes).

  The idea looked intriguing to me, and I'm sorry I can't give
a bibliographical source.  For all I know, it's a standard lab
exercise in epidemiology.  Perhaps someone else can supply more

Ron Amundson

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