William McDougall and the Professionalization of Parapsychology

William McDougall (1871-1938): British psychologist, eugenical agitator, and professionalizer of parapsychology.

It is admittedly with some pride I notice that my very first history of science article has now been published. Since I am essentially an autodidact when it comes to history of science/science studies it was important for me to get through the peer review process of the Journal for the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Additionally, a scholarly discourse on psychical research and parapsychology has been developing on the pages of JHBS over the last few years, especially with articles by Heather Wolffram, Courtenay Grean Raia, and Sofie Lachapelle. I hope to make a modestly contribute to this developing discourse with “A nice arrangement of heterodoxies: William McDougall and the professionalization of psychical research”.

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A bright day for freedom of speech in science

Courtesy of Richard Wiseman

After two years’ struggle, the British Chiropractic Association finally dropped their libel case against science writer Simon Singh. This has been a high profile case in the campaign (which has only just begun!) to reform the UK’s ridiculous libel laws. This is a great step in the right direction. For the man who’s occupied centre stage, the victory will still be a costly one. Singh has spent 200.000 pounds to defend himself in the case, which started after he wrote an article in the Guardian in 2008 criticising the (lacking) scientific basis for chiropractic treatments. Instead of meeting him with arguments and evidence, the BCA attempted to sue the criticism to silence.

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Eugenics and Progressive Social Policies in Norway

Jon Alfred Mjøen explaining Mendel's law in Oslo, ca. 1920. (American Philosophical Society, Eugenic Archives)

While I was researching something completely different I came across a note in Science from 1917 that caught my attention. It informed readers about the launching of a state sponsored race hygiene program in Norway, under the leadership of biologist Jon Alfred Mjøen (1860-1939). After reading up a little I started wondering about the relation between Mjøen’s politically quite active laboratory, Vindern Biologisk Laboratorium (VBL; established 1906), and the heritage of Norway’s progressive legislation in areas such as healthcare, public loans, targeted taxation policies, etc, which are still deeply felt today. Could there be a discernible eugenic motivation behind them?

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Galison in Utrecht

I just got home from Peter Galison’s first talk as Visiting Professor at Utrecht University. As advertised in a previous post, the lecture focused on the role of secrecy in modern science. Actually, the focus was a lot broader than that. Galison’s interest was to trace what he saw as some significant historical changes in the legitimization and enforcement of secrecy in western societies, roughly from the early 20th century until today. A significant part of his argument was that scientific discourse became subjected to secretive forms of political regulation from WWII onwards.

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Positivism and the Religion of Humanity

Auguste Comte (1798-1857) formulated some very influential ideas, and some ideas that were plain weird. The “father of sociology” argued for a full science of society, and invented the progressivist “Law of Three Stages”.  By the 1840s Comte had founded the highly influential philosophy and ideology of Positivism. What next? He founded a Church and proclaimed himself High Priest.

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