History of Science and Public Policy, “In Vivo”

For our final interview of the summer we’re profiling the “In Vivo” section of the history of science journal Endeavour. To learn more about “In Vivo” and other aspects of the journal I spoke with co-editors Joseph D. Martin and Richard Bellon. Joe is a historian of American physical sciences and technology and is currently a teaching associate in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. Previously, he taught at Michigan State University and Colby College and was a research fellow at the Consortium for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. Rich is a historian of British science and holds a joint appointment at Lyman Briggs College and the Department of History at Michigan State. In addition to history courses Rich teaches classes on science policy in biotechnology and biomedicine.

Sarah Naramore- Could you tell us a little bit about Endeavour, and specifics on “In Vivo”?

Joseph Martin- Endeavour is a general interest history of science journal. We focus on publishing accessibly written scholarship, image-rich articles, and increasingly its becoming a forum for non-traditional article formats. We offer a great deal of editorial care to early career scholars and non-native English speakers, which distinguishes us from other journals. We’re also focusing on making it a forum for cohesive papers that speak to some larger issue in the profession.

Richard Bellon- “In Vivo” is part of our larger attempt to provide a forum for different types of writing beyond simply the review of academic monographs or the traditional research essay.

SN- Who do you picture as the audience for “In Vivo”?

RB- The primary audience is other scholars, but we want this to be not just necessarily for specialists, but historians of science or people in science and technology studies more broadly. A recent article on education policy, “Knowing by Number: Learning Math for Thinking Well,” captures what we want In Vivo to accomplish. It was written by Christopher J. Philips, who had previously done two things which I thought were extremely good. One, is an article in Isis on postwar American math-education policy with all of the Isis apparatus, really densely researched. He also wrote a really nice op-ed that appeared in The New York Times. “In Vivo” aims to be somewhere in between those. Not with the density that you would have for writing for fellow specialists, but with more of the apparatus and detail and more of the intellectual scaffolding than you could get away with in The New York Times.

JM- “In Vivo” came out of discussions about what we could do with Endeavour that other journals weren’t doing at the time. This was about the time when forums like Aeon and Medium were starting to gain a lot of traction. There was a lot of excellent stuff written by historians of science in those to reach a popular audience, and it seemed to us that there was this space in between to draw connections between history and contemporary issues with the scholarly rigor you expect in a research article.

SN- Do you feel that there is any particular role in public debate or policy that you’re hoping to foster? What skills do historians bring to some of these policy questions?

JM- We share the conviction that the role historians play in these issues is not as big as it could be or should be. Naomi Oreskes wrote eloquently about this in the Isis Focus Section on The History Manifesto. She said that we can reject the either-or model of scholarly versus popular and strive to present our work in a manner that is both. One of the things that we hope sections like “In Vivo” can do is encourage people to practice the skills that are required to build those connections and make our discipline more welcoming to people who might find it useful in cultural contexts and policy contexts.

RB- Being able to bring our historical knowledge to bear on a contemporary issue requires a different skillset. Giving people a place to apply those types of skills is important. I think historians can help break us out of these calcified political and cultural divisions and attitudes. We know where we stand on these kinds of things because this is where our tribe stands on these things, and where our tribe stands may be contingent. Taking a longer view offers a richer understanding of the issues that we face, that aren’t as inflected with whatever is trending now on Twitter. However, a standing problem for any type of scholar who tries to engage contemporary issues, is avoiding backlash and preventing your scholarship from being infected with your current tribal positions or your cultural or political positions. A distorting presentism is a real danger which we’re trying to minimize with “In Vivo” through scholarly apparatus and review.

SN- “In Vivo” might be the first time for a scholar moving in this direction, what are you looking for editorially and how do you help shape something towards that goal?

RB- We think we think about this as teachers. Knowledge of what works in a classroom and what doesn’t work can help us shape this for people without a deep grounding in the specialist literature. We try to shape that by trying to minimize technical jargon and push for readability in a way that I don’t think is tremendously different than a lot of editorial processes work.

JM- I think there are a couple of components. It’s the topic, which Rich mentioned- is this something people are going to care about and understand the significance of when you state it to them simply? Does it effectively demonstrate how history can help us understand that topic is a big component of that? Is it based on trenchant scholarship? I think the hardest part for a lot of professional historians is style. Can I read this 2,500 to 4,000 or 5,000-word article without getting tired? That is what a lot of our back and forth about these articles ends up being. We find that our authors have a good sense of the topic. They know the history inside and out. They can explain why it’s important, but often don’t have much practice writing in an engaging way. That’s something that we try to balance- the rigor with an engaging style that makes it understandable to wider audiences.

RB- I think that the way we teach is interesting. If you’re teaching you can’t just go in and assume things are endlessly fascinating to everybody. One of the rookie mistakes that I made when first teaching an introduction to history, philosophy and sociology of science is that I built the class around the idea that we already know that this is fascinating. That didn’t work. The first thing I had to do was convince students that this material is interesting in the first place. I think with our own writing, we always write with the assumption that our readers will find it interesting. We don’t do that type of evangelism the way we do in a classroom. I think there are some transferrable skills there between good teaching and more accessible writing. Because Endeavour is a peer-reviewed journal when you’re applying for jobs or going through annual review that it counts in a way that fits traditional molds. One of the things that we are looking at trying to do with “In Vivo” is giving people the opportunity to do this type of writing in ways that will get, that will look good on the CV.

SN- Can you give tell us a bit about what’s new?

JM- We have implemented a number of changes in the journal recently. In addition to “In Vivo,” we have also expanded our review section. Traditionally, the Endeavour review section was monograph reviews, and in the past couple of issues, we have started opening up the review section to reviews of novels, films, video games, museum exhibits, and any other type of medium that is relevant to the history of science, technology, and medicine. We certainly encourage anyone who wants to review something like that to get in touch with our Reviews and Commentary editor, Layne Karafantis.

SN- There’s the “Lost and Found” section as well, right?

JM- The “Lost and Found” section of Endeavour started under our predecessor, John Waller, and is edited by Ebony Andrews. It’s a section that does short articles on history of science ephemera. One we had recently that was particularly interesting was this article by Henrik Kylin, who discovered a photograph of his grandmother.

RB- It was a book actually, published before World War II by a Norwegian race scientist. The author’s grandmother was one of the first women to go to Uppsala University. The race scientists thought she was the embodiment of Nordic womanhood, and so in this book on race type, there is a picture of a naked woman! The author as a very young boy stumbled across this book and, as he was flipping through it, asks, “Dad, what is this? Who is this?” And [his] Dad said, “Well, that’s your grandma.” Then he reflects upon not only his own reaction by what it means that this “science” existed in the first place. It’s really an interesting way of taking an object and reflecting upon what it means both historically and in a contemporary sense.

JM- And the lovely irony in that article is that his grandmother was Jewish, being held up as the Aryan ideal.

RB- One of the characteristics of not just “Lost and Found,” but “In Vivo” as well, is the level of the personal. The hallmark of most of our academic writing is it’s depersonalized. “In Vivo” and “Lost and Found” allow people to bring themselves into their scholarship. It exists when we’re talking about it over beers with each other, but gets scraped away in the professional record. That’s also an aspect of what we’re trying to accomplish.

SN- Any final thoughts or suggestions before we sign off?

JM- Some rough and ready advice I would give, is that you shouldn’t be shy about getting in touch with the editor. Often, if you have an informal conversation over email about your idea for an article, that will help you better frame it for that particular journal. We’re certainly open to that. In my experience, most journal editors are open to having those conversations because it makes their job easier down the line. It makes it easier to evaluate the work that comes in. It ensures that the work that is coming in has been framed thoughtfully for the purpose and mission of the journal. It’s a collaboration and not a game.

RB- The more of these collaborative relationships you can build, the better. Like any profession, a lot of it is networking, seeking and offering guidance, mentorship. Talking to people who can help you through the process of publication can be really valuable, and like I said before, at Endeavour, we take a particular pride in working with early career scholars for that reason.


Richard Bellon and Joseph Martin: endeav@msu.edu
Layne Karafantis, Reviews Editor: karafantisl@si.edu
Ebony Andrews, Features Editor: info@ebonyandrews.co.uk

Articles Mentioned-

Christopher J. Philips, “Knowing by Number: Learning Math for Thinking Well,” Endevour, 41.1 (March 2017): 8-11. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.endeavour.2016.11.001

Naomi Oreskes, “Let’s Make History More Welcoming,” Isis, 107.2 (June 2016): 348-350. http://doi.org/10.1086/687214

Kenrik Kylin, “The Missing Skull- Professor Lundborg and the mismeasure of grandma,” Endeavour, 40.2 (June 2016): 131-134. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.endeavour.2016.03.001