Upcoming Talks

“Classroom Mendelism and its Role in Sustainable Agriculture”

John Innes Centre, Norwich, 24 July

Abstract: In this talk I’ll be examining links between (i) what we might call the “Green Revolution” high-yield agricultural ideal, emphasizing the use of genetically standardized seeds along with the fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation systems etc. with which farmers give those seeds the standardized environments they need; and (ii) what we might call the “start with Mendel” pedagogic ideal in genetics education, emphasizing the use of elementary Mendelian patterns and explanations as foundational for understanding how heredity works, viz. as, in the first instance, down to which “genes for” traits are present and in what forms.  Drawing on some recent collaborative work with partners in India, I’ll explore the possibility that, in India and perhaps elsewhere, changing from a high-yield to a high-value agricultural system, where the emphasis is instead on indigenous varieties sustainably grown in the regions to which they’re adapted, in ways that are good for biodiversity as well as for farmer dignity and income, community building etc., partly depends on giving farmers a scientific education in which gene-environmental interactions are seen not as an extra complication or a nuisance but as fundamental to how heredity works.

“How Changes in Agricultural Education Can Help Promote Sustainable Agriculture in India”

Sustainable Seed Innovations 2.0 conference, Art of Living campus, Bangalore, 30 July

Abstract: This conference will be launching a Position Paper outlining a three-pronged approach to promoting a more sustainable future for Indian agriculture, stressing the revival of Traditional Ecological Knowledge systems (Prong 1), the updating of agricultural education to promote sustainability (Prong 2), and the use of new smart technologies to incentivize and monetize farmer-level innovation with indigenous seeds in an ecologically and socially sustainable manner (Prong 3). In addition to introducing the background to the Sustainable Seed Innovations Project, I’ll be presenting the Prong 2 material, which is currently available in draft form on the Spicy IP website. It addresses the need to redesign elements of agricultural training to ensure a better fit with the goal of greater sustainability, looking in particular at how my historical research into the organization of knowledge in two areas — Mendelian genetics and intellectual property — has opened up new options worth considering.

The LPLS and its Museum in Historical Perspective: Some Highlights from Recent Research

With Jonathan Topham. Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society Bicentennial Conference, Leeds, 19 October.


Caricature du journal Le Pèlerin, ‘Bilan fin de Siecle!’ Date 1900

Caricature du journal Le Pèlerin, 'Bilan fin de Siecle!' Date 1900

Degeneration and Victorian Cultural History: The Surprising Challenge from the New Historiography of Quantitative Genetics

ISHPSSB conference, Oslo, 7‒12 July.

Abstract: A commonplace about nineteenth-century cultural history, in Europe and beyond, is that it was an age characterized by increasing anxiety about biological degeneration.  Like any such generalization, this one has its uses, but it also has its limits.  In this talk I want to consider how differently the topic of degeneration looks when it’s no longer viewed as the cultural equivalent of an irresistible force, seeping miasma, doomily enervating mood music etc.  The inspiration for this exercise is Ted Porter’s Genetics in the Madhouse: The Unknown History of Human Heredity (Princeton, 2018), where, among many other things, Porter shows that the French asylum doctor B. A. Morel’s claims about degeneration as the universal fate of the human species were subjected to severe criticism by his professional peers, who were able to mount their arguments thanks to painstainkingly accumulated quantitative data on the inheritance of insanity.  Porter’s work illustrates how the new historiography of quantitative genetics, for all its specialist appeal, can cast light on subjects of much wider historical interest.

Monoculture rice terrace

Monoculture rice terrace.

Against Monocultures, Intellectual and Agricultural

Integrated HPS workshop, University of Exeter, 20‒21 June.

Gregor Johann Mendel (20 July 1822 – 6 January 1884)

Gregor Johann Mendel (20 July 1822 – 6 January 1884)

‘If Only Darwin Had Read Mendel…’

International Mendel’s Day conference, Royal Institution, London, 8 March 2019.  Afterwards I recorded this podcast interview about the talk with Kat Arney.  Here’s Kat’s intro:

“While we know that Mendel read Darwin, as evidenced by his pencil-marked copy of Origin of Species at the Abbey, did Darwin read Mendel? I was particularly fascinated to hear from one of the Mendel Day speakers, Professor Greg Radick from the University of Leeds – a leading expert in the history of genetics – who’s been speculating on this scenario.

So, I just had to drag him out of the drinks reception at the end of the day to chat about Darwin’s ideas about heredity, and to bust some myths about the intellectual relationship between these two men.

Greg: Well, they had no interaction as people or as thinkers. Mendel read Darwin, that we know for sure. Mendel’s copies of the Origin of Species and another book of Darwin’s exist, they’ve been studied….

There was No Such Thing as the Mendelian Gene and this is a Talk about it

How Scientific Objects End workshop, University of Cambridge, 3 December 2018.