The strange phenomenon of blue milk

15 Sep 2022 09.30 AM - 11.00 AM Virtual Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Hyung Wook PARK

My paper examines a strange phenomenon that puzzled 18th- and 19th-century farmers, sanitation officers, as well as researchers in different fields of study, including pathology (veterinary and human), organic and agricultural chemistry, and natural history: the colored spots that sometimes appeared on fresh milk and made it unsuitable for consumption. For decades, these practitioners and researchers tried to figure out what caused the blue spots and how they could be prevented. This was difficult because the phenomenon was variable and elusive and could not be reliably produced in experimental settings. My paper analyzes the strategies these experimenters used to identify possible causes of those strange spots and how they tried to validate their findings. As I will show, these strategies were strikingly similar to the methods of empirical inquiry that we typically associate with mid-to late 19th-century philosophy of science, such as consequential testing and the method of difference, and even involved the indirect manipulation of invisible entities. Cases like this, I argue, compel us to rethink the long-term history of methodological discussions in science and philosophy.

]Jutta Schickore is Ruth Halls Professor of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine at Indiana University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Hamburg, Germany, in 1996. She held a Wellcome Research Fellowship at the at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Cambridge, UK as well as postdoctoral fellowships at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at M.I.T. and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin). She has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, NJ, 2007-2008 and 2017-2018) and of the National Humanities Center (Research Triangle Park, NC, 2011). 

Her research interests include philosophical and scientific debates about scientific methods in past and present, particularly about (non)replicability, failure, error, and negative results; historical and philosophical aspects of microscopy; and the relation between history and philosophy of science. Her publications include About Method. Experimenters, Snake Venom, and the History of Writing Scientifically, (Chicago UP 2017) and The Microscope and the Eye: A History of Reflections, 1740–1870, (Chicago UP 2007) as well as articles and book chapters on the above topics.