A Short Interview With David Rudge, Ph.D.
1. What are your HPS research interests?
My HPS research has focused on experiments in evolutionary biology. I am specifically interested in how experiments provide us with information about the natural world not possible through other means (e.g. comparative observation). In my dissertation I did an analysis of three different episodes from the history of evolutionary biology, H.B.D. Kettlewell’s studies of industrial melanism, Two of Th. Dobzhansky’s Genetics of Populations Studies, and also Michael Wade’s early studies of group selection in flour beetles. Most of my work since has been devoted to further study of the Kettlewell episode from historical, philosophical and science education perspectives. I am currently writing a book that will discuss the history of research on industrial melanism from all three of these perspectives.
2. What are your HPS teaching interests?
I teach an undergraduate biology content class for future elementary school teachers that includes several extended units based in history of biology. I also teach a graduate level introduction to history and philosophy of science that is focused specifically on the rise of evolutionary biology, understood in part as a reaction to the Newtonian Revolution and also Lyell’s work in geology.
3. What do you think are some of the most important questions in HPS today?
How is knowledge of the natural world possible? What role can and should history of science play in the evaluation of theories in philosophy of science? How can HPS studies aid in the actual practice of contemporary science?
4. How did you become interested in HPS?
I took a series of philosophy of biology classes as an undergraduate while pursuing a zoology degree. I’m convinced that history of science is blind without philosophy of science, and further that philosophy of science is empty divorced from a discussion of the actual practice of science past and present.
5. What are your goals and/or expectations for WMU HPS?
I hope it will facilitate collaboration amongst people with shared interests on campus, despite their departmental affiliation. I also hope it will allow us to go after larger projects (e.g. speakers, grants, conferences) that could not be pursued by individuals.
6. Why do you think that HPS is important?
At the risk of sounding naïve, I believe that if there is any discipline that can truly be said to provide us with testable knowledge about the natural world, it is science. HPS studies represent a powerful and essential way to make sense of how this is possible. I’m also inclined to think that like philosophy more generally, HPS promotes the development of critical thinking and an appreciation of the strengths and limitations of science necessary for us to survive in a world increasingly dominated by developments in science and technology.
7. What advice would you have for students (undergraduate or graduate) who are interested in pursuing HPS studies?
The job market is terrible and it probably won’t improve soon. If you go into this field hoping for an academic position in HPS, pursue graduate education in one of the top ten programs. If not, your chances of getting such a job are quite low. Whatever you do, don’t go into debt—if the program you apply to won’t provide funding of some sort, it is because they probably have some doubts about your ability to succeed. If you are interested in the history and philosophy of a particular field (e.g. history and philosophy of physics), it’s also a wise idea to get at least an undergraduate degree in that discipline. If you go for a PhD in HPS, I’d go so far as to recommend you get an MS in the science either before or during your pursuit of the doctoral degree. All this being said, the sort of training and skills you get by studying HPS at the undergraduate and graduate levels can prepare you for lots of other careers. I think there are a lot of professions that would seriously consider hiring people with HPS training, including computer software development, editorial positions with publishing houses, and science education.