About

Irregularly updated diary. Mainly records my attempts to be a publicly useful historian. May contain long passages of highly involved argument, if I feel it’s going to be quicker to write the point up properly once than to badger ten permutations of colleagues about it in ten different pubs.

My main site is here. All assertions are my own and don’t necessarily represent the views of my employers, as will quickly become obvious.

I also have an account at the Whewell’s Ghost history and philosophy of science blog. Anything I write for a general HPS audience is likely to be posted there; this site is for material which is either not specific to the field, or very specific to me personally.

A blind thermometer is a device for restricting the supply of information, used by brewers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It features a moveable index marker and a detachable scale, so that the master brewer can delegate the task of bringing the liquor to a particular temperature without the assistant learning what the temperature is (useful knowledge which could be passed on to the brewer’s competitors). Many more recent events in the history of information technology can be understood as attempts to reinvent the blind thermometer, often with less than spectacular success.

3 Responses to About

  1. alice says:

    Is the information restriction aspect of the blind thermometer ref linked in any way to your decision not to open up the blogposts to readers’ comments? Or are you simply following the Royal Society here?

    Either way – it’s annoying. Especially when you write about public engagement which is, after all, supposed to be a conversational form of communication. I can forward you a long list of citations discussing this shift from one-way to more interactive approaches to research communication but (a) I doubt you need them and (b) as you say, that sort of sharing of other peoples’ work wouldn’t be REF-able.

    (I admit I am at least partly taking the piss here, so apologies if I have accidentally caused offence, but some statement as to why there isn’t a comment function open would be appreciated, as it is so rare these days).

    • James says:

      Hi Alice. I agree that disabling comments is not a reasonable thing to do if you end on a tag-question. The prosaic explanation is that I appear to have messed up the WordPress configuration slightly: comments were supposed to be open. If you can see this, I’ve fixed it…
      As an aside, I’m not in general convinced that anyone who publishes in this format, or on these subjects, needs to manage a comments system in order to be accountable. Granted, if there’s no comment mechanism, it’s not a blog.

      • alice says:

        Must be something wrong as I still can’t comment on the public engagement post! It’s not an especially profound comment though.

        I agree you don’t need comments ‘to be accountable’ or for any other reason. Indeed, I’d even say that it’d still count as a blog without comments. I remember blogs before they had comments.

        Personally, I think the Royal Society blogs would benefit from comments, but I understand why, for example, http://www.drpetra.co.uk, choses not to. I do think people expect them these days though, and that when talking about public engagement, it seems a bit odd not to. Hence my comment.

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