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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 75.4 (2001) 835-836



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Book Review

Ways of Knowing: A New History of Science, Technology, and Medicine


John V. Pickstone. Ways of Knowing: A New History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. xii + 271 pp. $55.00 (cloth, 0-226-66794-4), $20.00 (paperbound, 0-226-66795-2).

Albert Einstein, at the end of his career, attempted to develop a unified field theory that would explain all the phenomena in physics within a single model; he did not succeed. John Pickstone, of the Wellcome Unit at the University of Manchester, is undertaking a similar project looking at the history of science, technology, and medicine from the standpoint of the history of epistemology. He examines five models that he calls "ways of knowing," classified under the headings of world reading (hermeneutics), natural history, analysis, experimentalism, and technoscience.

Pickstone's contribution to a unified history of science is his attempt at a synthetic approach to all of those arenas of knowledge loosely lumped in the nineteenth century under the rubric of "science." This is a clever way of arguing for overlapping and contradictory models of "science" that exist simultaneously but that also carry more or less weight at any given moment in history. Such an approach has its limitations. Certain areas of "science" tend to vanish here, especially those that have been discredited as science (from alchemy to phrenology); yet it is clear that they could be incorporated in the other models that Pickstone develops. In addition, Pickstone needs to present "pure" cases that reflect one or the other of his five categories.

The clearest difficulty with this reduction of all science into five epistemological models is that the social, cultural, and critical implications of Pickstone's categories tend to be subsumed by their general epistemological structure. Is "hermeneutics" the same in the fifteenth century, where the very nature of interpretation is different from that in the twentieth century? What are the social implications of the claims of these competing models as signs of "good" or "bad" science in the laboratory? Could one present "scientific" material using an out-of-fashion model when there were newer and more acceptable models of representing knowledge available to the scientist? What does one do with the age-old claim of the "art" of medicine, as the implicate skill that transcends the knowledge base of the field? Is medicine merely the extension of chemistry that we see it as today, or is the early-twentieth-century version of the "arts" of medicine merely a rationale for the implicit weakness of its science at the time?

Pickstone's approach cannot answer these questions because of the very [End Page 835] classificatory nature of his project. What he does enable the history of science and medicine to do is to argue that there are often competing models of knowing that exist simultaneously and in different ways in different fields within "science." His volume is extremely valuable for this service, and I can see that it will have a quick and important role in the classroom. For the historian having to teach a course on "Science and Medicine in History" this would serve as an admirable textbook: it would supply the students with enough material for discussion framed in ways that would enable the teacher to show the fluid relationship among the models that Pickstone has elaborated. Add some more case material, and a course is already structured. The brightest students will see the difficulty of such a classificatory approach, but that is precisely what makes teaching fun.

Sander L. Gilman
University of Illinois / Chicago

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3176
Print ISSN
0007-5140
Pages
pp. 835-836
Launched on MUSE
2001-12-01
Open Access
No
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