The Embryo Project is an international organization of people who work together to accomplish several goals related to the sciences of embryology, development, and reproductive medicine. Those goals fall into three overlapping groups: communicating science with inclusive audiences, training people to work for digital projects, and researching the history and philosophy of science in new ways.
We argue that the digital and historical methods used by those in the Embryo Project can help people from many backgrounds better understand the complexities of sciences, their contexts, and they ways in which the two interact. The Embryo Project Encyclopedia is a prime and usable product of that argument. The Encyclopedia has benefited from the contributions of greater than one hundred people, all of whom share the goal of increasing scientific literacy.
The Embryo Project trains many different people to do many different things. The project relies on contributions from undergraduate and graduate students, post doctoral researchers, professors, visiting scholars, and others. Those people may be biologists, historians, informaticians, lawyers, sociologists, archivists, artists, or philosophers, among other things. Contributors work together in cohorts to build, edit, and manage the project, and to complete the gaps in each others’ knowledge of science, its contexts, or the histories of those things.
The core training for Embryo Project contributors comes from two seminars held every semester at Arizona State University. The Embryo Project Writing Seminar is a writers’ workshop in which participants learn how to write about sciences and their contexts clearly and for inclusive audiences. The encyclopedia articles written in that seminar then move to the second seminar, the Embryo Project Editing Seminar, in which advanced students learn how to review, edit, and fact check the work of others. Editors also learn how to web code and to use a suite of digital editing tools. Participants form each seminar learn skills that transfer across the Embryo Project to fields as diverse as journalism, medicine, law, and education. Those who excel in both seminars often take leadership positions within the Embryo Project.
Supplemental training occurs in regular meetings for the international Digital History and Philosophy of Science Consortium.
Researching the history of science
We argue that if we are to understand science and the ways it changes over time, then historical perspective and philosophical analysis are key. Simply looking at science today cannot tell us why we think the way we do, nor can it help us foresee what is likely to shape the future. How can we interpret what science is likely to prove most “transformative,” as the NSF puts it, or more “translational,” as the National Institutes of Health puts it, if we don’t understand how science got to where it is today and what things changed it, things like people, laws, technologies, and organizations?
We also recognize that digital methods and informatics offer strong techniques to investigate the history and philosophy of science. We argue that the results of those methods can not only supplement traditional historical and philosophical methods, but they can also yield unique insights that help us piece together the dynamics of sciences. Many digital methods need to be appropriated, refined, or developed to help researchers in the Embryo Project answer questions about science.
Researchers in the Embryo Project, then, aim to develop usable and replicable methods and websites for digitally archiving objects related to the history of science, objects like photographs, manuscripts, lecture notes, and microscope slides. They also aim to develop good methods and tools to search those digital archives to extract information that will help them piece together the history and dynamics of science in unique and fruitful ways.
Products that help us reach the archiving goal are The Digital History and Philosophy of Science Repository and its accompanying Metadata Manual. Products that help us reach the extraction goal are tools like Vogon, which helps users extract relational information from texts, and our forthcoming visualization tool, which helps users display relational information in semantic webs.
The Embryo Project is a founding member of the Digital and Computational History and Philosophy of Science Consortium, a group of researchers with related interests but outside the scope of the Embryo Project.