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Medical Science in the Light of the Holocaust: Departing from a postwar article by Ludwik Fleck
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology.
2008 (English)In: Social Studies of Science, ISSN 0306-3127, E-ISSN 1460-3659, Vol. 38, no 2, 259-283 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In scholarly debates, Ludwik Fleck's post-war paper 'Problemy naukoznawstwa [Problems of the Science of Science]', published in 1946, has been taken unanimously to illustrate the epistemology expounded in his monograph Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. The paper has also been seen to support parts of the received view of Fleck, notably that he manufactured an anti-typhus vaccine while imprisoned in Buchenwald. However, a different narrative emerges when comparing Fleck's paper with other accounts, also published in 1946 and written by other prisoners alluded to by Fleck in his paper. The situation is further complicated by four papers, published in prestigious scientific journals between 1942 and 1945, by the German medical leader of the typhus studies accounted for by Fleck. In addition, a thus-far neglected paper by Fleck, published in 1946 and summarizing his observations on typhus, discloses his role in the Buchenwald studies. Despite the obvious difficulties with tracing the history behind these works, notably the one on Nazi science, the contention is that what was attempted in Buchenwald in the name of science amounted to pseudoscience. This conclusion is amply supported not only by the accounts given by Fleck's fellow prisoners, but also by his own post-war paper on typhus. Based on the above findings, it is suggested that the mythology about Fleck, established in the 1980s, has been accomplished by a selective reading of his papers and also that the role played by Fleck was more complex than has so far been contemplated.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2008. Vol. 38, no 2, 259-283 p.
Keyword [en]
Buchenwald studies, Ding-Schuler, Ludwik Fleck, Nazi science, Typhus vaccine
National Category
Philosophy History
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-6682DOI: 10.1177/0306312707082953ISI: 000255574900004PubMedID: 18831133ScopusID: 2-s2.0-40849134065OAI: diva2:11459
QC 20100826Available from: 2006-12-22 Created: 2006-12-22 Last updated: 2011-11-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Reading fleck: Questions on philosophy and science
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Reading fleck: Questions on philosophy and science
2006 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other scientific)
Abstract [en]

The present thesis is based on a scientifically-informed, contextualized and historicized reading of Ludwik Fleck. In addition to his monograph, the material studied includes his additional philosophical writings, his internationally-published scientific articles and two, thus-far-unstudied postwar Polish papers related to his Buchenwald experiences. The sources provided by Fleck have been traced back to the time of their origin. Based on the above material, it is argued that, rather than relativizing science and deeply influencing Kuhn, Fleck, attempting to participate in the current debates, is an ardent proponent of science, offering an internal account of its pursuit that accords with his oft-contested epistemic concepts, e.g., Denkzwang, Sinnsehen and Kopplungen. The exposure of his description of the Wassermann reaction discloses a highly selective reading of the sources available at the time, but also reveals its relation to the current debate on Einzelwissenschaften, or the standing of new emerging disciplines versus age-old ones, all occasioned by the remarkable progress of science that has also affected philosophy. The divide between philosophers and scientists on the philosophical implications of modern physics is exposed, as is Fleck’s heuristic use of the latter topic in his epistemology. A more realistic account of his often-valued scientific accomplishments is provided. It is argued that the modern interpretation or received humanist view of Fleck is based on the opposition, at the time Fleck’s monograph was rediscovered, of STS writers to a scientifically-informed reading of his texts. An additional corrective to the received view of Fleck is found in some of his postwar Polish papers related his Buchenwald experiences. The latter might also provide an answer to some of the contradictions inherent in the modern mythology surrounding Fleck. In amply exposing the precarious situation of the time, and the complexity of the ethical issues at stake, Fleck’s papers in fact generate age-old philosophical questions still worth contemplating.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH, 2006. 26 p.
Theses in philosophy from the Royal Institute of Technology, ISSN 1650-8831
Ludwik Fleck, Wassermann reaction, Informed consent, Buchenwald studies, Human experimentation
National Category
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-4250 (URN)91-7178-471-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2007-01-15, Sal F3, KTH, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm, 10:00
QC 20100826Available from: 2006-12-22 Created: 2006-12-22 Last updated: 2010-08-26Bibliographically approved

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