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Home page > Archives > Seminars: September 1996–July 2012 > Seminars: programs 2011-2012 > History and Philosophy of Physics: The backstages of experiments

Research Axis: History and philosophy of physics

History and Philosophy of Physics: The backstages of experiments

Organizers : Nadine de Courtenay, Olivier Darrigol, Sara Franceschelli, Jan Lacki

Current Programme
Archives : ante 2008-2009, 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, 2014-2015, 2015-2016, 2016-2017.

2011 – 2012


Since the 1980s the history and philosophy of science has produced a number of studies about experiments, their aim, styles, intellectual and material components, and multiple disciplinary embedding. Measurement and its instruments have received special attention, as befits the central role they play in any quantitative science. Yet, save for cases in which measurement is the very purpose of experiment or in which it serves to isolate phenomena otherwise lost in noise, measurement processes rarely appear in the publication or in the ulterior discussions of an experiment. The metrological aspects remain in the backstage, for they are believed to be sufficiently shared and codified to elude contestation; and yet their epistemic, social, and technical functions seem essential: they are the machinery that moves the settings of the theater of experiment.

The aim of this year’s seminar is to improve our understanding of these hidden metrological aspects of experiment. In particular, we wish to address the following questions:

  • Definition of magnitudes.
  • Definition and redefinition of units; evolution of standards, of their modes of dissemination; calibration of instruments; metrological traceability.
  • Measurement and decision (acceptance of a hypothesis, of a product); models of the measurement process, evaluation of uncertainties, adjustment methods, normalization of instruments, decision criteria.
  • Determination of reference values (physical constants, fundamental constants); key role of inter-laboratory comparisons.
  • Growing role of international institutions and study groups (BIPM, CGPM, OIML for legal metrology, JCGM for the VIM and GUM). Multiplication of the norms for measurement processes.

In conformity with the general purpose of this seminar, we wish to focus on physical quantities and on related metrological questions. However, we also wish to address the implication of physical metrology in domains other than physics (biology, medicine, techniques, industry, trade…) and examine the feedback effects on metrological practices.

The seminar is held from 5pm to 7pm in room 483A-Malevitch, Condorcet building, 4, rue Elsa Morante, Université Paris Diderot (Paris 7). Plan.

October 11
Les histoires d’un physicien et l’histoire de la physique*
Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond
(Université de Nice)

October 25
Experiment, then and now.
Allan Franklin
(University of Colorado)

November 22
Design and the creation of physical phenomena and technical artefacts.
Peter Kroes
(Delft University of Technology)

November 29
Comment s’assurer de la fiabilité d’un nouvel instrument scientifique : quelques exemples historiques.
Catherine Allamel-Raffin
(Université de Strasbourg)

2012, March 13
Measurement uncertainty as a unifying concept for expressing the quality of measurement data.
Luca Mari
(Università Cattaneo)

March 20
La protophysique : théorie pragmatiste de la mesure et de l’expérience.
Oliver Schlaudt
(Universität Heidelberg)

March 27
The brewer’s pound: why the British beer industry bought an esoteric quantity in the eighteenth century.
James Sumner
(University of Manchester)

April 3
Gouverner par la dose : l’évaluation des risques nucléaires.
Soraya Boudia
(Université de Strasbourg)

April 10 !! Session postponed until 2012–2013 !!
Empirical knowledge: Same conditions – same effects as a regulative principle in the experimental sciences.
Mieke Boon
(University of Twente)

* The conference of Jean-Marc Levy-Leblond is the last of the program of 2011–12, focused on the relation of physics to its history.


metrology, experiment, measure