Exhibit 2009--The Matter of Fact 2.0

What is a scientific fact? While the word "fact" comes from the Latin factum a noun derived from facere which means to do or to make, this word often conveys the opposite: facts are not made but they are simply out there, passively waiting to be discovered.

"A fact is a fact," explained the philosopher and mathematician Henri Poincaré to point out that they were not the be-all and end-all of science. The fabric of our world is not "black with fact and white with convention," claimed the philosopher W.V.O. Quine, but rather "pale gray." "Facts," claimed the sociologist of science Harry Collins, are like "ships in a bottle," painstakingly constructed to seem as if no one could have made them. "Facts," insisted the historian of science Bruno Latour, "are like frozen vegetables," they need a bevy of support networks to survive and thrive. "Facts," reminded us the historian of science Lorraine Daston, "are nothing like rocks," combating a century-long portrayal of them as hard, obstinate and even brutish.

Our exhibit no longer asks "Do facts exist?" but instead examines how certain facts come to be and strengthen while others wither and wane. It displays a world that is no longer "black with fact and white with convention," but that is also certainly not "pale gray" either. It reveals how facts have become sacred. By bringing them into a space of common use (and placing them next to the scientific instruments with which they are so closely associated), we explore how they can also be profaned.

Objects selected by students in the course “The Matter of Fact” in the Department of the History of Science (Professor Jimena Canales). To learn more about their exhibit, visit this website.

Fall 2009 - Fall 2010
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