Daniel P. Todes, Ph.D.
My interest in the history of science and medicine originated with my participation in numerous arguments about the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. I noticed that people rarely changed their minds during these heated debates, regardless of the factual arguments advanced. So, I became interested in the question “Why do people think what they think?” In college, I looked for an answer in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and, finally, history courses (which I found most satisfying). From history—particularly, Russian history—I found my way to History and Sociology of Science, which offered interesting approaches to a specific form of my question: “Why do scientists and physicians think what they think?”
I’ve been working on that question for about three decades now, and still find it fascinating. In my first book, Darwin Without Malthus: The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought (1989), I explored the ways in which social, cultural, and physico-geographical circumstances shaped the response of Russian naturalists to Darwin’s culturally-laden metaphor “struggle for existence,” and so imparted a characteristic direction to Russian evolutionary thought. Upon completion of this project, I wanted to explore the same general question for experimental science, and settled on a study of Ivan Pavlov. I was fortunate to begin that project in the early 1990s, when Gorbachev’s ‘glasnost’ was making available an avalanche of previously inaccessible archival materials. I embarked on what I conceived as a “scholarly biography accessible to the educated lay person.” By the mid-1990s, I realized that some of the questions that most animated me as a historian of science and medicine could not be addressed in satisfying depth and detail in the biography without losing my lay audience—and so took a “detour” to write a separate monograph on Pavlov’s laboratory and scientific research during the years 1891-1904, which generated the work on digestive physiology for which he won the Nobel Prize. Having completed that book, Pavlov's Physiology Factory: Experiment, Interpretation, Laboratory Enterprise (2002), I returned to the biography.
Update: I completed the manuscript in December 2010 and am shepherding it through publication.