|Detail from "Soils of the Central Experimental Farm" showing the original 465 acres.|
Author's note: this post is a bit of an experiment. In it I use the Central Experimental Farm to explore Thomas Gieryn's concept of "truth-spots." It is written in a particular moment when the Farm is still facing threats to its research fields, and those politics of course carry through. In a sense this post is inspired by the great community of active historians and my desire to draw out the concepts embedded within my other public writings on the subject. Some of the links may lead to articles behind (steep) paywalls.
In the conclusion to his exploration of the interwar Chicago School of Urban Studies, Thomas Gieryn posits that "in the emplacement of its practices...science is probably not the exception, but the rule."
Gieryn's current research project focuses on what he calls "truth-spots." Simply put, truth-spots are locations where knowledge about the world is created and, importantly, legitimized. When applied to science this presents a curious "paradox of place and truth" (emphasis in original).*
Science, like all human endeavors, is a cultural process. People do it in places. It involves learned practices and discourses. But objectivity is (often) a central legitimizing discourse in science. The literary abstraction of science from where it is practiced is part of the epistemic scaffolding used to reinforce its status as universal knowledge. As Gieryn notes, "scientific claims are diminished in their credibility as they are situated somewhere, as if their truthfulness depended upon conditions located only there."
At the same time some subjective contexts of science can provide studies performed or published in their gambit with powerful legitimacy. There's prestigious universities (the Ivy League and Oxbridge); journals (Nature or Science); institutions (CERN and NASA); and field stations (Rothamsted Research and Kew Gardens).
Ottawa's Central Experimental Farm is another such institution.