Graduate students from Oregon State University gathered at Friday Harbor, Washington on March 8-10 to present at and participate in the annual meeting of the Columbia History of Science Group (CHSG). The conference began on Friday evening with a keynote speech from the University of Washington’s Leah Ceccarelli on a rhetorical history of the Union of Concerned Scientists. In this, she detailed how these scientists addressed the misuse and misdirection of science and technology, gathering at MIT in December 1968.
On Saturday, two of OSU’s graduate students, Marcelo Carocci and Miriam Lipton, presented their research to the conference. Marcelo’s presentation, “When Benjamin Butler and Yellow Jack Met in New Orleans” confronted how Union officer Benjamin Butler’s work with ship quarantines at the port of New Orleans kept yellow fever out of the city during its occupation by Union forces during the Civil War. Upon Butler’s arrival and institution of this strict quarantine in May of 1862, the fatality rates from yellow fever in the city reduced sharply. Marcelo argued that this quarantine, coupled with the cleaning of the canals and city streets, continued after Butler left and Nathaniel Banks took control of the city and continued these policies.
Miriam Lipton presented her work in the afternoon session of the conference, informing the audience of, “What to Do When Bee Poop is the Answer”. In this presentation, Miriam analyzed recently declassified CIA documents that detail US accusations against the USSR over the use of chemical weapons in Afghanistan, Laos, and Cambodia, which manifested as yellow rain. Upon investigation by the United Nations, it was determined that the yellow rain that was causing approximately 10,000 casualties in these countries was not a chemical weapon, but rather bee poop. This conclusion, drawn by Harvard’s Dr. Meselson conflicted with the official US position on this issue, and Miriam’s research followed the documentation from the US government. She noticed that the government was cataloging newspaper articles on the subject and highlighting instances where the reporting aligned with the US’s adamant position on the topic.
These insightful presentations wrapped up on Saturday and were followed by a dinner and subsequent awards ceremony in which Marcelo was awarded the Aztec Potato prize and Miriam received the Milosian Apron and the inaugural Golden Poop bag in recognition of her work. Overall, the annual Columbia History of Science Group meeting boasted lovely weather and great success for Oregon State’s graduate students.