Biomedicine on Display is moving to

After almost seven years it’s time for change! This blog was aired on 22 December 2004, and now we’re moving to Medical Museion’s new integrated site:

In many respects, Biomedicine on Display has been a pioneer blog. It was the first medical museum blog, actually one of the first museum blogs altogether, and one of the first scholarly blogs dealing with medical history, history of science and medical science studies. In addition, it was one of first scholarly blogs in Denmark and probably the first blog at the University of Copenhagen.

We’ve posted on a regular basis, almost every day. Altogether 1,635 posts in the last seven years. And we’ve reached quite a few readers. According to Google Analytics we’ve had 345,381 visits and 528,648 pageviews between 4 March 2007 and 17 October 2011. The maximum number of visitors on a single day was 1,179 (on 17 December 2010).

They have come from all over the world. One single visitor from Burundi, five from the Seychelles, 41,499 from Denmark, and 103,692 from the United States. Altogether, people from 208 countries and territories have visited Biomedicine on Display.

On average, each visitor spent 1 minute and 17 seconds on 1.53 pages. That’s not as bad as it sounds since it’s an average; many have spent a few seconds only, other have apparently been sitting there for hours. There are also national differences: our Danish compatriots have spent 3 minutes on average, while the 102 visitors from Oman have spent only 15 seconds each.

As expected, 80 percent of our visitors have been occasional one-timers. But — and this is more important — 6.5 percent have visited the site more than 100 times (i.e., about once a month). In other words, Biomedicine on Display has had more than 22,000 regular visitors since we signed up for Google Analytics four and a half years ago.

In the good old days before social media that would have corresponded to a news and comments magazine with 22,000 monthly subscribers! What an organisation we would have needed; just imagine the mailing costs!

Anyway, all this is history now. Biomedicine on Display moves to See us there and follow us on this new feed.


The Era of Objects

V2_ , the Institute for the Unstable Media is, in their own words

an interdisciplinary center for art and media technology in Rotterdam (the Netherlands). V2_’s activities include organizing presentations, exhibitions and workshops, research and development of artworks in its own media lab, distributing artworks through its Agency, publishing in the field of art and media technology, and developing an online archive.

They just released an e-book called The Era of Objects (the pdf of the book is here) which contains some fascinating and surreal attempts at ‘futurescaping’, mapping out “a heterogenous topography of unevenly-distributed futurity; infinitely extendible; punctuated with features and landmarks.” It draws on everything from ANT to design theory to science fiction – even Bruce Sterling appears with an essay in the anthology. Well worth the read for anyone interested in materiality studies – and also very symptomatic for the sense in which we are finding ourselves to be waking up inside an object.

an interdisciplinary center for art and media technology in Rotterdam (the Netherlands). V2_‘s activities include organizing presentationsexhibitions and workshopsresearch and development of artworks in its own media lab, distributing artworks through its Agency, publishing in the field of art and media technology, and developing an online archive.

collections, conferences

Live-tweeting from Artefacts meeting in Leiden

I’m live-tweeting from the Artefacts meeting in Leiden: see here.
See meeting programme here.
See abstracts here.
You can also follow #medicalmuseion and #af11.

abstracts, aesthetics, aesthetics of biomedicine, art and science, conferences, general, museum ethics, seminars

Drawing hidden truths (abstract for symposium Representing the Contentious)

I have just had a paper accepted for a very interesting symposium called Representing the Contentious, organized in London 14 October by Bronwyn ParryAnia Dabrowska and Wellcome Trust People Award.

My presentation contains many images from my PhD Delineating Disease: a system for investigating Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva that were not presented to the public for reasons I will discuss.

Drawing hidden truths

How do you show disease in a way that reveals new insights, is clear, informative, is understandable to members of the public as well as to medical experts, and yet remains respectful to the subject? And what if this research is also set within the context of the medical museum where processes of preparation and display must also be considered?

In an artistic research PhD, a system using drawing as a valid research methodology to investigate a rare disease was developed. It presented a breadth of experiences of a disease called FOP and also revealed the disease within the context of museum conservation and display. The activity of drawing was shown to both initiate the act of looking and evidence the journey of understanding taken during this process. It involved actually spending time in the presence of people and objects, and forming relationships. This commitment maintained dignity and respect for people and objects, and the drawings were seen to be informative and sensitive. Drawing was used not merely to record, but as a participatory activity. Evidence showed the research revealed new insights, confirmed medical opinions about the progression of the disease and presented a far greater breadth of experiences of FOP than previously seen.

But the impact of this research also had unexpected consequences. Certain drawings were not included in the exhibition that formed part of the final research exposition, as they were deemed unsuitable. Medical experts were ‘shocked’ by drawings presenting the methods involved in preparation of donors with the disease. These processes integral to the research, hidden behind the scenes of the museum, were not what the experts had expected to see.

But the greatest impact was on the people with FOP. I was completely unprepared for their reactions when they saw drawings of the disease. Their responses to being drawn were positive. They appreciated someone looking at them without staring, spending time with them, bothering to see them. Despite having seen their own X-rays, CT scans and read medical books, when they saw other drawings of FOP they were shocked. Unlike medical imaging, which requires training and experience to ‘read’, they ‘understood’ the drawings and felt their clarity revealed the hidden, terrible truth. They acted like a mirror. Conversely, they also felt it was vital the research was shown to make people aware of this rare disease.  The responsibility of this is something that has weighed heavily on me. Despite the research being seen to be valid, insightful and useful, it also had unseen consequences. What form of exposition should these contentious elements take, should they be shown at all?


The moral discipline of curatorship

In The Sovereignty of Good (1970) Iris Murdoch suggested that intellectual discipline is moral discipline. She used the learning of new languages as an example:

If I am learning, for instance, Russian, I am confronted by an authoritative structure which commands my respect. The task is difficult and the goal is distant and perhaps never entirely attainable. My work is a progressive revelation of something which exists independently of me. Attention is rewarded by a knowledge of reality. Love of Russian leads me away from myself towards something alien to me, something which my consciousness cannot take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal. The honesty and humility required of the student – not to pretend to know what one does not – is the preparation for the honesty and humility of the scholar who does not even feel tempted to suppress the fact that damns his theory.

Same with Latin and Greek, chemistry, molecular biology, etc. — these are intellectual disciplines with an authoritative structure that commands our respect. Creativity — which comes from inside — must be respectful to the independent outer world, whether it’s grammar or molecules.

Same with museums. One thing is the curator’s creativity, which leads to new ways of ordering, displaying, and exciting transdisciplinary breaking of boundaries. Another is the restraints set by the material things, the photographs, and the archival documents.

We praise upbeat creative curatorship. But we should also remember to praise curators who handle their material and textual ressources with honesty and humility. Such curators are in tune with reality and help satisfy our hunger for reality. Their work leads them away from themselves towards the things themselves; and a result they probably also help lead the museum visitors away from themselves towards the world outside them.

In fact, museums could be great experiments in demonstrating that there are vast stretches of cultural, social and natural reality that we cannot just “take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal”. Museums would in principle be perfect antidotes to stupid social constructivism (not that constructivism, for example in the original phenomenological sense of Alfred Schütz, was stupid, but that many stupid things have been written and said with reference to it). 

Caveat: I’m wondering how my fascination with Iris Murdoch (which has followed me since I began writing biography) can coexist with my equally great fascination with the aesthetics of medical things? Immediately it looks like a contradiction — but maybe it depends on what you mean by aesthetics?


The fascinating world of blog spam

We all hate blog spam. Spam filters are a blessing — and I’m amazed how efficient they are: I rarely need to weed out the comment folder.

Sometimes, however, my Akismet filter is too efficient, and therefore I use to go through the spam folder once in a while to see if there are any nuggets hidden in the trash. It only takes a few minutes to rapidly browse the spam and I actually rescue a comment (and a potential colleague!) now and then. And it’s also quite interesting to see how the spam content has its own logic over time. A couple of years ago, it was a lot of ads for acai berry juices, last winter it was genital torture that filled the folder, followed by offers for cheap mortage loans. Now it’s back to a classic theme: animal sex.

It’s also fun to see how people try to seduce me into clicking on their damn links. It’s not difficult for me to resist clicking on a comment that wants me to look at images of ball torture with chopsticks. But somtimes I’m tempted by comments which seem to have read the post and write something flattering, like:

Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it’s really informative. I’m going to watch out for Brussels. I will be grateful if you continue this in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

(from a site seelling warfare games; sneaky trick, that reference to Brussels 🙂


Please let me know if you’re looking for a writer for your blog. You have some really good articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d really like to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please shoot me an email if interested. Thanks!

(from a company selling new car and truck tires).

The history of spam content is a distorted mirror of the history of commercial culture in the 2000s. I really hope some giant database somewhere gathers a representative sample of spam for future historians.

history of medicine, news

The reopened National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Springs, Md. — hope it’s better this time

Some years ago, I wrote a pretty critical review of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington DC. Now the museum has reopened on the new site in Silver Spring, Maryland, a little further north of DC.

The new building features, they say, “a state-of-the-art collections management facility” to house the museums 25-million-object collection (that sounds pretty much, and it’s probably because they have a rather unusual way of counting their artefacts, but nevertheless, their collection aren’t exactly miniscule).

The first exhibits available to the public will feature artifacts and specimens related to Civil War medicine and human anatomy/pathology.

See more on their website: and Facebook page:


Public health science communication 2.0 — new blog

Public Health Science Communication 2.0Watch out for Nina Bjerglund’s new blog on public health science comunication via social media: She is posting frequently, the content is serious and well-written, and the topic is extremely important — because communication with the general public is a sina qua non for public health research.


There’s no cure for curiosity

Jessica Palmer (Bioephemera blog) is leaving ScienceBlogs to start on her own again. And ends her last post with the classic words ascribed to Dorothy Parker: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity”. She’s so right. Keep up the spirit!

aesthetics of biomedicine, art and biomed, displays/exhibits, events, future medical science and technology, general, science communication studies, seminars

Synthetic biology — science, art, design

After more than half a year of budget negotations, Medical Museion is now officially part of the EC 7th FWP programme-financed project StudioLab.

Inspired by the merging of the artists studio with the research lab to create a hybrid creative space, STUDIOLAB proposes the creation of a new European platform for creative interactions between art and science. STUDIOLAB brings together major players in scientific research with centres of excellence in the arts and experimental design and leverages the existence of a new network of hybrid spaces to pilot a series of projects at the interface between art and science.

Science Gallery in Dublin, Le Laboratoire in Paris, Ars Electronica in Linz, Royal College of Art in London, and MediaLab Prado in Madrid are the five major partners — and the rest of us, including Medical Museion, are six associated partners (which means we get less money — but also have less responsibility).

StudioLab will involve activities along three key dimensions: incubation of art-science projects, education and public engagement. Medical Museion’s part of the contract is to create a public engagement-oriented installation and event about synthetic biology (i.e., the next hot topic in the life sciences).

So now we are on the outlook for good ideas! And I thought we might get some inspiration from the seminar titled ‘Organizing collaborations: Synthetic biology, social science, art and design’ that Jane Calvert from INNOGEN, Edinburgh, is giving here in Copenhagen on Thursday:

Something that makes the emerging field of synthetic biology particularly interesting is that diverse groups including social scientists, ethicists, lawyers, policy makers, artists, designers and publics are becoming involved in the field from the outset. In this presentation, Jane Calvert explores the opportunities and challenges provided by these new forms of collaboration, drawing both on her own experiences as a social scientist studying synthetic biology, and on the Synthetic Aesthetics project, which brings synthetic biologists together with artists and designers.

This is very much along the lines we’ve been thinking in the StudioLab context.

The seminar takes place Thursday 22 September, 3-5 pm, in room K4.41, Kilevej 14A, Copenhagen Business School. Be sure to register for the seminar by email to before 19 September.

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