PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Coordinating Measurement and World in Medicine: A Model-Based Approach to the Introduction of the Metric System Standardization in the XIXth and XXth Centuries

In this poster I propose to present a brief revision of the main arguments in the history of the standardization of the metric system in Medicine in the late XIX and early XX in Britain and United States. This revision is suggested in light of the new wave of scholarship on philosophy of measurement in the last 15 years (Chang, 2011; Tal, 2013). I shall provide a special focus on a model-based account of measurement in medicine in my philosophical analysis, while considering idealization strategies and empirical adequacy constraints in medical historical context. I will discuss the problem of coordination between the metric model and metrological realization of the metric prototype in medical practice, through the revision of the specialized jornal debates present in the scientific community of the time and manuals provided at the time (Oldberg, 1881; The Lancet, 1905). I will complement my analysis with societal considerations on a key role for cost-effectiveness type of explanations in defense of in support of the metric standardization, which, I sustain, resemble an interventionist representation (Hacking, 1983), conventionalist (Cartwright, 1994) interpretation of medical metrics, in a practice-oriented platform.


Cartwright, Nancy. Nature’s Capacity and their Measurement. Oxford, 1994.

Chang, Hasok. The Persistence of Epistemic Objects Through Scientific Change. Erkenntnis 75 (3):413-429, 2011.

Hacking, Ian. Representing and Intervening. Introductory. Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

The Lancet, 1488 An improvement in the nomenclature of the metric system. Nov 18, 1905.

Oldberg, Oscar. The Metric System in Medicine: Containing an Account of the Metric System of Weights and Measures, Americanized and Simplified, a Comprehensive Dose Table, and Three Hundred Practical Illustrations of Metric Prescription Writing, Selected from Recipes in Actual Use in Hospital and Out-door Practice., P. Blackston, 1881. Ebook at

Tal, Eran. “Old and New Problems in Philosophy of Measurement”, Philosophy Compass 8 (12), pp. 1159–1173, 2013.

Author Information:

Luciana Garbayo    
University of Central Florida


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