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Colloquia

Spring 2016

January 22, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall
Annual Science Studies Symposium

"Precision Medicine & the Challenge of Sharing Genomic Results”
Susan Wolf
, University of Minnesota Law School
abstract

January 29, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

"From Paris to St. Petersburg: Portable Anatomies in Enlightenment Europe"
Margaret Carlyle, Department of History, University of Minnesota
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

February 5, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Reviving Thomas Beddoes: The Chemical and Medical Alternatives of the Late Enlightenment"
Larry Stewart
, Department of History, University of Saskatchewan
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

February 12, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

“Visual Evidence and Styles of Scientific Reasoning”
Otávio Bueno
, Department of Philosophy, University of Miami
abstract

February 19, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Shedding New Light on Rural Electrification: The Neglected Story of Successful Efforts to Energize Farms in the 1920s and Early 1930s
Richard Hirsch, Department of History, Virginia Tech
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

February 26, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Science and Metaphysics: Lessons from Microbiology"
Marc Ereshefsky, Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary
abstract

March 4, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

“Speed Listening by Blind Readers and the History of Audio Time Compression”
Mara Mills, Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

March 11, 2016
No Colloquium: Spring Break

March 18, 2016
No Colloquium: Spring Break

March 25, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Evolutionary Biology and Inertia in Theory Change: A Preliminary Indictment of Explanatory Commitments"
Bruce Glymour
, Department of Philosophy, Kansas State University
abstract

April 1, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

“The Experimental Self: Humphry Davy and the Making of a Man of Science.”
Jan Golinski, Department of History, University of New Hampshire
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
abstract

April 8, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

“How to Stop Refighting the Statistics Wars”
Deborah G. Mayo, Department of Philosophy, Virginia Tech
Co-sponsored by the CLA Quantitative Methods Collaboration Committee
abstract

April 15, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

"The Price of Altruism"
Oren Harman, Science, Technology and Society, Bar Ilan University
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
abstract

April 22, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

“Dreaming of Mars Sample Return: How scientific desires have shaped NASA’s Mars program”
Erik Conway, History of Science and Technology Program Alumnus
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

April 29, 2016, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Progress in the Sciences -- and also in the Arts"
Philip Kitcher, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University
abstract

 

Abstracts for Spring 2016

"Precision Medicine & the Challenge of Sharing Genomic Results”
Susan Wolf
, University of Minnesota Law School
Abstract: In January 2015, President Obama announced plans to fund a nationwide Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI). A year later, plans are under way to assemble a large and diverse cohort of 1 million participants to build a prospective research resource to fuel population-wide research. The PMI aims to use a new model of research driven by highly engaged patients actively partnering in data collection and having broad access to their own results as well as the cohort’s aggregate results. However, there remain big questions about this ambitious plan for return of results. For the last decade, the research community has actively investigated and debated those questions. Among them is how to determine what results are sufficiently understood to return, whether individuals should have access to uncertain results, and whether family members should be able to obtain a loved one’s genetic results that may have implications for relatives. These questions raise pressing issues in ethics, law, biomedical science, and clinical care.

“Visual Evidence and Styles of Scientific Reasoning”
Otávio Bueno, Department of Philosophy, University of Miami
Abstract: The notion of style of scientific reasoning has been used as an analytic tool for the characterization of significant features of scientific practice (in particular, by Crombie [1994] and Hacking [2002]). Styles of scientific reasoning are different from scientific theories in a given domain of inquiry: styles are broader than theories, and they are not so dependent on features of the particular domain. In this work, I provide a characterization of the concept of style of reasoning that overcomes some difficulties that have been raised against this tool (by Bolduc [2014]). I then examine the role played by visual evidence in a characteristic style of reasoning found in much of contemporary sciences, which I call instrumental style. The implications for the normative nature of styles and some limitations of visual evidence in the sciences are finally examined.

"Science and Metaphysics: Lessons from Microbiology"
Marc Ereshefsky, Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary
Abstract: The typical view of biological individuality is that such individuals have parents from one species and start life as single zygotes. However, recent work on microbial consortia challenges this view. The lesson from microbiology is not merely that we have been wrong about our favored account of individuality, but that we have been wrong to assume that there is one correct theory of individuality. Given the contingent nature of evolution we should expect a plurality of kinds of individuality. When we answer the question ‘What is a biological individual?’ with a plurality of accounts, we are more successful than we think.

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"Evolutionary Biology and Inertia in Theory Change: A Preliminary Indictment of Explanatory Commitments"
Bruce Glymour, Department of Philosophy, Kansas State University
Abstract: Kuhn famously argued that scientific paradigms are immensely resilient to empirical evidence against their core theories.  I offer a tentative and contentious diagnosis of one such case in evolutionary biology.  Post-Synthesis evolutionary theory has been characterized by three nominally distinct theories of natural selection—classical population genetics and its extensions, quantitative genetics, and the halfway house occupied by models employing variants of the Price equation.  Notwithstanding their important differences, all share the idea that selection is to be understood in terms of differences among types in one or another measure (generally called fitness) defined as some function or partial function of a probability density over reproductive success. Models implementing that idea immediately confront some intractable problems that limit their explanatory and predictive power.  There are alternative conceptions of selection which do not face exactly those problems, and the mathematical tools requisite to them were available either before or roughly contemporaneously with the Synthesis itself.   While more orthodox models generally employ the analysis of variance or covariance in both discovery and explanatory contexts, the alternative models rely on regression and path analysis, and in so doing generate importantly different kinds of explanation and are vulnerable to a different suite of errors.  In this paper I delineate (some of) the problems plaguing traditional models, and explore the idea that their continued dominance in both evolutionary population biology and philosophy biology is owed in large measure to a prior commitment to the explanatory importance of one kind of non-causal, statistical explanation.

“The Experimental Self: Humphry Davy and the Making of a Man of Science”
Jan Golinski, Department of History, University of New Hampshire
Abstract: Humphry Davy (1778–1829) was a pivotal figure in the emergence of new scientific disciplines at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but his career cannot be understood through the traditional narrative of specialization and professionalization. Davy was a protean individual who forged his social persona with remarkable creativity. He exploited his institutional location to build a charismatic reputation with a public audience. He applied new electrical instruments and powers to reconfigure the discipline of chemistry. And he engaged in a sustained and profound exploration of his own subjectivity, through testing nitrous oxide and galvanism on his own body, and through literary exercises of poetry and fiction. Social ambidexterity, interdisciplinary creativity, and sometimes grueling self-experimentation were the keynotes of this extraordinary individual’s self-made identity. I shall argue that Davy’s experiments in selfhood illuminate the historical formation of the man of science in an era when social institutions and personal subjectivity were both in flux.

How to tell what’s true about the statistical crisis in science”
Deborah G. Mayo, Department of Philosophy, Virginia Tech
Abstract: Telling what’s true about today’s statistical crisis in science requires scrutinizing the philosophies underlying statistical methods. Two main philosophies about the roles of probability in statistical inference are probabilism and performance (in the long-run). The first assumes that we need a method of assigning probabilities to hypotheses; the second assumes that the main function of statistical method is to control long-run performance. I offer a third goal: controlling and evaluating the probativeness of methods. A statistical inference, in this conception, takes the form of inferring hypotheses to the extent that they have been well or severely tested. A report of poorly tested claims must also be part of an adequate inference.
Non-fraudulent uses of statistics demands an account capable of registering how various gambits alter the error probing capacities of methods. This turns on error statistical considerations that are absent in accounts that fall under the umbrella of “probabilism”. Examples of such gambits are: stopping rules (optional stopping), data-dependent selections, flawed randomization, and violated statistical model assumptions. If little has been done to rule out flaws in construing the data as evidence for claim H, then H “passes” a test that lacks severity. Methods that scrutinize a method’s capabilities, according to their severity, I call error statistical. Using probability to control and assess severity differs from the goals of probabilism and that of long-run performance. Assuming probabilism often leads to presupposing that p-values, confidence levels and other error statistical properties are misinterpreted. Reinterpreting them as degrees of belief or plausibility begs the question against error statistical goals at the heart of debunking. Such twists turn out to license, rather than hold accountable, cases of questionable science, while some of the most promising research is misunderstood and/or dubbed pseudoscientific. Popular uses of performance-oriented computations of "false discovery rates" (unintentionally) institutionalize howlers, abuses, and cookbook statistics.

"The Price of Altruism"
Oren Harman, Science, Technology and Society, Bar Ilan University
Abstract: Survival of the fittest or survival of the nicest?  Since the dawn of time man has contemplated the mystery of altruism, but it was Charles Darwin who posed the question most starkly. From the selfless ant to the stinging bee to the man laying down his life for a stranger, evolution has given rise to a most perplexing behavior. Set against the sweeping tale of 150 years of scientific attempts to explain altruism, here is the moving story of a brilliant and troubled scientist—George Price—who paid the ultimate price for wrestling with the mystery of altruism.

"Progress in the Sciences -- and also in the Arts"
Philip Kitcher, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University
Abstract: The view that the sciences make progress, while the arts do not, is extremely common. This lecture will challenge it. I begin by distinguishing teleological progress from pragmatic progress. You make pragmatic progress not by coming closer to a goal, but by solving some of the problems of your current state. Scientific progress should be seen as pragmatic. When the point is recognized, it becomes evident that scientific progress has social dimensions. A socially embedded notion of scientific progress then allows for a parallel concept of progress applicable to the arts.

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Fall 2015

September 11, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

Opening meeting and welcome

September 18, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Descartes and Newton on Deducing True Laws of Nature"
Mary Domski
, Department of Philosophy, University of New Mexico
abstract

September 25, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"A Different Descartes: The New Galen"
Harold J. Cook
,
Department of History, Brown University
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
abstract

October 2, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Leibniz and Technology: What Automata, Mills, and Calculators Teach us about Cognition"
Christopher Noble, Department of Philosophy, Villanova University
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

abstract

October 9, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"The Revolution in Computational Causal Discovery"
Richard Scheines, Department of Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon University
abstract

October 16, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"How to be a Patient: Patienthood and Medical Thinking in the Medieval Islamicate World"
Ahmed Ragab
, Harvard Divinity School
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

October 23, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Origins of a Legitimation Crisis: Medical Science, Private Profit, and the Challenge of Big Pharma"
Joe Gabriel
, School of Pharmacy, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

abstract

October 30, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

CANCELED

"Fictional Models and Models as Fictions: Disentangling the Difference"
Margaret Morrison, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto
abstract

November 6, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"How to Create a Physicist"
Michael Reidy, Department of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Montana State University
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

abstract

November 13, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Steganography and the Art of Secret Writing: New Perspectives on Michael Maier’s Alchemical Emblem Book, Atalanta fugiens (1618)"
Donna Bilak, Department of History, Columbia University
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

abstract

November 20, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Ecological Theory and the Niche"
James Justus, Department of Philosophy, Florida State University
abstract

November 27, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

No meeting, Thanksgiving

December 4, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Method and Morals in William Harvey's Philosophical Anatomy"
Peter Distelzweig, Department of Philosophy, University of St Thomas
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
abstract

December 11, 2015, 275 Nicholson Hall

"Tanked: On Keeping Things Alive in Places They Shouldn't Be"
Nicholas Buchanan, History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, University of Minnesota
Co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
abstract

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Abstracts for Fall 2015

"Descartes and Newton on Deducing True Laws of Nature"
Mary Domski, Department of Philosophy, University of New Mexico
Abstract: Descartes’s Principles of Philosophy (1644) and Newton’s Principia mathematica (1687) are two of the most important works of seventeenth century natural philosophy.  Yet, when put side by side, it is far easier to identify differences between the texts than it is to pin-point similarities.  Their laws of nature are a case in point.  Descartes deduces his three laws from our knowledge of God and claims these laws are true insofar as they capture the world as God actually created it.  Newton, in contrast, “deduces” his laws of motion “from the phenomena,” which suggests that these laws are true of the world as it is presented to our senses.  In this paper, I first clarify the epistemic significance of Descartes’s and Newton’s competing “deductions” and competing notions of truth. Based on that treatment, I then highlight a significant and frequently overlooked point of agreement:  Both Descartes and Newton adopt methods for establishing true laws of nature that allow us to know that bodies obey particular laws without a complete understanding of why they do, i.e., without requiring that we identify the natural processes and properties that explain the behaviors that the laws describe.

"A Different Descartes: The New Galen"
Harold Cook, Department of History, Brown University
Abstract: Descartes is often said to be the French philosopher who gave us the mind-body problem. But he only began to write philosophy seriously in his 30s, living abroad. In his youth he apparently became we acquainted with libertine writers; when the assassination of the Queen Regent’s favorite, Concini, took place in 1617 he left to learn the art of war and became deeply immersed in French entanglements related to the Thirty Years War. After another short period in Paris his personal and political involvements seem to have caused him and his friends to feel threatened by the chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu. He spent the last twenty years of his life (1629-49) as an exile in The Netherlands, where he indeed had the leisure and ambition for writing about the nature of the world. Can we re-connect his mind and body?

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"Leibniz and Technology: What Automata, Mills, and Calculators Teach Us about Cognition"
Christopher Noble
, Department of Philosoph, Villanova University
Abstract: This presentation examines the way that seventeenth-century technology and machines informs the German philosopher and mathematician, G.W. Leibniz’s, view of the mind. In the seventeenth-century, many philosophers came to understand physical nature in terms of machines, leading to the development of the so-called “mechanical philosophy.” Leibniz stands apart, however, for utilizing mechanical images and metaphors to illustrate the nature of the mind. The presentation will show the many ways Leibniz used machines to capture the nature of cognitive processes including his  comparison of the soul to a self-moving machine or “spiritual automaton,” his well-known thought experiment concerning the mechanical parts of a mill, as well his invention of a mechanical calculator. We thus get a fascinating glimpse into an Early-Modern attempt to compare minds and machines.

"The Revolution in Computational Causal Discovery"
Richard Scheines
, Department of Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon University
Abstract:  Social scientists have been pursuing causal knowledge from observational studies for well over 100 years, with limited success. In the last 25 years, however, the computational and statistical methods available for causal modeling and discovery have exploded.  I describe this revolution and illustrate it on some recent case studies in social and biomedical science.  I also describe the challenges that still remain, including conceptual problems of defining variables and inferential problems arising from trying to measure them. 
Bio: Richard Scheines is the Dean of the Mariana Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University.  He is a Professor in the Philosophy Department at Carnegie Mellon University, with courtesy appointments in the Machine Learning Department and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.  After receiving a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Scheines joined the faculty of Carnegie Mellon in 1990. Working at the interface of computer science, statistics, and philosophy, he has published several books and dozens of articles on statistical causal models and how to efficiently search for them from statistical evidence.  Having built an intelligent computer tutor for proof search in formal logic, applied causal search to computer tutor log data, and having developed and empirically tested several online courses, Dr. Scheines has also been a leader in educational technology research. For an online course on regression and causal inference, he and Steve Klepper received the 2013 Causality and Statistics Award (honorable mention). Dr. Scheines has served on several committees for the National Academies of Science, including the Institute of Medicine’s Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity, (2006), the IOM’s Improving the Presumptive Disability Decision-Making Process for Veteran’s (2007), and the National Research Council’s Committee to Review the EPA’s IRIS Process (2013-14).  

"How to Create a Physicist"
Michael Reidy, Montana State University
Abstract: In 1850, John Tyndall was struggling to find his way: he was a thirty-year old graduate student in mathematics living in an attic in Marburg, completely unknown, utterly broke, and working himself to the brink of mental and physical exhaustion. Within three years, he held a distinguished professorship at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, working alongside the likes of Michael Faraday, and commanding sold-out crowds wherever he lectured. I will follow Tyndall for these three years as he rose from obscurity to stardom. The route he took will sound both surprising and familiar to modern ears. How he navigated his way through the social and scientific world of mid Victorian Britain can tell us much about how a physicist is created, both then and now.

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"Origins of a Legitimation Crisis: Medical Science, Private Profit, and the Challenge of Big Pharma"
Joseph Gabriel
, School of Pharmacy, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Abstract: Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, has recently suggested that as much as half of all published medical literature may be false. Horton is not alone in making such a claim: over the past decade a growing number of influential critics from within the medical establishment have raised significant concerns about the evidentiary basis of contemporary medicine. Drawing from my recent work on intellectual property rights and the history of the pharmaceutical industry, in this talk I present some preliminary thoughts on the origins of what I see as a brewing legitimation crisis facing medical science. I suggest that one possible origin point for current concerns about the evidentiary basis of scientific medicine can be found during the late nineteenth century, when a series of therapeutic reformers re-conceptualized the relationship between medical science and monopoly rights in drug manufacturing. In doing so, these reformers sought to legitimize the role of private profit in the production of scientific knowledge; unintentionally, they also cast in doubt the very possibility of an objective science free from motivated self-interest. Since then, I suggest, the tension between private profit as both a productive force and a source of skepticism has been generalized to such an extent that the very possibility of actionable scientific knowledge in the medical domain now seems threatened.

"Fictional Models and Models as Fictions: Disentangling the Difference"
Margaret Morrison, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto
Abstract: Because models often represent the world in unrealistic ways an increasingly popular view in the philosophical literature classifies models as fictions, aligning the way they convey information with strategies used in various forms of fictional writing.  While fictional models certainly play a role in science I want to resist the “models as fictions” view by arguing that it not only has the undesirable consequence of erasing an important distinction between different types of models and modelling practices, but it fails to enhance our understanding of the role that fictional models do play in the transmission of scientific knowledge.

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"Stenography and the Art of Secret Writing: New Perspectives on Michael Maier's Alchemical Emblem Book, Atalanta fugiens (1618)"
Donna Bilak
, Department of History, Columbia Univeristy
Abstract: In 1618, an alchemical savant named Michael Maier published an extraordinary alchemical emblem book, the Atalanta fugiens. Distinguished among the hermetic corpus for its fifty exquisite engravings of enigmatic alchemical images, which are set to music, Maier's Atalanta fugiens is an elegant audio-visual articulation of alchemical theory and practice for producing the philosophers’ stone, the panacea held to restore perfect health and longevity to humankind. The Atalanta fugiens is Maier's allegorical paean to wisdom achieved through the pursuit of true alchemy, and it is his evocation of a Golden Age published on the eve of the Thirty Years' War. However, this book contains a secret that has lain hidden for the past four hundred years, enciphered in its pages. This talk explores Maier's Atalanta fugiens as a virtuoso work of allegorical encryption that fuses poetry, iconography, music, mathematics, and Christian cabala to extol hermetic wisdom, while evoking alchemical technologies and laboratory processes - for Maier’s emblem book functions as a game or puzzle that the erudite reader must solve, decode, play.

"Ecological Theory and the Niche"
James Justus, Department of Philosophy, Florida State University
Abstract: At least until Hubbell’s neutral theory emerged, no concept was thought more important to theorizing in ecology than the niche. Without it––and its highly abstract definition by Hutchinson in particular––technically sophisticated and well-regarded theories of character displacement, limiting similarity, and many others would seemingly never have been developed. The niche concept is also the centerpiece of perhaps the best candidate for a distinctively ecological law, the competitive exclusion principle. But the incongruous array of proposed definitions of the concept squares poorly with its apparent centrality. I argue this definitional diversity reflects a problematic conceptual imprecision that challenges its putative indispensability in ecological theory. Recent attempts to integrate these disparate definitions into a unified characterization fail to resolve the imprecision.

"Method and Morals in William Harvey’s Philosophical Anatomy"
Peter Distelzweig, Department of Philosophy, University of St Thomas
Abstract: In the preface to his 1655 De Corpore, Thomas Hobbes identified William Harvey as the first to discover and demonstrate the science of the human body, and set him alongside Copernicus and Galileo as a founder of genuine natural science. Hobbes says Harvey is the only man he knows who, conquering envy, established a new doctrine in his own lifetime. Harvey himself frames his De motu cordis (1628) as an effort, both methodologically sound and morally upright, to convince “studious, good, and honest men” despite the ill will and machinations of those with biased minds. Drawing on his anatomy lecture notes, I first unpack Harvey’s understanding of right method in “philosophical anatomy.” I then trace how this understanding shapes Harvey’s argumentation in the De motu cordis, including its moral valence.

"Tanked: On Keeping Things Alive in Places They Shouldn't Be"
Nicholas Buchanan, History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, University of Minnesota
Abstract: In this talk, Dr. Buchanan will discuss the history of two tanks, each of which was designed to keep organisms alive in places where they otherwise would have perished.  These artificial environments—aquaria beginning in the mid-19th century and spacecraft in the mid 20th—together offer a window onto changing perceptions about the human ability to know the natural world and to use that knowledge to control, manipulate, and even replicate it.  In both cases, scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts used changing knowledge about the earth and its inhabitants to create technologies that were meant to be “an imitation of the means employed by nature herself” (to use the words of a Victorian aquarian), ranging from table-top jars to large institutional aquaria, from single-person capsules to plans for permanent human colonies in space.  I’ll argue that building artificial environments was an important activity from which scientists, engineers, the public, and policy-makers learned about the systemic complexities of nature.  What’s more, the difficult task of making artificial environments that could actually support life for long periods, and the ease with which these could be “broken,” highlighted the fragility of nature and its vulnerability to human intervention.

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Colloquia Information

Unless otherwise indicated, the lectures are held on Fridays, in conjunction with the Colloquium in Studies of Science and Technology, at 3:35 PM in Room 275 Nicholson Hall.

If you would like to be notified by email of upcoming Center colloquia, please email your request to mcps@umn.edu

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