2016-17 Colloquium Series
The Science Studies Colloquium Series takes place every Monday of the quarter from 4:00p-5:30p in Room 3027, Humanities & Social Sciences Building, Muir College campus, unless noted otherwise.
A reception for the colloquium speaker takes place before the talk from 3:30p-4:00p in Room 3005, Humanities & Social Sciences Building.
September 26, 2016
Science Studies Program Meeting
SSP faculty and students only
October 3, 2016
Assistant Professor, School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, and the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Arizona State University
Making big promises come true? Negotiating standards and value in synthetic biology
My research focuses on the relationship between biology and engineering in the 21st century, looking specifically at the emerging field of synthetic biology. Synthetic biologists are striving to make biology easier, cheaper and more reliable to engineer. Coming from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, they share a vision that engineering principles and practices like standardization, modularization and abstraction will prove as useful for ‘building with biology’ as they do for designing non-living systems. This talk will explore how ideas, promises and practices from biology and engineering are being negotiated in synthetic biology. In particular, I will focus on early efforts to define standards for the field. BioBrickTM standard biological parts were initially presented as tools to make genetic engineering more efficient and reliable, and have been accompanied by a particular imagination of innovation and value creation in synthetic biology. However, exploring the practices of synthetic biology reveals multiple sites of ambivalence and contestation over the design and use of standardized biological parts. I show how early negotiations over the promises and practices surrounding BioBricks have helped to configure the epistemic foundations and design space of the field, and are contributing to the making of value in synthetic biology.
October 10, 2016
Associate Professor of History, UCSan Diego
Professor of Ethnic Studies, UC San Diego
Science Studies and Merchants of Doubt in the Textbook Wars
Cathy Gere will tell the story of the sociologist of science who gave testimony on behalf of Christian fundamentalists in a battle over ‘intelligent design’ in biology textbooks. Kamala Visweswaran will then describe how her science studies training enabled key interventions against textbook lobbies led by Hindu nationalists. The discussion of these two cases will be framed by Naomi Oreskes’ concept of ‘Merchants of Doubt,’ and will spotlight the relationship between cultural politics and critical epistemology in the field of science studies.
October 17, 2016
Anthropology of Science: a discussion
"Laboratory Ethnography." "The Anthropology of Reason." "Science in Action." These phrases characterize approaches in Science Studies, signaling our deep intellectual and methodological debts to the discipline of anthropology. In its turn, anthropology has, in recent decades, turned its analytical gaze on the institutions and cultures of science, medicine, and technology. For this session of the Science Studies Colloquium, we have invited our colleagues from the UCSD Anthropology Department to come and talk with us about the relationship between our fields, and to discuss the possibility of deepening and strengthening the ties between our programs.
What are the connections between our fieldwork practices? How might we learn from one another? Should anthropology graduate students get training in science studies, and should science studies students learn methods and approaches from anthropology? What is the role of political advocacy in both disciplines? This session will be in the form of an open discussion of these and many other questions, and should be of interest to anyone with a stake in the past, present, and future of either field.
October 24, 2016
Distinguished Professor Emerita, Philosophy, Norco College
Standpoint theory: epistemology from methodology?
Feminist standpoint methodology as practiced by feminist social scientists has informed feminist epistemology. The approach admonishes social scientists to “start from the lives of women” in order to produce knowledge that is for, by, and about them. A motivation for the approach is as members of a subordinated social group women have access to evidence in their everyday experiences that is not available through other, more traditional, scientific methods and is relevant to liberatory knowledge projects. One of the key tenets of standpoint theories is that those who are oppressed, marginalized, or otherwise outside of the dominant power structure have access to knowledge of that power structure in ways that the dominant members of society do not. They are epistemically privileged in this respect. But the admonition to start from the “lives of women” is problematic. Women are not a homogeneous group – their experiences vary both as individuals and as members of different social groups and so the transition to epistemology from standpoint methodology becomes problematic since it is difficult to identify the knower(s). Looking at how feminist standpoint works as a method – how feminist social scientists produce knowledge in practice – emphasizes the socio-political aspects of knowledge communities: how they are formed, for what purposes, and the extent to which they are stable. To turn standpoint approaches from methodology to epistemology requires giving an account of the socio-political aspects of knowledge communities and their formation. I sketch such and account and in doing so argue that it requires an account of identity. Consequently I also consider the extent to which different currently available accounts of identity – individual, group identities, and their intersections – can work for a standpoint epistemology.
October 31, 2016
PhD Candidate, Communications and Science Studies, UC San Diego
PhD Candidate, Communications and Science Studies, UC San Diego
Skeletons in the Archive: A Feminist Theory Theater reading of the Science Studies Program
Texts happen. A text never exists until it is performed, whether alone in your office, in a seminar, or on a stage. Each situation makes a difference in the way that a text’s effects congeal. This special Halloween edition of the Science Studies Colloquium introduces Feminist Theory Theater (FTT), an experimental reading practice that foregrounds the embodied and social conditions of interpreting theoretical and archival texts. FTT follows feminist theory in its emphasis on collective, situated meaning-making, that is to say, what we call theater.
In FTT, small groups of participants work together to devise provisional stagings of a text as a way to make emerging interpretations available to the group. Putting the text “on its feet” is not done to create a finished show, but rather as a mode of working, thinking, and taking on an argument with our bodies. There is no audience in Feminist Theory Theater; readers are performers, and spectatorship is a mode of attuning to each other.
Taking up the seasonal theme of hauntings, together we will read an archival document from the history of UCSD’s Science Studies Program. The reflexive orientation is not meant to to be salacious or confessional, but is rather an opening into a distributed exploration of our institutional history. Because talking about FTT is best done by participating in FTT, this colloquium will be in a workshop format. To invite the participation of SSP specters, ghosts, and ghouls, the workshop will be held at the Mandeville Suite, on the top floor of Tioga Hall. Costumes are welcome but not required.
November 7, 2016
Post Doctoral Fellow, Center for Research on Ethical, Legal & Social Implications of Pyschiatric, Neurologic & Behavioral Genetics, Columbia University
Constructing Early-Life in the Lab: Maternal Care and the Production of Adversity in Environmental Epigenetics
Environmental epigenetics focuses on how social forces – including pollution, nutrition, stress, trauma, and care – become molecularly embodied, affect gene expression without changing DNA sequence, and produce durable changes that may influence the health and behavior of individuals, their offspring, and future generations. In recent years, this area of molecular biology has captured the attention of life and social scientists, physicians, policymakers, and the public. In this talk, I describe how maternal care has become a central epistemic object in research on the epigenetic effects of early-life adversity. My analysis draws on two years of ethnographic research in an epigenetics laboratory in the United States. Building on work in feminist science studies, I examine the politics of care as it is enacted with research samples, experimental protocols, and behavioral endpoints in experiments on model organisms. My findings point to tensi ons between researchers’ care for the data and their measurement of adversity as a discrete variable in the form of maternal interaction, neglect, and abuse. I argue that these tensions suggest a complex assemblage of allowed and invisible environments that are actively shaping understandings of the biological and social, including expectations of women as mothers. This study suggests that the holistic explanations of health and development promised by environmental epigenetics are simultaneously constructed and constrained by its practices. In conclusion, I consider what these findings signal for social scientists’ engagement with environmental epigenetics and postgenomic science today.
November 14, 2016
Associate Professor, Department of Science and Technology in Society, Virginia Tech
Every American an Innovator: How Innovation Became a Way of Life
To innovate is the 21st century’s defining imperative. Nation states develop innovation systems to compete in a fast-moving global economy. Companies vie for market share and talent by claiming their cultures are the most innovative. Universities seek to turn discovery into intellectual property. Aid workers utilize smartphone apps to improve global health. Whatever our chosen avocation each of us is compelled to survive in a world of “continuous change.” From where do these ideas about innovation and innovators come? What does their history reveal about the ambitions and realities of our society? How are they embodied in images of self and in daily practices? Finally, how can awareness of this history shape current and future approaches to socio-technical change?
This talk shows how innovation became a “way of life” in the United States from the 1960s to today. I highlight two crucial dimensions of this process. First, the rise of innovation expertise—the methods and practices designed to enhance innovative activity. And second, the composite images of innovators that such expertise creates. I chart the growth of a network of entrepreneurial scientists, inventors, artists, government bureaucrats, venture capitalists, US presidents, and thousands of everyday people. In this nexus of expertise and imagination, I identify cross-cutting themes that characterize how visions and practices of innovation shape aspirations at the societal, but also the personal, level. I conclude with a call for critical participation that bridges the gap between the “how can we?” questions of innovation practitioners with the “why” questions of science studies scholars.
November 21, 2016
PhD Candidate, Communication and Science Studies, UC San Diego
Post-Doctoral Researcher, Center for Circadian Biology, UC San Diego
PhD '16, Philosophy and Cognitive Science , UC San Diego
A Cross-Disciplinary Exploration of Interdisciplinarity in Science Studies
Interdisciplinarity is a common goal in humanistic and social scientific studies of science. However, operating within multiple disciplines, each with their own distinct theoretical and methodological traditions, presents problems of legibility. This is especially true when a social scientist does philosophically informed work, and when a philosopher does empirically-informed work. Outsiders in other fields can overlook the work's novelty, viewing it as mainstream. Insiders doing more traditional work within a field can misunderstand the purpose of interdisciplinary research, and may view it as failing to meet traditional standards. In these two talks, Rebecca Hardesty and Dr. Ben Sheredos will demonstrate how it is productive, but difficult, to take unabashedly interdisciplinary approaches to examine practices within the biological sciences.
November 28, 2016
Julia E. Rogers
PhD Candidate, Sociology and Science Studies, UC San Diego
Epistemological Concerns in the Weight Dependent Health Paradigm of Medical Science: Challenging the Black Box of Obesity
The Weight Dependent Health Paradigm in medical science is pervasive and rarely name. The notion that excess adipose tissue (as measured by weight, waist circumference, or BMI) leads to poor health outcomes is persistent and is perceived as common sense. It is a theoretical position that physicians and researchers do not feel the need to articulate as an epistemic claim, but instead state as fact. However, Emerging data about the “obesity paradox,” the failure of public health efforts to materialize lasting weight loss among the public and a push from a minority of healthcare professionals has begun to bring the Weight Dependent Health Paradigm into question. Health At Every Size© and the Weight Neutral Paradigm have been proposed as evidence based alternatives within weight science. HAES and the Weight Neutral Paradigm question what constitutes evidence based medicine and best practices in a field that cannot offer a long-term solution to the problem of excess adipose tissue. These practitioners and researchers agitate against the epistemic assumptions of the dominant narrative. The nature of their criticism and complaints seeks to open the black box of obesity: they question the veracity of weight science’s claims. The HAES and Weight Neutral Paradigms challenge their peers to produce mechanistic explanations for obesity’s apparent health effects. Additionally, they demand the consideration of non-biological pathways of causation for obesity related health effects. At the heart of this controversy is a question about what we are measuring when we measure obesity as a health variable. This paper evaluates the epistemic position and claims underlying the HAES and Weight Neutral Paradigm critiques of weight science research.
December 5, 2015
January 9, 2017
Science Studies Program Meeting
SSP faculty and students only
January 16, 2017
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
January 23, 2017
Department of Psychology, UC San Diego
What’s Wrong with Fishing Around in Data? A Priors Heterogeneity Analysis
The “Replicability Movement” that has arisen in recent years has drawn a great deal of new attention to the idea that research studies (including hypotheses, measures, and analytical strategies) ought to be specified in advance to reduce what are sometimes called Investigator Degrees of Freedom. This sort of "confirmatory" research (as against an "exploratory" or "fishing around" type of research) is widely recommended as offering the only reliable route to firm knowledge about empirical relationships studied in the context of measurement error. I contend that the rationale for this recommendation is less clear than is widely assumed. Using a series of simplified statistical simulations of the research and data generation process, I find that while confirmatory research has certain benefits, it does not automatically confer benefits in terms of the likelihood that published results will be true (positive predictive value, or PPV). However, I show that a gain in PPV is predicted when one assumes that investigators are heterogeneous in the base rates for the truth of the hypotheses they formulate. I will also discuss additional simulations examining the utility of a mixed exploration/confirmation strategies. I show that on the simplest starting assumptions, a recommended mixed strategy actually performs worse than an exploration-only approach.
January 30, 2017
Department of Sociology, UCLA
The "Butcher’s Philosophy": Situating Human Health in a Metabolic Landscape
In 1934, nutrition scientist Clive McCay warned that children were being raised with an attitude to growth that he called “the butcher’s philosophy”: the desire to bring animals to market weight quickly and efficiently. This talk excavates the butcher’s philosophy of the twentieth century and its consequences for the chemical landscapes of life in the twenty-first century. The history of medicated feed for animals in the twentieth century has traditionally been seen as a rather specialized corner of agricultural history: the story of how antibiotics, arsenicals, hormones, and vitamins were used to grow animals to market size earlier with less feed is an important part of the industrialization of American food systems. Yet it is also the history of a major re-articulation of the metabolic interrelations of bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, and humans, in which flows of enzymes, amino acids, and secondary metabolites between o rganisms changed profoundly. This talk uses insights from this history to rethink frameworks for investigating the relationship between diet and health, arguing for experimental and epidemiological approaches that are better equipped to take account of the historically-specific metabolic landscapes of human development and health.
February 6, 2017
Department of Philosophy, Oakland University
PhD'14, Philosophy and Science Studies, UC San Diego
Forty Years After Lab Life
What kind of results do ethnographies produce? Here I re-examine one particularly well-known and influential ethnography: Latour and Woolgar's "Laboratory Life." I argue that, in the decades since publication, the results of Latour and Woolgar's study have been at least somewhat scientized by science studies scholars—as is, we have tended to treated them as though they have a degree of applicability and longevity beyond that of the particular time, place, and culture in which they were obtained. But what about our ethnographic practice supports such generalization and endurance? Here I document a retrospective ethnography designed and conducted in order to test the viability of our scientization of such results.
February 13, 2017
Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Smoke Ring: From American Tobacco to Japanese Data
This essay examines the history of the Japanese “Smokers’ Wives Study”—a landmark 1981 study that demonstrated that the non-smoking wives of smoking husbands developed lung cancer at high rates. Results of the study were crucial for American “non-smokers’ rights” activists who sought to restrict smoking in public on the basis that it harmed non-smokers. Such exchanges demonstrate that even local governance in the US has been constituted by transnational flows of information. Just as importantly, though, the study’s data was itself constituted by transnational currents. Beginning in the 1960s, Japanese cigarettes were made with increasing amounts of American tobacco, and so Japanese smokers and nonsmokers alike were tied to the United States through flows of tobacco and capital. Routed through Japan, tobacco had a boomerang effect in the United States, reshaping the social, cultural and economic meaning of smoking and of smokers.
February 20, 2017 (President's Day Holiday)
PhD Candidate, History and Science Studies, UC San Diego
Visualizing Mathematics: Visual Aids in The Elements and the Hierarchy of Disciplines
Visual aids to Euclid's Elements were considered so integral to the text that already in the first printed edition (1482) Erhard Ratholdt went to great lengths to include numerous diagrams despite the challenges of including illustrations in the early years of printing. Since diagrams were considered essential, over the years many publishers of The Elements relied on very similar images. Despite similarities between diagrams in various editions, the images in The Elements present arguments that go beyond the illustration of the geometric proofs. In the sixteenth century, visual aids in The Elements became part of arguments about the status of mathematics within the hierarchy of disciplines. In this talk, I will examine the treatment of diagrams in three versions of The Elements published in the 1570s to show how visuals created different visions of mathematics and its value. Sir Henry Billingsley, an English merchant who published a version of The Elements in 1570, used images to emphasize the physical nature of geometry by providing diagrams that were physical instances of the entities studied. He saw mathematics as a useful study of concrete bodies. Federico Commandino, an Italian humanist whose version of The Elements was published in 1570, emphasized the abstract by using diagrams to illustrate universal concepts and principles. He saw mathematics as a noble study of universal truths. Christopher Clavius, the mathematics teacher at the Jesuits' Collegio Romano, published his version in 1574 in which he used diagrams to draw connections between the physical world and the conceptual world. He treated mathematics as a bridge between concrete bodies and abstract ideas.
February 27, 2017
Matthew J. Brown
Department of Philosophy and History of Ideas, UT Dallas
Science and Moral Imagination: A New Ideal for Values in Science
What is the role of values in science? What are the ethical and political responsibilities of scientists qua scientists? I describe and defend a new approach to these questions based on the concept of "moral imagination" from recent work in ethics. According to the ideal of moral imagination, scientists should be encouraged and trained to recognize contingencies or decision-points in their research, to creatively explore possible options, to empathetically recognize potential stakeholders, and to discover morally salient aspects and consequences of their decisions, and make decisions that harmonize across ethical and epistemic considerations as far as possible. Furthermore, I argue that these contingencies that occasion value judgment are pervasive in scientific practice, at every level and stage. My account emphasizes the positive aspects of the interaction of science and values, and provides primarily prospective guidance for scientists ma king value-laden decisions in situ. In this talk, I will give special attention to the different way this ideal plays out in individual decision-making in scientific inquiry, in the primary sociality of science (socially distributed cognition in the laboratory and research group), and in the secondary sociality of science (the processes of credibility and certification in the scientific discipline or community).
March 6, 2017
Department of Sociology, UC San Diego
Pricing Possibilities:The Science of Commodification in Mid-20th Century Hungary
How does one quantify the value of an event or put a price on a possibility? This problematic drove mid-20th century work scientists in Hungary to devise scientific means of assessing the value of labor. European work science, a field predating Taylorism and scientific management in the U.S., drew heavily on innovative studies in thermodynamics in the 1880s and 1890s. Initially focusing on energy expenditure and bodily movement, the field of work science grew to encompass occupational psychology and business management. In the talk I will describe the techniques deployed to evaluate all manner of tasks in agriculture in terms of skill and physical difficulty, a process of developing standardized metrics that were then paired with numerical values expressing the equivalents of in kind goods and services customarily provided to workers. Initiated in the 1920s and ‘30s by politically conservative agrarian economists advocating the modernization of large-scale agriculture, the project only gained support when Communist Party officials in 1948 insisted that socialist wage systems be designed scientifically. This episode in Hungarian history is used to examine two central concerns in Science Studies: the role of expertise in the politically fraught transition from capitalism to socialism in Hungary, and the character of formal representations as situated (indexical) processes.
March 13, 2017
Department of Philosophy, UC San Diego
Naturalism and Genetic Modification
While philosophers of biology and historians of science have been attentive to how the meanings of the term ‘gene’ have shifted over the past one-hundred years, applied philosophers and bioethicists often fail to pay sufficient attention to the complex and changing nature of the term. In this talk I will show why what we mean by ‘gene’ is crucially important for bioethics, and how inattentiveness to relevant biological details has resulted in problematic regulations. I will argue that bioethicists ought to either specify what they mean by gene or otherwise appeal to other concepts when discussing developments in biotechnology.
March 20, 2017 (Finals Week)
Director of Egenis, Professor (Philosophy of Science)
University of Exeter
This talk derives from a current project supported by the European Research Council, A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology. It will address basic questions concerning the ontology of evolution from a processual perspective. While evolution is of course a process, it is often implicitly supposed that the entities that evolve or that constitute the evolutionary process, whether genes, organisms, populations, or whatever, are kinds of things. I will argue that these, too, are better seen as processes, albeit highly stabilised processes.
Species are often identified as the entities that evolve. I shall briefly discuss the well-known Ghiselin/Hull thesis of species as individuals, and propose that this is correct provided we recognise that the individuals in question are processes. However, most kinds of organisms do not form species at all in the relevant sense, so we must accept a highly pluralistic view of evolutionary process. From this point of view I shall consider a range of controversial contemporary candidates for units of selection, including holobionts, clones and, as proposed recently by Ford Doolittle, various recurrent processes, including multispecies ecological interactions.
March 27, 2017
April 3, 2017
Science Studies Program Meeting
SSP faculty and students only
April 10, 2017
Department of Medical History and Bioethics, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Thinking about a Global History of the Environment
How can one write a global history of the environment? When does such a history begin, and what is its archive? This discussion takes the ubiquitous concept of the Anthropocene as its beginning, and attempts to historicize both the concept and its principles by exploring major transformations in the relationship between humans and their surroundings.
April 17, 2017
Liberal Studies, California State University Northridge
UC Distinguished Professor
Department of Philosophy and Science Studies, UC San Diego
Bas Van Fraassen
McCosh Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus
What’s So Special About Empirical Adequacy?
This seminar begins with an open-ended dialogue between two different views about the importance of empirical adequacy to good theory.
Empirical adequacy matters directly - as it does for antirealists - if we aim to get all or most of the observable facts right, or indirectly - as it does for realists - as a symptom that the claims we make about the theoretical facts are right. But, Cartwright and Bhakthavatsalam ask, why should getting the facts - either theoretical or empirical - right be required of an acceptable theory? They endorse two other jobs that good theories are expected to do: helping us with a) understanding and b) managing the world, and claim that both are of equal, often greater, importance than getting a swathe of facts right, and empirical adequacy fares badly in both. They argue that it is not needed for doing these jobs and in many cases it gets in the way of doing them efficiently.
Van Fraassen responds that empirical grounding is a more nuanced concept than empirical adequacy, and is arguably required for managing the world, and in addition that “understanding” is a factive verb, but that its criteria are controversial.
The plan is to keep the original presentation of the views short in order to leave time for the whole seminar to engage in discussing and thinking through the issues.
April 24, 2017
Department of Sociology, Memorial University
Being a Scientist Means Taking Sides: Activist Methodologies in Scientific Research
STS has long held that science is not a neutral, objective, value-free endeavor, but is premised on values and social norms. While STS excels that this critique, it leaves scientists who believe in it with the question: “Ok, so now what? What do I do when I go downstairs to my lab?”
Dr. Max Liboiron directs Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), an STS-informed marine science laboratory to collaboratively work out this question with her students. How can we leverage the non-neural, not-objective, value-laden premises of science for an activated, activist science? How can we be feminist scientists, do decolonial science, and practice equity, solidarity and humility at the bench? How can we make social change in the lab and in the field, using our science?
This talk introduces the primary role of ethics, values, and methodology to the activist work of science. It uses case studies from CLEAR to show how an STS-informed lab regularly grinds against Western, patriarchal, masculinist, individualist, and colonial frameworks for science in ways that are uncomfortable and ineffective, or hilarious and compelling, sometimes at the same time.
CLEAR specializes in methodological resistance to existing power structures. Rather than leverage scientific findings to argue for change via evidence-based decision-making—which is important, but not our way—we argue that the methods of science-in-progress are the best sites for social change and political activism. Some of CLEAR’s projects in this vein include creating charismatic technologies such as BabyLegs or the Plastic Extraction Nautical Instrument System (PENIS) to repulse university IP practices based on private, profit-seeking patents and holding community peer review of contamination results that give fishing communities the right to reject or refuse the publication of research.
May 1, 2017
Associate Professor of Modern Chinese Literature, Comparative Literature, and Cultural Studies
Department of Literature, UC San Diego
May 8, 2017
Christian A. Johnson Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies
Women and Gender Studies, Bates College
Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies People, UMass Amherst
(Be)laboring Biopolitics: Genealogies of Labor in STS
Labor has been and continues to be an indispensable category of analysis for understanding asymmetrical
social relations in and across post-industrial settings, as evidenced by the proliferation of new terms deployed
by activists and scholars: “affective” labor, “immaterial” labor, “digital” labor, and so forth. In this talk, we trace
the recent advent of a concept alternately referred to as “biological,” “biomedical,” or “clinical” labor, and
explore its utility for contemporary science and technology studies (STS). Placing labor studies and STS in
conversation (without presupposing clear or stable boundaries around either field of scholarship), we probe the
meanings and limitations of the concept of “biological labor” from the vantage points of both fields, ending with
some reflections on the biopolitics of academic labor. Our approach draws in particular on critiques of human
exceptionalism generated by scholars in animal studies, critical race studies, indigenous studies, postcolonial
studies, queer and trans studies, and feminist new materialisms.