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2019-20 Colloquium Series

The Science Studies Colloquium Series takes place on Mondays from 12:10pm-1:45pm by Zoom virtual meetings. A meeting ID will be sent out prior to the start time.

Fall Quarter 2019

September 30, 2019

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only

October 7, 2019



October 14, 2019

John Cheney-Lippold

Associate Professor, Department of American Culture
University of Michigan

Accidents Happen: The Ontological Difference in Statistics and Algorithmics

Catherine Malabou writes of the accident as an “explosive transformation,” the becoming of “someone else, an absolute other, someone who will never be reconciled with them selves again.”

In this talk, I will explore several instances of what we can call “accidental transformations”— the use of statistics to invalidate the signature of a multimillion dollar will, the use of statistics to objectify racial categories in the case of People vs. Collins, and the accidental algorithmics that led to the lethal collision of a Tesla autonomous driving vehicle—to demonstrate how statistics and algorithms are fundamentally transformative, resulting in the production of an epistemic other, a “someone else” that escapes our own metaphysical assumptions. This escape forces us to take into account the accidental nature of statistics and algorithmics, the ontological incommensurability between our world, a world of perception, and its statistical/algorithmic cousin, a world of calculation. Ultimately, this lecture will aim to productively reorient many of the pressing questions and debates being had in terms of algorithmic bias, ethics, and ideas of justice.

October 21, 2019

Travis Chamberlain

PhD Candidate, Department of Philosophy & Science Studies
UC San Diego 

The Pragmatist Commitment to Non-Commensurable Capabilities: Balancing Decision-Making Usefulness of Capabilities Indices Against their Distortionary Measurements

Many contemporary capabilities measures aggregate or completely rank sets of indicators.  Call such measures “Capabilities-Based Index Measures” (CBIMs).  Capabilities approach founders Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum hold that different kinds of well-being values are intrinsically non-commensurable (1987, 1992, 2005, 2009, 2011), meaning different kinds of well-being indicators cannot be completely aggregated or ranked along a single scale.  Because they do not cohere with the non-commensurability of well-being values, CBIMs are at least significantly distortionary.  And yet CBIMs continue to be widely used.  Why is this?  
Inasmuch as CBIMs can point to a specific context and purpose, they may have justification for transgressing non-commensurability of well-being values. Capabilities measures that rank entire populations against one another in a spirit of determining how to award aid may have a justification for treating CBIM rankings as competitive scores, similar to scores given in athletic competitions like figure skating or decathlons.  However, we should be wary of the obtuseness of such measures.  For example, sensitivity analysis of different permutations of weightings of the Human Development Index HDI problematically shows significant shifts in aggregated rankings. And yet, sensitivity analysis of the multidimensional poverty index (MPI) that aggregates capabilities deprivations instead of individual capabilities (the HDI) shows less significant shifts in rankings.  Perhaps because capabilities deprivations cluster, MPI rankings less problematically transgress non-commensurability of well-being values than do HDI rankings.  These examples highlight how contemporary well-being measures balance coherent measurement system representations and operationalizations against context and purpose-relevant usefulness. 


October 28, 2019

Morana Alac

Associate Professor, Department of Communication & Science Studies
UC San Diego

Talking to a Toaster: On noticing the opening-with-the-word in everyday interactions with digital voice assistants

Discussions of the problematic relationship between AI and society have recently only heightened. These discussions, nevertheless, remain partial until they take into account how we live AI technologies in unremarkable circumstances of our everyday. In arguing for the importance of such a noticing, this talk centers on pedagogical efforts toward practicing it in the context of the internet-of-things and associated digital voice assistants (DVAs). Designed as conversation-oriented devices, DVAs strongly manifest their incompleteness in that they need other voices. Paying attention to that orientation at an embodied scale of analysis brings up our involvement in an interactional production, while it also manifests its reciprocal character. This resists the return to the individual that more often transpires from the discussions of the problematic relationship between AI and society, and to think through it, I engage distributed cognition and extended mind hypothesis. However, in directing the focus on a conjoint involvement in talk across human-nonhuman divide, I suggest not only going beyond psychological explanations, but also beyond instrumentalist reasoning that conceives of these machines as primarily convenient tools that can extend our cognition. Tracing the achieved quality of bodies and environments—two constitutive elements of DVA technology—points out just how the self in the context of the voiced AI importantly derives from openings between humans and machines in interactional scenes they are a part of, while it also articulates the noticing of these openings as an engaged act.

November 4, 2019

Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology & Science Studies
UC San Diego

Making Markets: Stories of Technologies, Knowledge, and Invisibility

In this talk, I will address the question of how markets come to happen. As I will argue, markets emerge not only through propensities to 'truck, barter, and exchange' but also through the invisible work of sociotechnical agents that make the devices of transactions possible. I will illustrate this with two cases. The first concerns the automation of the London Stock Exchange, characterized by the work of lowly engineers that, with time, sweat, and persistence, transformed the way finance was done in Britain. The second case concerns a market we know all too well: the market for academic labor. By exploring how market-like devices have reshaped the British social scientists, I will highlight how willful ignorance and vocational calls contribute to the marketization of knowledge, academia, and our professional souls.


November 11, 2019

No Colloquium

Veterans Day Holiday


November 18, 2019

Thomas Conner

PhD Candidate, Department of Communication & Science Studies
UC San Diego

The Augmented Reality of Modernity: A Pepper’s Ghost Story

Since the digital resurrection of Tupac Shakur at a 2012 music festival, other deceased pop stars (e.g., Roy Orbison, Ronnie James Dio, Whitney Houston) have returned to concert stages. These events are multimedia social spectacles framed with futuristic discourses implying that they are “new” media, yet the technology producing each of them is a barely altered form of a 19th-century stage illusion called Pepper’s Ghost. Based on a simple optical illusion, Pepper’s Ghost was presented theatrically throughout Europe and the United States in the mid-1800s, often to public sensation. But it was not originally invented for narrative entertainment or even spiritualist séances. Its namesake, John Henry Pepper, was a chemist and a popular lecturer at a London science museum, the Royal Polytechnic Institution, where he developed the ghost illusion to proselytize for a particular strain of European modernity. Pepper’s goal was not to summon a ghost but to reveal that image as the product of superior science.
In this talk, I historicize the development and usage of Pepper’s Ghost as a boundary object—an object liminally situated between science and entertainment, amusement and instruction, and rational inquiry and superstition—in order to demonstrate how this techno-spiritualist spectacle supported the Polytechnic’s ideological programming. I will consider how the 21st-century revival of the illusion continues to promote discourses of technoscientific superiority over not only life but death. I will conclude by reflecting on the benefits of connecting media and cultural studies to STS perspectives.


November 25, 2019

Matthew Shindell

Curator, Planetary Science and Exploration, Space History Department
Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum

The Life and Science of Harold C Urey: A Biography of Cold War Science

Harold C. Urey (1893–1981) was one of the most famous American scientists of the twentieth century. Born in rural Indiana, his evolution from small-town farm boy to scientific celebrity made him a symbol and spokesman for American scientific authority. Because he rose to fame alongside the prestige of American science, the story of his life reflects broader changes in the social and intellectual landscape of twentieth-century America. In his new biography of the chemist, Matthew Shindell shines new light on Urey’s struggles and achievements in an exploration of the science, politics, and society of the Cold War era. From Urey’s orthodox religious upbringing to his death in 1981, Shindell follows the scientist through nearly a century of American history: his discovery of deuterium and heavy water earned him the Nobel Prize in 1934, his work on the Manhattan Project helped usher in the atomic age, he initiated a generation of American scientists into the world of quantum physics and chemistry, and he took on the origin of the Moon in NASA’s lunar exploration program. Despite his success, however, Urey had difficulty navigating the nuclear age. In later years he lived in the shadow of the bomb he helped create, plagued by the uncertainties unleashed by the rise of American science and unable to reconcile the consequences of scientific progress with the morality of religion.

December 2, 2019

Joan Donovan

Director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project 2019
Harvard Kennedy School- Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy  

What is Media Manipulation?

Journalists face a barrage of information and they must make choices about which stories to cover based on available source materials. Some stories, though, are just that, stories. Our research maps and tracks attempts by “media manipulators” to influence journalists and bait them into picking up false stories. During breaking news events, media manipulators act quickly to establish their narratives by creating and seeding content in order to trick journalists into covering specific highly politicized wedge issues. Manipulators often rely on the speed and ubiquity of social media, which has quickened the pace of news, to make wide scale distribution of polarizing hoaxes possible. Manipulation campaigns are planned and executed across multiple platforms online simultaneously in an effort to capture a wide audience of both everyday users and to ensnare journalists. Broadly, we refer to these tactics as “source hacking,” a versatile set of techniques for feeding false information to journalists, investigators, and the general public during breaking news events or across highly polarized wedge issues. In this paper, we examine four different methods of "source hacking" and show how media manipulators rely on the specific affordances of sociotechnical platforms to surface false information and consequently sway and/or set media agendas. While most journalists are trained to spot savvy public relations, promotional content, and to avoid publishing propaganda, in this networked media environment, hoaxes assume new forms and often mask themselves as social movements. In order for journalists to effectively spot and debunk these hoaxes, theory and methods for addressing source hacking must be developed and widely disseminated across journalism schools and newsrooms.

December 9, 2019

No Colloquium

Finals Week

Winter Quarter 2020

January 6, 2020

Andrea Muehlebach

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Toronto

What is a Financial Frontier? Water Insurgencies in Europe

This talk explores the financialization of public water utilities through three devices – the bill, the meter, and the water fountain – and the politics that have accrued around them. It shows how water – as life, gift, vital public resource and contested infrastructure – has emerged as symbol and substance through which protesters in Italy and Ireland have developed a lexicon and series of legal and political tactics to struggle against the every-day effects of financialized public goods. At stake is the emergence of a “vital politics,” where vital urban services and infrastructures have become sites through which the governance of "life" itself is put to question.

January 9-10, 2020

Evelynn Hammonds

Chair, Department of the History of Science

Harvard University


January 13, 2020

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only


January 20, 2020

No Colloquium

Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday 


January 27, 2020

Carl Cranor

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy
UC Riverside

Some Pointellist Highlights from Science and the Law

I will present aspects of three different topics that are apt for science studies. 1) Agnotology or the study (via the law) of institutionally induced ignorance or doubt, especially the presentation of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. 2) Courts' struggles with inferences to the best explanation (and why such inferences are needed). 3) A brief discussion of some examples of minimal standards of scientific evidence to protect the public in some legal venues. Better protection of the public from toxic substances loosely connects these topics.


February 3, 2020

Nir Shafir

Assistant Professor, Department of History
UC San Diego

Forging Islamic Science

Fake miniature paintings purporting to be real historical depictions of Islamic science have colonized our imagination of the past. First created in the late 1990s and 2000s for the tourist market in Istanbul, they often depict scenes of scientific activity that were never visually depicted historically. However, they have now entered library collections and online stock photo agencies, and from there found their way onto academic book covers, conference posters, and popular articles. These fake images are not isolated incidents but part of a broader phenomenon of reinventing the scientific past of the Islamic world. Today, there are even entire museums completely devoid of any historical objects and filled instead with the reimagined historical objects of Muslims’ science.
What happens when we start fabricating objects for the histories we wish to tell. Why are we rejecting the actual material remnants of the Islamic past for their imagined counterparts? More than just a story about the need to privilege truth over fiction, the talk reveals a larger problem that arises when the way we consume images on internet today collides with the expectations we saddle upon the Islamic scientific past to be recognizably modern. The well-intentioned desire to counter Islamophobia has resulted in the erasure of the history of past Muslims themselves. Why and how we should recommit to “real” objects and images when we readily recognize that the line between the fake and the authentic has always been fluid.

February 10, 2020

Olivia Weisser

Associate Professor of History, College of Liberal Arts
University of Massachusetts Boston

Poxed and Ravished Bodies in the Eighteenth Century

Inspections of the body’s most intimate surfaces were crucial to rape cases in eighteenth-century England. Medical experts, namely female midwives, evaluated bruises, lacerations, and stretched skin for evidence of abuse. This talk examines a curious pattern in 59 of these cases: a tendency to place the poxed body rather than the ravished body center stage. These cases re-framed the focus of inquiry from rape to disease at nearly every step, from accounts of discovering rape at home to inspections of bodies and clothes in the courtroom. This talk attempts to explain this phenomenon, arguing that the focus on disease made rape easier to communicate, convict, and condemn. The disease provided a morally loaded language for talking about otherwise unspeakable crimes. And perhaps most importantly, it provided tangible, if contested, evidence of rape that could be evaluated on the skin – evidence that rested on the testimony of male as opposed to female medical experts.

February 17, 2020 

No Colloquium

Presidents' Day Holiday


February 24, 2020

Margaret Schabas

Professor, Department of Philosophy
The University of British Columbia

“On the Cautious Observation of Everyday Life”: Hume and the Science of Economics 

David Hume not only contributed significantly to economic theory, particularly on money and trade,
but also devised important insights on the scientific standing of economics as part of his broader
project to devise the “science of man” based “on the cautious observation of everyday life.”
Surprisingly, Hume suggests that the core propositions in economics might prove more robust and
enduring than those in the physical sciences. When Hume devised these beliefs, the Newtonian
theory was still contested and there was good reason to be sceptical about its core propositions. My
talk will position Hume in this context and unpack his specific arguments for the scope and methods
of the science of commerce (economics). He devised a number of inferential tools to identify and
measure leading indicators such as the quantity of money or purchasing power parity. I will also
attend to Adam Smith’s essay on the History of Astronomy, drafted just as he befriended Hume circa
1750, that is remarkably prescient for its instrumental stance on Newton.

March 2, 2020




March 9, 2020

Nicolas Wey Gómez

Professor of History, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Science, Faith and Empire: Columbus’s Troubled Legacy

On his third voyage to the Indies (1498), Christopher Columbus arrived at the mouth of the Orinoco River looking for the riches his previous voyages had failed to deliver. The naturalist in him soon realized that this great body of water flowed out of a continent previously unknown to Europeans. He also came to believe that this extraordinarily bountiful mainland harbored the garden of Eden God had placed at the end of the Orient. More surprisingly, he soon insisted that the world itself was not at all a sphere. This talk considers the links between Columbus’s skills as a navigator and naturalist, the theology of his time, and the specter of imperialist ideology.

March 16, 2019

No Colloquium

Finals Week

Spring Quarter 2020

March 30, 2020

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only

April 4, 2020

No Colloquium


April 13, 2020

No Colloquium



April 20, 2020

Poyao Huang

PhD Candidate, Communication & Science Studies
UC San Diego

The Rise of the Gay Clinic: Gay Taiwanese Men’s Medical Travel to Thailand

Whereas Taiwan has been at the forefront of the global scale-up and local "road testing" of HIV pre-exposure prophylactic drug treatment (PrEP) in Asia, Thailand has emerged as a choice medical tourism destination for PrEP treatment. Since 2014, some Thai private clinics have offered less expensive, generic versions of the medication, attracting HIV-negative gay men from around the world who travel to the tourist destination of Bangkok not only for the affordable healthcare but also for circuit parties and recreational drugs.
In this presentation, I follow my primary research subjects, Taiwanese men, to Thailand, and engage with their stories of travel to one gay sexual health clinic in Bangkok to explore the theme of “science as a vacation.” Questions I ask include: What are the historical conditions that support the rise of the gay clinic? How do Taiwanese gay men negotiate structural, economic, and national barriers in order to sustain their sexual health? How does the gay clinic in Thailand offer personalized gendered and healthcare in the neoliberal context of drug’s marketization? I address the transformation of health, risk, safe sex, and other taken-for-granted notions in public health in the case of PrEP’s global circulation and consumption. Ultimately, I argue that the rise of the gay clinic should not be treated only as the privatization of HIV medicine but rather as a queer response to the normative aspects of health management and the and the malfunction of the nation-state.


April 27, 2020

No Colloquium



May 4, 2020

No Colloquium


May 11, 2020

No Colloquium


May 18, 2020

No Colloquium


May 25, 2020

No Colloquium 

Memorial Day Observance


June 1, 2020

Yelena Gluzman

PhD Candidate, Communication & Science Studies
UC San Diego

Animating Autism and the Attribution of Mind 

While STS literatures have long demonstrated how laboratory experiments are shaped by their political, social and interactional conditions, experiments remain key sites of demonstration and contestation. In recent years, a “collaborative turn” has advocated for bringing STS perspectives to directly bear upon scientific practice. My dissertation, Cognitive Neuroscience and the Experimental Theater of Other Minds, contributes to these literatures from the novel perspective of experimental theater, an approach that stresses reflexive engagement with staged, lived events. Drawing on theater and centering ethnomethods, I embed myself as a “participant-interpreter” in sites of cognitive neuroscientific practice to collaboratively consider and reconsider how experiments are conceptualized, staged, analyzed and interpreted. 
In this talk I will focus on a collaborative experiment on creativity in autism. The development of this experiment, undertaken with cognitive neuroscientist Jaime Pineda and others, built on close readings of previous creativity studies and debates about their validity, especially in respect to the experiences of experimental subjects. A theater approach meant thinking of these previous studies not as simple tests of a hypothesis but as complex unfolding events. Considering these events from multiple perspectives called into question the ways these studies interpreted their data, as well as the claims of autistic deficits in creativity that rested upon those interpretations. Moving from a critique of these literatures to incorporating such critiques in the design of a novel experiment was an opportunity to collaboratively grapple with how to stage a robust experiment outside of a deficit framework that configures autistic minds as lacking. In response to previous research that used animated geometrical figures based on Heider-Simmel animations (1944) to demonstrate a mentalizing deficit in autistic children, we designed and conducted an experiment that asked autistic and typically-developing children to create their own animated films. This experiment serves as an empirical case to consider the challenges and promises of staging expanded interpretive possibilities in the cognitive neuroscience lab.   


June 8, 2020

No Colloquium

Finals Week