Interested in how science, technology, and society interact? Find out more information about the Science and Technology in Society Teaching Group professors and the undergraduate courses they teach at the University of Waterloo.
Authors: Taylor | Tikku | Toye | Turrin | Valles (Wake, Waddell) | Valtchanov (Parry, Glover, Mulcahy) | Vasko | Videchak | Weaver | Weiss | Weitzenkorn | Weller | Whitten | Wieten | Willey (Giordano) | Witt | Wolfe | Woomer | Zheng
For most of human history, sex between human animals and nonhuman animals has been approached as a moral and legal problem. As with many other deviant behaviours, we have, however, recently seen a shift from seeing this problematic act as a sin or a crime to seeing it as a medical problem characterizing a certain human kind. That is, we have lately invented the concepts of zoophilia and bestiality, and—as has happened with other psychiatrized human kinds—these categories have not only been cause for stigmatization, but have also been taken up by the individuals so stigmatized as an identity position whose rights need to be defended. This presentation will consider the increasingly pervasive view that sex between humans and nonhuman animals is not merely a problematic act, but reflects a sexual identity, as this is expressed in psychiatric literature, in the discourses of self-described zoophiles, and in some recent work in queer theory. In particular, it will examine the community of zoophiles or ‘zoos’—attending in particular to its racial and sexed demographic (white males). While offering some reasons to be sympathetic to attempts to ‘queer’ the human/animal binary, this paper will draw on Michel Foucault to problematize this historical shift, while, informed by ecofeminist scholarship, it will argue that sexual and romantic relations between humans and nonhuman animals should be seen as an effect of a pervasive logic of domination.
This paper explores the predominant trans narrative of being “born in the wrong body” or “trapped in the wrong body” as a way of describing trans embodiment and interpreting sex/gender change. Even though some trans persons may associate with this narrative or deploy it in certain contexts. I will show the rehearsed and repeated use of this discursive device constrains thinking about sex and gender according to the sex/gender binary.
These stories are taken as the ideal trope to explain what it is like to be trans, because they sustain and support conventional forms of sexed/gendered embodiment. It is more than an argument about medicine’s role in preserving sex/gender norms and boundaries. Rather, it is an argument that the descriptive force of claiming to be in a wrong body both frames the issue in such a way that trans people are seen as trying to fix the incongruence between sexed body and gendered psyche, and yet negates the possibility for sex/gender transition itself. Moreover, the metaphysical underpinnings of claiming to be in the wrong body make it difficult to even make sense of what it would be like to be trans. Referencing or making use of wrong body narratives is an epistemic practice; it is a process of myth maintenance and misinformation because it requires us to ignore all the knowledge that shows how social and environment aspects have bearing on sex/gender identity formation and beliefs. Because wrong body narratives support the assumptions that ground the binary, normatively sexed/gendered people do not have to grapple with these foundational ideas, no matter how false, problematic, or unsubstantiated they may be. In other words, wrong body narratives constrain thinking to the sex/gender binary.
“The New Materialism” is rethinking the roles that “nature,” materialism and the sciences play in feminist theory, including the nature of and place of “the body” in this field. (Coole and Frost). The connected transdisciplinary area of “affect studies” is also asking these questions in intriguing ways, such that emotion is increasingly being taken not only as a serious subject of study but also, as a way of studying. Consequently, feminism’s central methodologies like “the personal is the political,” “the everyday,” and “situated knowledges” are being taken up elsewhere, while new feminist scholars are pushing these methods through such offerings as “archives of feelings,” (Cvetkovich) “autopoesis,” (Clough) and “reparative reading.” (Sedgwick).
Elsewhere, I proposed a “poethics of love” as a theory/methodology for understanding the texts of many misunderstood feminist theorists and creative writers. “Poethics” names both a generative mode and a reading strategy that brings concerns of politics, ethics, aesthetics and embodiment together. Why it is specifically a “poethics of love,” however, has not yet adequately been articulated. In this paper I want to foreground how the embodied emotion of “love,” conceived in particular ways, is central to feminist methodologies. In “Love and Knowledge,” Alison Jaggar (1989) argues for the active role emotions play in the construction of knowledge, and since Plato, the importance of love, specifically, for Western epistemology. Emotion, and love (explicitly named, or metonymically implied) has arguably played a key role in other feminist methodolgoies: Evelyn Fox Keller’s description of cytogeneticist Barbara McLintock’s methodology of “feeling for the organism” and feminist science and technology theorist Donna Haraway’s work on “companion species.” In this paper, I focus on Luce Irigaray’s concept of “wonder” and Haraway’s “companion species,” contending for their importance in current rethinking of feminist methodology, and as prime examples of “poethics of love.”
What can the scientific and technological discoveries of epigenetics tell us about gendered bodies? Epigenetics is a field of scientific inquiry that examines the relationship between DNA and the social, behavioral, and environmental contexts in which genes are said to function. This paper takes the promises and perils of epigenetic research as its primary focus, asking what emerging epigenetic research can tell us about the gendered body, particularly the maternal body. Through the case study of research on nurture, it will examine how gendered bodies are figured in primary epigenetic literature and describe how epigenetic lines of inquiry have altered cultural and scientific conceptions of human development.
This paper draws on the work of Hannah Landecker and Evelyn Fox Keller whose analyses of biotechnological and genetic research engage directly with primary scientific literature. It will examine how the maternal body has become a site of epigenetic investigation and how epigenetic frameworks reinscribe the female body as a site for biotechnological intervention. The paper will situate epigenetic research on nurture within ongoing conversations in Feminist Science and Technology Studies on the subject of whose bodies are studied through an epigenetic lens (for example, mothers, racialized bodies, queer bodies) and for what purposes (public health interventions, management, surveillance). It will describe how epigenetic research has both reinforced and altered cultural, historical, and scientific understandings of maternal bodies and will directly engage with scientific literature which traces in-utero and early life exposures purported to lead to genetic changes.
Panel Abstract: The Lyman Briggs College of Michigan State University is a residential undergraduate college within Michigan State University. It seeks to provide an enriched curriculum for science majors by complementing their science and math courses with at least four courses in history, philosophy and sociology of science (HPS), taught by roughly two dozen HPS faculty members. This unique setting is also shaped the college’s first listed item in its mission statement is “maintain an inclusive residential college environment within a major research university.” Inclusivity is actively discussed and vigorously pursued by the college community, from multicultural student organizations to faculty hiring procedures. This panel will include three faculty members’ contributions to the college’s efforts toward embedding inclusive HPS curricula in a science college.
The first panelist takes a broad institutional view, discussing the motivations, obstacles and ultimate success of a proposal to connect the HPS unit to a multi-unit campus program in LGBTQ studies. Ultimately, the Michigan State example provides a positive example for the feasibility of institutionally linking science studies and LGBGTQ studies, while also pointing out some obstacles.
The second panelist takes a more discipline-centered approach, exploring how history can be used to further critical thinking about gender and about science. These critical thinking goals are made all the more important in the context of teaching science majors, as this points to an invaluable role for humanities education in an era when the humanities’ value is questioned.
The third panelist takes a more in-depth look at strategies for mitigating stereotype threat inside a single course for the HPS curriculum. Those strategies make use of students’ inexperience with professional science and humanities to immediately welcome and normalize diversity in the classroom. These are designed to undermine the development of stereotype threat for science majors while simultaneously achieving HPS curricular goals.
Wake, Naoko – Are We So Queer? Making LGBTQ and Sexuality Studies in the HPS of Science Program in America’s Heartland
Why is it rare, difficult, or even impossible to create LGBTQ Studies within a History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science program? Does it make a difference if the program is nestled in a state university in America’s heartland? What are obstacles and challenges that we face if we choose to give it a try anyway? What accomplishments can be made, and how? This presentation Are We So Queer? traces the fascinating process that Lyman Briggs College and its collaborators followed in their effort to create the LGBTQ and Sexuality Studies Specialization within the History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science Program at Michigan State University. I address a range of problems that arose in the process, including not only the most expected (such as “disagreement” with LGBTQ “lifestyle”) but also intellectual and institutional hurdles less clearly related to any particular politics surrounding LGBTQ issues. This presentation also addresses some of the most rewarding outcomes of LBC’s effort. In sodoing, I make a case that more HPS of Science programs seriously consider becoming authentic advocates for better LGBTQ education for science and non-science majors alike.
The presentation begins with a discussion of why the task of creating the LGBTQ studies specialization fell upon the HPS program. I argue that this was because they share one characteristic—they both are interdisciplinary programs, quintessential creatures of state fund-stripped humanities and social science programs at state universities in the 21st century America. Then, I delineate issues ranging from outright homophobia among students to more implicit, if ever present, disagreements about the significance ofLGBTQ studies among faculty and administrators. The presentation ends with a consideration of the future of HPS programs as it relates to their emerging commitment to diversity issues, including, most definitely, sexual diversity.
Waddell, Mark – Past, Imperfect: Using History to Encourage Critical Thinking About Gender and Science Today
Many young people with an interest in science have bought into a narrative that presents scientific work as objective and value-neutral, and scientists themselves as rising above cultural biases and stereotypes. This narrative makes it difficult to acknowledge or question the implicit assumptions surrounding gender that permeate scientific work today. Most students, however, have no problems applying a critical lens to scientific practices and theories in the past, because they have bought into another, progressive narrative of science that argues that most scientific ideas from the past are “wrong” or “incorrect,” and consequently are fair game for analysis and critique.
While this progressive narrative of science can and should be challenged, it provides educators with a valuable opportunity to confront the more pernicious and pervasive myth of an objective and unbiased science. Studying the past equips students with the critical skills needed to understand how and why cultural values influence science, without forcing them (at least at first) to confront explicitly their deeply-held conviction that modern science is “right” and “value-free.” When shifting to the study of present-day scientific work, however, students are almost invariably struck first by the similarities between past and present, and then by evidence of the same biases, prejudices, and assumptions surrounding gender that persist in the scientific literature.
This talk explores the use of historical examples in the History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science (HPS) classroom and argues that, at a moment when the humanities and social sciences are struggling to re-establish their relevance on academic campuses across the country, using history to inculcate critical perspectives on gender and science is a win-win for students, educators, and institutions alike.
Valles, Sean – Preventing Stereotype Threat in a History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science Course for First-year Science Majors
“Introduction to History Philosophy and Sociology of Science” (HPS) is a required first-year course in Lyman Briggs College, the first of four required HPS courses. For the two-dozen HPS faculty, this creates a challenge: How does one create an inclusive curriculum for a multidisciplinary course? How should an instructor depict what a scientist looks and acts like? A philosopher? A historian? This presentation will discuss the opening module for the course, which leverages first-year students’ limited knowledge of science and science studies to preempt stereotype threat by immediately immersing students in a curriculum of demographically diverse authors and keeping diversity as a course theme.
The class opens by discussing two sources, a classic essay on human nature and biological diversity by David Hull, an openly gay philosopher and LGBTQ activist, and a video about concepts of sex and gender by Alice Dreger, a female historian and feminist. These sources not only to introduce students to HPS content and methods, but also undercut the “stereotype threat” generated by having a straight man teach subjects inwhich straight men are overrepresented. Moreover, as both sources celebrate the value of human diversity they help to set the tone of the course as a forum where students can feel safe sharing diverse views on controversial material (scientific misconduct, animal welfare, etc.).
As the course progresses, diversity is explicitly kept as a continuing theme, tying together topics ranging from peer review to the power dynamics between a prominent African American academic toxicologist (Tyrone Hayes) who clashed with the Syngenta corporation over the safety of a pesticide. This approach to teaching science studies to first-year students undercuts stereotype threat implicitly (by making demographic diversity among authors the norm in the class) and explicitly (by presenting diversity as a foundational feature of healthy scientific communities).
Local geographical communities have changed significantly in the last several decades due to a number of cultural factors, including women’s increased participation in the paid workforce and growing rates of single parenthood. Changing communities have resulted in increased social isolation for mothers raising young children, which often means a lack of essential social support, particularly from other mothers. The current research addresses this contemporary challenge by exploring the roles of a social networking site for Canadian mothers, namely Momstown.ca. Through active interviews with twenty-two Momstown members, this feminist study focused on mothers’ experiences of online social support and community, with a particular interest in how the dynamic possibilities of technology mediate the experience of motherhood. Mothers in this study emphasized the importance of sharing and receiving advice between mothers. This advice-sharing was uniquely facilitated by Momstown through the twenty-four hour online message board forum, where Momstown members can access an ongoing dialogue of questions and responses. While sharing advice has always been central to the experience of motherhood, the distinct qualities of the online advice-sharing offered by Momstown provides a contemporary experience of motherhood mediated by an unprecedented access to advice and information. Specifically, our research demonstrates that mothers connected to Momstown through information and communication technologies, such as computers and smart phones, in order to share and receive up-to-date online advice and information, which was exchanged quickly and conveniently between a diverse group of mothers in a uniquely positive and respectful online environment. This online environment provides a powerful, virtual space where mothers can learn from one another, build supportive networks, and ultimately transform the experience of motherhood.
Publications in traditional field-specific journals, along with citations of these materials, have long been the gold standards for promotion and advancement in science and engineering disciplines. As the current and next generations of STEM professionals engage with social media, produce pedagogical materials, and choose to publish in a variety of both formats and locations, methods for assessing the impact that a scientist or their work has must strive reflect the actual impact of the activities. The challenge of gauging impact is vast, but not insurmountable. Academe must evolve to embrace activities that will allow STEM students and faculty to not only strengthen their research skills, but to also apply their knowledge to policy, education, and outreach and have this application recognized as meaningful and important. In this talk, I will define altmetrics, compare and contrast activities in this category with traditional publication routes, and discuss differences in attitudes around engaging in non-traditional routes for “publication,” and offer strategies on how to move the non-traditional towards traditional.
Poster Abstract: With increasing numbers of undergraduate and graduate students participating in nanotechnology-based research, the need for robust, interactive, and engaging teaching materials for nanoethics at the university level could never be greater. As NSF requires all students and postdocs funded by their grants to receive ethics training, as well as all users at National Nanotechology User Facilities being required to receive Societal and Ethical Issues in Nanotechnology training, there exist a wide variety of universities and colleges that would benefit from the creation of these materials. The interdisciplinarity of nanotechnology research provides a wide variety of lenses through which to explore a rich set of societal and ethical issues. Possible approaches to wide-reaching nanoethics materials include (but are not limited to) an applications-focused approach, looking at applications for medicine and materials for semiconductors, and an issues-based approach, exploring ideas like transhumanism and distributive justice. In this poster, I will discuss challenges to developing nanoethics materials in an online education context, suggest possible lessons and activities, and examine the needs of selected institutions performing nanotechnology-related research.
The injustices faced by the black community are the focus of Jeff Spinner-Halev’s Enduring Injustice. He argues that blacks are victims of enduring injustice, which is injustice that has roots in the past and continues over time. Two essential aspects of enduring injustices are the connection between past and present (even though injustices are mutable and will not appear exactly the same over time), and how difficult they are to repair.
Two ideas help to explain why injustices are enduring for blacks. One is Miranda Fricker’s hermeneutical injustice (Epistemic Injustice: Ethics and the Power of Knowing), according to which a gap in collective interpretive resources makes one’s social experience nonsensical. For instance, she refers to the injustice experienced by women before postpartum depression was recognized and branded. A second is Sue Campbell’s argument that identity and memory are explained by patterns of social reaction (Relational Remembering: Rethinking the Memory Wars). Campbell provides an appropriate framework when considering enduring injustices for blacks regarding memory and what that reveals about identity. I will argue for the following claims: 1) identity is not determined by the individual, but rather the society at large, 2) enduring injustice involves hermeneutical injustice, which results from false memories forced by structurally and socially-fabricated identity, compromising the identity of blacks, and 3) if enduring injustices for blacks is comprehended in this way, we would be on the right track in dealing with breaking these injustices.
This paper looks at the philosophical and philosophically-minded critical literature on evolutionary psychology (EP), the study of the evolution of human behaviour. In particular, I look at how philosophers critically deal with the harmful social and political values that inform some EP research. I tease out two distinct approaches. The first, which I call the Two Birds with One Stone Approach (One Stone), attempts to neutralize the values within EP and the implications its research has for social policy by offering ways to improve their science. The assumption here is that good science is value free science and, therefore, safe for social policy. I argue that this approach can be informed by a second approach, one I call the Two Birds with Two Stones Approach (Two Stones). In addition to offering EPs suggestions for improving their science, scholars here make it their second project to help EPs be aware of their values and of the harm their research can bring to certain people groups. Thus, Two Stones seeks to better EP science and promote better values to guide their research. Inspired by this second approach, I discuss two cautionary lessons for One Stone. First, fixing bad science without paying explicit attention to the values guiding it is to only treat the symptoms. It neglects the possibility that pernicious social policy can result from good science too. Second, by engaging with science and giving recommendations for scientific practices, philosophers introduce their own values into scientific discourse. Philosophers from One Stone should take responsibility for their values by making them explicit and explaining how and why they are important and/or less harmful than the ones they take issue with. Because science, even good science, is not value free, any philosopher who informs its practices should be aware of the ideological role their work plays.
In examining the current debate over human enhancement technology and the posthuman, one might expect to find that gender and feminist technology studies play a significant role. And in addressing this debate from the perspective of feminist approaches to bioethics, one might further expect vigorous debate over gender, technology, and the future of humanity. Therein lays the problem. While Cynthia Cockburn observed as far back as 1992 that “technology itself cannot be fully understood without reference to gender” and more recently in 2004 Maria Lohan and Wendy Faulkner claimed that “since technology and gender are both socially constructed and socially pervasive, we can never fully understand one without also understanding the other,” discussions of human enhancement technology and our posthuman future have left gender and technology undertheorized. Feminist accounts of human enhancement, especially discussions of cosmetic surgery, have paid significant attention to gender while undertheorizing technology. A critical review of many of these accounts, from Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex to Kathryn Pauly Morgan’s “Women and the Knife,” demonstrates how they neglect or essentialize our understanding of technology. Contemporary work by philosophers of technology has advanced our understanding of human-technology relationships while almost entirely disregarding the fact that both human beings and technology are gendered. In particular, Peter-Paul Verbeek’s philosophy of technological mediation attempts to engage with the question of the posthuman through the prism of a postphenomenological philosophy of technology which fails to accord any attention to the role of gender in human-technology relations. In this presentation, I sketch out how one might mediate gender and technology by incorporating Faulkner’s constructivist approach, including an account of masculinity and technology, in Verbeek’s philosophy of technological mediation and how this mediation helps us to address concerns over human enhancement technology.
Neuroscientists have honed, and standardized a wide host of behavioral characterizations to see and observe biological difference. Central to the tools available for observing biological difference is a, by-now naturalized, apparatus called lordosis. While lordosis is straightforwardly defined as the female mammal’s receptive mating posture, it has become a standard tool in a wide range of not-so-straightforward studies on the effects of anatomy, chemistry, genetics, and environment on what can be broadly cast as reproductive behavior. Although lordosis as an apparatus may seem monolithic, reductionist, and dangerous from a feminist perspective, in my presentation I will wonder at the variability and specificity that emerge from the myriad of studies that use measurements of lordosis to draw conclusions. How can this variability inform a multi-layered approach to gender identity and behavior in Feminist Science Studies?
I will present data from the preliminary stage of a meta-analysis of the uses and conclusions surrounding studies that rely on lordosis from 2000 to the present. Lordosis will be a case study for the hypothesis that behavioral tools, which are largely developed through the bodies of rodents, do not map onto simple binaries of normal/pathological or masculine/feminine behavior. Though the female rodent’s receptive mating posture provides images that enable the observation of normal and pathological sexual activity, these are highly specific and variable characterizations of the body that get mobilized as a scientific apparatus. The hope is that by engaging in a detailed study of the assumptions, conclusions and leaps involved in research using lordosis, a more complicated, and topographic picture of the scientific imaginaries about gender will come to light. Wrapped within this simple categorization of the body is a whole host of scientific discussions that help question the simple divides between male/female and normal/pathological.
In the past twenty years, there has been an increasing shift of focus in psychological and neuroscientific research away from the exclusive study of pathology and toward the conceptualization and quantification of “positive mental health,” a state of mind presumed to contribute to human flourishing and contrasted with simply the absence of diagnosable mental illness. Three overlapping trajectories are identifiable within this trend: “positive psychology”; “contemplative neuroscience”; and “consciousness studies.” All three increasingly employ the use of neuroimaging technologies to identify and locate positive subjective experiences reported by research subjects. Researchers within all three trajectories also advocate the use of their data in implementing social programs in education, government, and industry, claiming benefits for society as a whole beyond just individual flourishing. Prominent researchers in “positive psychology” explicitly draw conceptualizations of individual and social values from Western philosophical traditions that either equated human virtues with men alone or assigned different sets of virtues to women and to men. “Contemplative neuroscience” as it has developed in laboratories in the U.S. and Canada has been influenced overwhelmingly by the Dalai Lama and most often involves the study of meditation practices specific to Buddhism, a tradition sometimes gender-neutral in philosophy but often institutionalized in forms that reflect sex-based social hierarchies. “Consciousness studies” as a whole is more likely to focus on the limitations of the human biological sensorium in perceiving the world and on altered states of consciousness; some narratives explicitly discuss gender by criticizing cultural emphases on masculine ways of knowing and celebrating a recognition of the “feminine divine.” This paper will explore how gendered philosophical, psychological, and neuroscientific narratives have influenced the three trajectories of positive mental health research and what role gendered ideals consequently continue to play in conceptualizing and quantifying individual and social flourishing.
Thoughtful and appropriate mentoring is an important part of any young person’s career. For feminists in male-dominated professions it is particularly important. The literature shows that young women in science are mentored less effectively than young men, and that this can have a negative effect on women’s careers. We usually think of mentoring as a wise elder giving advice to a naïve young person. But peer mentoring, where people of approximately the same age and level of experience advise and encourage each other, can also be effective.
For the last three years, I have been part of a group of senior women physicists at liberal arts colleges. This is the brainchild of Kerry Karukstis, a chemist at Harvey Mudd College, who found a clever method of adapting the NSF ADVANCE institutional transformation grants to the needs of women scientists in smaller institutions. She set up a structure that allowed isolated women in small departments to form peer mentoring groups for advice and support.
In 2008 I and a group of four other women in small colleges were invited by Karukstis to become part of this project. We Skype every other week, and meet about once a year. Being part of this group has transformed all of our personal and professional lives. We work together on projects, and advise each other on personal and professional questions. We support each other through professional disappointments and personal crises.
We believe that our group is potentially a model of support for other isolated feminists. I will discuss the details of our Alliance, why we think it is so effective, and describe our attempts to extend this model to other isolated scientists.
I seek to examine the way in which the fact/value dichotomy is leaned upon in the demarcation of normative ethics and, more specifically, the role this dichotomy plays in critiques of calls for “evidence-based ethics.” Since the debut of Evidence-Based Medicine in 1992, the “evidence-based” methodology as become ubiquitous in the health professions and has spread to other disciplines such as education and social policy. Especially given the close relationship between the health professions and bioethics, it is unsurprising that “evidence-based” methodology and rhetoric would soon be manifest in bioethics. This movement has been called “evidence-based ethics.” There have been many different attempts to critique this application of “evidence-based” methodology to bioethics, and ethics generally. These critiques often have in common that they make use of the fact/ value dichotomy, traditionally attributed to Hume, to suggest that while “evidence-based” methods might aid in producing properly vetted facts needed for decision making in fields like medicine and education, these methods cannot assist with the content of ethics, that is, values, unless they have a greatly impoverished concept of values. I will argue that because the fact/value dichotomy is much less unproblematic than we might think, it would be unwise to make too much use of this trope in attempting to demarcate bioethics and the science of medicine. However, I agree that calls for “evidence-based ethics” deserve examination and critique. I will conclude my paper by offering two critiques of “evidence-based ethics” that do not lean on the fact/value distinction for their strength, as well as a short discussion of what, if not methodology, bioethics can learn from Evidence-Based Medicine.
This workshop emerged from the presenters’ shared recognition of a need for greater scientific literacy in women’s studies, the humanities in general, and in the academy at large. Alongside this need, the presenters recognized the dangers of a “scientific literacy” frame divorced from the critical interventions of science studies, including the sociology, philosophy, and history of science. We envision a feminist professoriate and student body competent to engage scientific stories in their teaching, learning, and in everyday interactions with breaking scientific news, medical expertise, and casual explanations for difference. This workshop emerged as an attempt to create practical and accessible training in feminist science studies, training in a skill set we call “critical scientific literacy.” We imagine this skill set being put to use in curricular, community organizing, and other contexts, far outside the scope of “science studies.” Through this workshop, we aim to offer resources for resisting the pro/anti science frame that has so powerfully dominated the contemporary political landscape, disciplinary and otherwise. Trained in feminist theory and neuroscience respectively, we have collaborated as activists and in research and curriculum development for many years. Our work on critical science literacy draws on feminist science education and science literacy more broadly (see for example Angela Calabrese Barton and Matthew Weinstein). Together – and in dialogue with other colleagues and students – we have developed a working methodology for unpacking and reframing scientific stories. It is a methodology that resists a nature/culture framing that encourages us to read scientific truth claims as true or false, based in biology or in culture. Instead, our approach insists on curiosity, imagination, and political accountability as core facets of a critical approach to science with the potential to bring into being new knowledges, and in so doing, new worlds.
This interactive workshop will begin with an account of our collaboration and how it informs our approach to critical science literacy. The workshop will prepare participants to engage scientific stories directly, in their teaching, research, and everyday life. We will describe paths that scientific results take from lab benches to popular news articles and explain how to use this understanding to back track from popular news to the original primary science publications of a laboratory. Participants will work through a model scientific article in groups. In addition to learning to find the scientific publications on which a particular pop culture or news media reference is based and read and understand its “results,” groups will practice generating questions that call attention to the cultural, economic, and political frames of reference that make the claims, and indeed the funding of the question at hand, seem logical. They will produce scientifically literate assessments of the claims of both the primary science article and it’s coverage that do not resort to dismissal of science out of hand or to the separation of good and bad science as biased and objective, respectively. Instead, they will practice using critical science literacy skills to explain how we know what we know in ways that blur the line between critique and knowledge production. Following this initial activity, participants will outline the steps necessary to apply the skills to an article of their choice that relates to a teaching or research area of interest. We will send participants home with resource sheets to help them repeat this methodology on their own outside of the workshop space. Handouts will also include references and sample assignments.
Objectivists about disease would answer “yes” to the question—“Are diseases real?” because they think that notion of disease is based on facts about the human body. But, constructivists about disease would answer “no” on the grounds that judgments about disease are normative rather than factual. I am interested in another issue concerning the ontology of disease that is not captured by the constructivist/objectivist debate. I think that the correct answer to the question “Are diseases real?” is “not all of them”. But the reason for my response is tangential to the debate between objectivists and constructivists. I use the example of breast cancer and its sub-types in order to develop my partially negative answer. I argue that some important disease terms (breast cancer, triple negative breast cancer) in common usage, do not refer to a genuine kind or type of disease at all. By a genuine kind or type of cancer I mean a population of tumors that share one or more defining features that are causally relevant to the tumor’s existence and behavior. The objectivist view that the notion of disease is based on facts about the human body is compatible with the view that—in some cases-- the disease terms employed by researchers, clinicians, patients and the public fail to refer to the facts about the human body that cause or explain disease. This failure is troubling for several reasons, which I develop in this paper.
In conversation with recent feminist work on relational autonomy, selfhood, and vulnerability (e.g. in the work of Eva Kittay, Susan Brison, and Wendy Rogers, et. al.), I plan to engage with women’s first-person narratives of their own birth experiences in this paper, as well as with work in the midwifery tradition, in the interest of enriching understandings of vulnerability and autonomy during childbirth of import to care providers. I will argue that many of the objectifying approaches to the body taken in conventional modern medicine as well as the isolated, individualized concept of autonomy under which much of modern science operates, inhibit the full expression of the capabilities of laboring women. If they are to speak to women’s experiences during childbirth, conceptions of vulnerability and autonomy as they pertain to childbirth must reflect a holistic understanding of the person. This holistic understanding must speak to both emotional and relational dimensions of selfhood as well as deliberative capacities.
In particular, I intend to argue that sensitivity to what I call relational need is key to revealing some of the complex couplings between vulnerability and agency that are possible during pregnancy and childbirth. Relational needs are, at large, needs that arise from interconnections between the self and others, and speak to the extent to which fundamental aspects of human well-being have deep, relational dimensions. Among relational needs, what I call ‘transpersonal needs’ are especially pertinent to an understanding of the complex expressions of vulnerability and agency that can occur in childbirth. Transpersonal needs are needs that occur when the needs of others give rise to certain needs of one’s own. Such needs often go hand-in-hand with experiences to which need is often opposed, such as that of choice and other expressions of self-determination. In this intertwining of need and agency, so too are agency and vulnerability enmeshed insofar as what determines need is vulnerability to harm.
Epistemologists of ignorance, such as Marilyn Frye, Charles Mills, and Nancy Tuana, have sought to complicate common conceptions of ignorance as a lack of knowledge primarily by arguing that there are different forms of ignorance, including a form that is actively produced and maintained. I will thus call their view the active view of ignorance. Epistemologists of ignorance generally understand their view to be improving upon the view of ignorance held by mainstream epistemologists (which I will call the mainstream view of ignorance). In this paper, I will examine three objections epistemologists of ignorance have raised against common conceptions of ignorance in order to determine whether these objections apply to the mainstream view of ignorance. First, epistemologists of ignorance reject the characterization of ignorance as a purely passive phenomenon. Second, they deny that ignorance is simply the complement of knowledge. Finally, they oppose the portrayal of ignorance as a gap, lack, or absence. I will call these objections the passivity objection, the complementarity objection, and the negativity objection, respectively. Ultimately I will claim that these objections expose important weaknesses in the mainstream view of ignorance, but that this does not mean that the two views are entirely incompatible. This is because the mainstream view is offering insights about what ignorance is, while the active view is offering insights about how ignorance can be produced. Understanding this opens up the possibility of developing a unified account of ignorance which incorporates the insights of both the mainstream and active views.
It is sometimes thought that problem-solving in the world is not a job for philosophers. Many hard problems appear to depend on empirical facts that philosophers are not trained to study: for example, what are the causes of social inequality? If philosophers are not trained to answer these questions, can they still be expected to contribute to solving them? In this paper, I explore the intertwined philosophical and social scientific research on the fundamental attribution error and causal attributions for poverty in the United States. I expose the way in which what appear to be empirical disputes about causes turn out to be fundamentally political and moral disagreements based on normative expectations about the distribution of powers and social roles that could have prevented an event or state. Thus, moral philosophers who work to reshape normative expectations also play a role in restructuring causal explanations—and hence interventions—for problems like poverty and social inequality. In other words, philosophy does play an inescapable and indispensable, albeit often invisible, role in the solution of contemporary social problems.