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Commentary on the current and future state of the field or subfields within science and technology studies. Can include interviews, meditations on particular concepts or methods, biography / autobiography, essays, and other more personal and less formal writings.

Michael Lynch / Part II: That Delicate Balance

Michael Lynch in conversation with Lucy Suchman / 29 September, 2016

title Michael Lynch was awarded the 2016 Bernal Prize for his important contribution to science and technology studies. Here, in Part II of his conversation with 4S President Lucy Suchman, Lynch speaks about his early work and looks ahead to future projects.

Michael Lynch / Part I: Coming of Age

Michael Lynch in conversation with Lucy Suchman / 27 September, 2016

title Michael Lynch was awarded the 2016 Bernal Prize for his important contribution to science and technology studies. Here, in dialogue with 4S President Lucy Suchman, he reflects on his, and the field's, coming of age. Check back later this week for Parts II and III of their conversation.

Rethinking Value in the Bio-economy with Kean Birch: New Research in ST&HV

Aleka Gurel / 07 September, 2016

title Professor Kean Birch, from York University, talks to Backchannels about his recent paper for ST&HV, "Rethinking 'Value' in the Bio-Economy: Finance, Assetization and the Management of Value."

Why I now stand with Caster Semenya

Madeleine Pape / 17 August, 2016

title This is not really a story about scientific experts sparring over the disputed role of testosterone in producing sex and performance differences. In fact I don’t think it’s about science at all. Semenya is a black, queer, tomboy from South Africa, making her a marginal character in a sport that is predominantly straight, historically dominated by white Europeans, organised around strict gender segregation and objectification of women’s bodies, and where women are often fairly feminine in their self-presentation. I do not think these details are peripheral to the story, I think they are at the heart of it. It begins with a double standard for men and women: we celebrate the exceptional performances of male athletes unconditionally, think Usain Bolt, David Rudisha, and Mo Farah... By contrast, the celebration of female athletes comes with conditions, with which Semenya did not comply.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?: Marketing Science and Regional Taste

Xaq Frohlich / 18 July, 2016

title This summer when you attend the 4S Conference in Barcelona, I recommend a visit to La Boquería food market just off La Rambla. You might notice that much of the food there is not actually Mediterranean, but rather “ethnic” immigrant foods. I encourage you to read the label of that “extra virgin” olive oil bottle on your table when you dine out, to see whether it is from local Arbequina olives in Catalonia, or the more fiery Picual variety from Andalusia. Partake of the very Mediterranean tradition of “sobremesa,” socialising with others at the dinner table, a significant lifestyle factor some diet scientists worry isn’t accounted for in nutrition studies of the Mediterranean diet. And you should enjoy the “pintxos” from the Basque country or “jamónserrano" from interior regions of Teruel and Extremadura. And as you do, you can ask yourself, is this the Mediterranean diet? And if so, does that make it good for me? Whether or not it is, I promise you, it tastes good.

No se puede hablar de una ciencia para la paz sin saber qué ciencia se ha hecho en tiempos de guerra

Lina Pinto-García / 20 June, 2016

title In 2012, the Colombian government started peace negotiations with the FARC, and recently initiated a similar process with the ELN, a smaller guerrilla group. The country is currently devoted to a polyvocal reflection on what will happen once peace agreements are signed, which includes a conversation about the place of science in that possible scenario. However, that conversation has not yet led to propositions marking a break or departing from the way in which science has until now been conducted. This is maybe due to the fact that it is not possible to speak about a science for peace without knowing what science has been done in wartime. Based on the work of six researchers, this text suggests that the field of social studies of science and technology (STS) can contribute to exploring the relationship between science and the Colombian armed conflict, investigating the kind of scientific knowledge that has been produced in the context of the war, and thinking about the type of science that needs to take place in order to build a peaceful and equal society

Big data’s ‘streetlight effect’: where and how we look affects what we see

Mark Moritz / 06 June, 2016

title Understanding the differences between the vast majority of humanity and that small subset of people whose activities are captured in big data sets is critical to correct analysis of the data. Considering the context and meaning of data – not just the data itself – is a key feature of ethnographic research, argues Michael Agar, who has written extensively about how ethnographers come to understand the world. What makes research ethnographic? It is not just the methods. It starts with fundamental assumptions about the world, the first and most important of which is that people see and experience the world in different ways, giving them different points of view. Second, these differences result from growing up and living in different social and cultural contexts. This is why WEIRD people [from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic societies] are not like any other people on Earth.

With Equitable Partnerships, African Scientists Will Struggle Far Less

Janny Chang, PhD / 16 May, 2016

title Being part of today's scientific world poses great challenges for all scientists given its complex system of merit allocation and the high competition for jobs and research funding. Janny Chang from Africa's "Next Einstein Forum" discusses the implications for African scientists and their struggles with the current system inequalities in the light of Africa's colonial legacy.

Enduring Effects of the Bhopal Disaster

Rahul Mukherjee / 09 May, 2016

title The effects of the Bhopal disaster are still felt, both as health problems and in the discourse of anti-pollution campaigns. Rahul Mukherjee reflects on observations from his research in India, recently published in Science, Technology, and Human Values.

CRISPR dispute raises bigger patent issues that we’re not talking about

Shobita Parthasarathy / 02 May, 2016

title We’ve been ignoring two important lessons from the CRISPR/Cas9 patent dispute: patent systems no longer fit the realities of how science works, and patents give their owners significant control over the fate and shape of technologies... The modern patent system was built with individual entrepreneurs and discrete machines in mind. But university-based science is usually incremental and collaborative, driven by the hopes of tenure, promotion, grant funding, respect among colleagues and, if extremely lucky, a major scientific discovery... Despite the enormous power the CRISPR patent holder will have in shaping the development and use of the new technology, we know little about how the Broad or Berkeley will handle it. Both institutions emphasize their commitments to the public interest, and particularly in licensing the technologies widely and cheaply to other nonprofit institutions. But neither has addressed these ethical questions. Will their licensing agreements include language that prevents the use of CRISPR for human gene editing, for instance? Or a requirement that licensees comply with National Institutes of Health guidelines that may emerge, even if those institutions do not use NIH funds?

Talking Transdisciplinarity with Ulrike Felt: New Research in Science, Technology & Human Values

Aleka Gurel / 12 March, 2016

title Professor Ulrike Felt, from the University of Vienna, talks to Backchannels about her recent ST&HV article, "Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research in Practice." Felt's team investigated a funding scheme in the area of transdisciplinary sustainability research, and offer a detailed analysis of the imaginaries and expectations on which the funding scheme rests, and how researchers actually practice transdisciplinarity within their respective projects.

Sex, Gender, and the New NIH Policy

Heather Shattuck-Heidorn / 29 February, 2016

title In our opinion piece, we argue that this policy is not likely to achieve that goal for two primary reasons. First, the non-hypothesis-driven study of sex differences in all preclinical research lacks conceptual clarity about just what sex is. ... Second, human sex-linked health disparities may be attributable to sex, gender, and the interaction of the two; focusing solely on sex variables, the mandate presents an impoverished approach to advancing scientific understanding of health disparities between men and women. Highlighting the need for research on gender alongside sex is a critical contribution of feminist science studies scholars.

Some Thoughts on the “Egyptian Knowledge Bank”

ElHassan ElSabry / 15 February, 2016

title In November 2015, the Egyptian government announced an initiative to provide nationwide access to a multitude of knowledge resources (k-12 curricula, scholarly journals, eBooks, educational videos ... etc.) claiming that it is "“the biggest digital library in the world". ElHassan ElSabry, an Egyptian researcher in the field of scholarly communication and Open Access, provides some thoughts on the issue and the project's ability to fulfill its promise.

Identifying Bodies with Victor Toom: New Research in Science, Technology & Human Values

Abby Kinchy / 30 December, 2015

title Backchannels interviews Dr. Victor Toom, an anthropologist of scientific practice, about his recent ST&HV article, entitled, “Whose body is it? Technolegal materialization of victims’ bodies and remains after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.” The paper analyzes how victims’ remains were recovered, identified, repatriated and retained after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the interview, Toom shares his experiences interviewing people who lost family members in the WTC disaster. He discusses how his study contributes to STS scholarship on the law and how his research can help to improve responses to family members' needs in the wake of a tragedy.

El Pensamiento Latinoamericano en CyT: resignificar sin reproducir

Erica Carrizo / 19 October, 2015

title The recovery of the Latin American Thought in Science and Technology in recent years in the region, seeks to analyze the current challenges of science, technology and innovation in Latin America, critically updating the interpretive frameworks developed in Latin America in late 1960 and early 1970. This to contest counter-hegemonic conceptions about science, technology and development that spread globally in the mid-twentieth century. Among the major challenges facing this reenactment, it is, precisely, to banish these hegemonic conceptions that continue to fuel much of the current discussions on Latin American development.
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Linguists first used the term backchannel to refer to the spontaneous responses and signals that provide interactivity to what is only apparently a one-way communication. Social media users have adopted the term to refer to the unofficial, multi-directional online conversation that parallels formal academic exchange at a lecture or conference. The Backchannels blog is intended to have a similar relationship to scholarly discourse in STS. It provides an outlet for alternative-format scholarly communications, publishing shorter, timelier, media-rich communiques of interest to the global STS community. The editors welcome proposed contributions.