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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.

Cross-national Genetic Research with Klaus Hoeyer, Aaro Tupasela and Malene Bøgehus Rasmussen

Aleka Gurel / 14 November, 2016

Backchannels interviews Klaus Hoeyer, Aaro Tupasela and Malene Bøgehus Rasmussen about their recent ST&HV paper, “Ethics Policies and Ethics Work in Cross-national Genetic Research and Data Sharing: Flows, Nonflows, and Overflows.”

A personal plea from Europe’s polar bears

Amanda Windle / 07 November, 2016

title Coverage in the press around how the EU Referendum will affect researchers has been heavily skewed towards the sciences, yet there is crucial EU funding available for all areas of research from tech through to the arts. The first impact will be that the research landscape becomes far more labyrinthian for UK researchers. It is already mind-numbingly complicated. But my way of dealing with the complexity has been to get involved, and to advise on priority areas such as the dual need for more research and skills training around audience development via digital means. Through Voices of Culture, I’ve been able to impact on policy and the funding agenda for culture. ... I can only join in with this work because the UK is a member of the EU. Leaving means funding potentially gets smaller, more complicated and we don’t get to input so widely into that agenda. How can UK research remain innovative if we’re not shaping that at the EU level?

Why A Partisan for Spaceflight Wants to Slow Down Space Exploration

Michael Bouchey / 27 October, 2016

title The ostensible reason for going to Mars is to save humanity. However, Musk wants enough people on Mars to save humanity from unforeseen disasters that might constitute an extinction event. He pays little attention to the extinctions already created by humans that have led this period on Earth to be called the anthropocene. If going to Mars is indeed a desirable way to save humanity (and planet Earth), then those who go will have to abandon the ways of living that have caused climate change (and the host of related environmental problems) and learn new ones. This will take time, and intelligent trial and error learning applies to this endeavor too. Musk’s proposal is too hasty to account for the immense learning that will be required to avoid spreading the environmentally destructive socioeconomics of the West to this new planet.

Restitución de derechos para victimas del conflicto y el NO en Colombia: relecturas desde los ESCT

Fredy Mora-Gámez / 17 October, 2016

title What do STS have to say about rights restitution and reparation in armed conflicts? What reflections might STS offer about the latest events in the Colombian referendum?. Drawing on different traditions of STS, this entry explores some possible questions and ongoing research in Latin America that might offer insights about the sociotechnical aspects of rights restitution and reparation in Colombia. Official numbers and practices of quantification are framed as possible targets of STS approaches. The displacement of pain and suffering by official numbers, information infrastructures and voting mechanisms are suggested as areas of empirical study and ethical reflection.

Molecular Detector (Non)Technology with Luis Reyes-Galindo: New Research in ST&HV

Aleka Gurel / 10 October, 2016

title Dr. Luis Reyes-Galindo talks to Backchannels about his recent ST&HV paper, "Molecular Detector (Non)Technology in Mexico."

Our digital society, from citizens to companies, needs to understand the trolls

Amanda Windle / 03 October, 2016

title Trolling had its moment in the press back in springtime, or at least it felt that way when it happened to me. This was a moment where academics like Mary Beard were writing about it. But just this week, Mary Beard was writing again about her trolling experiences, this time about the comments she receives about her work on – for the Times Literary Supplement. I caught myself this time wondering if the term trolling was still ‘fashionable’? Have we tired of the national coverage of violence towards women on social media? Would search page results on trolling still return trending articles that give little support to someone trying to soothe themselves with words? Similar results appear now as they did in March, except with slightly less of the punitive articles in abundance. I’m tired of trolling, but I’m also tired about how it gets written about and how useful (see: useless) those articles are for those experiencing it on a frequent basis.

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.
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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.