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Reflections

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.

Enduring Effects of the Bhopal Disaster

Rahul Mukherjee / 09 May, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sperm Banking and Me: Transporting the Technosocial Question

Gary Lee Downey / 13 October, 2015

What might I learn from theorizing and practicing transport through print and electronic news media? What happens when teaching becomes opinion, the newspaper’s label for its columns? Could I offer persuasive accounts of localized experiences with technoscience, persuasive in the sense that they nominate alternatives to dominant images that just might travel? And travel by what means? According to what sorts of itineraries?

Philosophy as Therapy and Philosophical Anthropology

Leah Carr / 29 September, 2015

What I believe the task of philosophical anthropology will involve (at least the naturalist kind I’m interested in), will be the development of a more integrated understanding of what the various psychological and social sciences. But knowing does not automatically equate to doing and it will probably be the case that if we are to derive any benefit from our understanding, we will need to embrace that we are at a pre-reflective level less than rational. For that reason, we might need prosthetic aids embedded in our environment, social institutions, rituals, myths, aesthetics, to activate our potential in empowering ways.

“The Dregs of the Library”: Trashing the Occupy Wall Street Library

Michael Oman-Reagan / 07 September, 2015

When our library at Occupy Wall Street was destroyed, we used our beloved books tactically, as evidence, and then used the trauma of destruction to make a case for the illegitimacy of the violence committed when the library was destroyed. But how do we tell stories of violence that remains? How do we voice and give and hear testimony when confronting aggression and attack towards things we care for that are discarded, in the violence of ruination, the trashing of what we love?

Who Owns Your Personal Health and Medical Data?

Deborah Lupton / 31 August, 2015

[Your personal] information can then be used to construct risk profiles on users that may shut them out of insurance, credit or job opportunities. Data security breaches are common in healthcare organisations, and cyber criminals are very interested in stealing personal medical details from such organisations’ archives. This information is valuable as it can be sold for profit or used to create fake IDs to purchase medical equipment or drugs or fraudulent health insurance claims. In short, the answer to the question ‘Who owns your personal health and medical data?’ is generally no longer individuals themselves.

How the Ocean Cleanup Array Fundamentally Misunderstands Marine Plastics and Causes Harm

Max Liboiron / 22 June, 2015

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The Ocean Cleanup array, designed to clean plastics from the ocean like a baleen whale, is one of these good intentions: experts in marine plastics, including myself, say it’s a bad idea.Technological fixes like the Array do harm to the larger project of ending plastic pollution, which is a complex social, environmental, and economic problem. It is also going to damage and kill marine life. Of greater issue are biological, ecological, and social concerns that argue that the Ocean Cleanup Array causes harm. First and foremost among these is that the Array doesn’t address the root of marine plastic pollution and diverts money and attention away from ceasing, mitigating, and slowing the creation of plastic disposables in the first place. If you think of marine plastics as a stock and flow problem, where plastics are flowing into the oceans from land and accumulating, then the Array deals with the stock, but not the source of plastics.

Diásporas, Espacios Híbridos y Redes Corpusculares. Presentación de la Red Española de Estudios Soci

Maria González Aguado / 08 June, 2015

The Spanish Network of Science & Technology Studies (Red esCTS) is a precarious, immaterial and fluid locus where almost two hundred students, activists, artists, researchers and “affected citizens” collaboratively re-think, experiment with and push STS forward. In Spain, the inquiry into the relationships between science, technology and society has traditionally lacked an academic identity itself. The field was dispersed across different departments, mainly within philosophy departments, whose epistemic expectations and methods had tended to shape the Spanish STS’s knowledge production for decades. The network came thus up to provide STS students and scholars with a necessary platform for communicating and networking that make up for the former fragmented landscape.

The Science of Science Maps

Isabella E. Wagner / 11 May, 2015

Reasons for the popularity of science maps can be found in the widespread availability of visualisation software and their capacity to serve bibliometricians’ needs. This, in parallel, leads to immense participation of computer scientists at the ISSI conference. Representatives of many different disciplines use images as boundary objects to demonstrate their expertise, to convince their users, to seduce their audiences to take their data as finite. Multi-disciplinarity is enacted and power relations negotiated with visualisations serving as gladiators in transepistemic arenas.

CTS en América Latina: ¿Hacia un ‘Programa comprometido’?

Pablo Kreimer / 23 April, 2015

Pablo Kreimer reflects upon how the development of the STS field in Latin America is structured from a tension, which varies over successive generations, between the political commitment, or the attempts to public intervention, and the creation of a 'rigorous' academic field. He presents some of the main landmarks on the origins of the field in the region, argues that this tension is similar to certain processes that have taken place in North América, and suggests that to create an engaged STS field in the region is still a long journey.
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Backchannels

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.