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Society for Social Studies of Science

Nicholas C. Mullins Award

Mullins Award 2017: Kellie Owens

"Too Much of A Good Thing?: American childbirth, intentional ignorance, and the boundaries of responsible knowledge"

Kellie Owens

For the 2017 Mullins award the committee received a total of 18 papers. In terms of gender distribution, 10 out of the 18 papers were written by women PhD students. In relation to geographical diversity, 10 out of the 18 papers were from students based in the US, 3 were from the UK, 2 from Canada, 2 from India and 1 from South Korea. 

The committee selected four criteria to evaluate the submitted pieces: contribution to the STS field, depth of research, writing quality and ethical/political relevance of the piece. Each aspect was scored from 1 to 5, with 5 the highest value. In addition, each paper was evaluated by three reviewers. After a first round of evaluation, we selected the three papers with the highest score and evaluated them again.  The Committee wants to highlight the high quality of the contributions and the complexity of making a decision.

After reviewing the material the committee unanimously selected the paper entitled 'Too Much of A Good Thing?: American childbirth, intentional ignorance, and the boundaries of responsible knowledge' as the winner of the 2017 Mullins Award. The author of this piece is Kellie Owens, a student in the Sociology PhD Program at Northwestern University.

Drawing on the work of different STS scholars about risk and overtreatment, Owens provides an insightful analysis of risk in the case of fetal heart rate monitoring in childbirth in the United States. Childbirth provides an interesting case to understand the tensions between knowledge and ignorance in the management of risk in healthcare. She shows how, in this case, two models of health risk operate simultaneously: a model that values frequent intervention and another that aims to mitigate risk by refusing medical surveillance. This paper illustrates how health providers frame 'intentional non-knowing' as a moral imperative to reduce medical risk. Owens' paper displays a delicate and integrated balance between a deep knowledge of STS literature, empirical analysis and theoretical inventiveness that makes it an outstanding academic contribution.

2017 Mullins Prize Committee: Oscar Maldonado, Linköping University, Sweden  (Council Member) Sara Wylie, NortheasternUniversity, USA  (Council member), and Monamie Bhadra Arizona State University, USA (2016 recipient)


Kellie Owens recently completed her doctorate in Sociology at Northwestern University. She was also a Fellow in the Science in Human Culture program at Northwestern and a Visiting Research Fellow in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at Harvard. She will soon become a Postdoctoral Fellow in Advanced Biomedical Ethics in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include the sociology of risk, knowledge, and medicine. Her dissertation explores variation in risk perceptions and practices in American childbirth. 


I am honored to receive the 2017 Nicolas C. Mullins Award for my paper “Too Much of a Good Thing? American Childbirth, Intentional Ignorance, and the Boundaries of Responsible Knowledge.” I am grateful for the feedback I received on this project from Steven Epstein, Sheila Jasanoff, members of the Science in Human Culture program at Northwestern University, and members of the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at Harvard University. I also owe a great debt to the 4S community for fostering thought-provoking conversation as I presented this project in various stages.

Student Essay Competition

The Nicholas C. Mullins Award is awarded each year by the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) for an outstanding piece of scholarship by a graduate student in the field of Science and Technology Studies. The prize consists of a plaque and a check for US $1,000 to help defray the costs of attending the annual meeting to receive it.

Only currently enrolled graduate students are eligible to submit a paper for the 4S Mullins competition. If receipt of PhD (or other terminal graduate degree) is held by the submission deadline, those degree recipients are not eligible for the competition.

The competition is for graduate student papers in the field of science and technology studies, including unpublished papers, published articles, and dissertation chapters. Dissertation chapters should be adapted so as to make them "stand-alone." The work may not be older than two years at the time of submission. A graduate student can only make one submission a year. A paper that is coauthored by a faculty member is not considered a graduate student paper. However, a paper coauthored by current graduate students only (with no faculty authors) is eligible.

The intended readership for the papers is a general STS audience. All papers must be submitted in English. The paper should not exceed 10,000 words, including title, notes, and references. Papers longer than the limit will be disqualified.

The deadline for submission is September15. Papers submitted after this date will not be considered for this year’s competition, and must be resubmitted the following year. Submissions must observe the following guidelines:

  • The paper must be submitted electronically, as an attachment to an email message, in MS Word or PDF format.
  • The subject line of the email message should read “4S Mullins submission.”
  • The filename of the submission should consist of the first two significant words of the paper title (excluding articles such as “the” or “an”).
  • Authors must include the total word count immediately after the title on the first page of their submission.
  • To facilitate blind review, the author's name, address, email address, and institutional affiliation should appear only in the covering e-mail. 
  • Also in the covering email, authors must provide the name of their graduate program, the date they began study, and the date they expect to receive their degree.

Send the submission to the chair of the Nicholas C. Mullins committee, Oscar Javier Maldonado,

The prize includes a cash award to help defray the costs of attending the annual meeting to receive it. The award will be announced at the Presidential Awards Plenary of the 2017 4S Meeting. The Chair will inform the winner as soon as possible after the decision, in order that they may attend the ceremony.

Past Prize Winners

2016 - Monamie Bhadra

2015 - Karen Levy

2014 - Rahul Mukherjee

2013 - Nadine Levin

2012 - Joeri Bruyninckx

2011 - Sara Wylie

2010 - Ian Mosby

2009 - Manjari Mahajan

2008 - Jenna Burrell

2007 - Teun Zuiderent-Jerak

2006 - Natasha Myers

2005 - Michael Oldani

2004 - Jennifer Fishman

2003 - Park Doing

2002 - Doug Davis

2001 - Karen Flint

2000 - Cyrus Mody

1998 - Sean Hsiang-lin Lei

1997 - Massimiano Bucchi

1996 - Janelle Taylor

1995 - Stefan Helmreich

1994 - Marc Berg

1993 - Joseph O'Connell

1992 - Shahaf Gal

1991 - Stephan Hirschauer