Latest

Pain-Free Mouse, being ‘human,’ and more-than-human ethics

an artistic drawing of a mouse, space background and seen inside the mouse

In the opening scene of Blade Runner, a fictional diagnostic called the Voigt-Kampff test distinguishes human from android. The test, as imagined in Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel and later adapted into the film adaptation, exploits a primary autonomic response: the so-called ‘shame’ or ‘blushing’ reaction to a “morally shocking stimulus.” In the novel, the ‘moral shock’ stimulus invariably involves nonhuman animals: (read more...)

Recent
An image of DNA molecules

Consumer Genetics and the Capitalization of Hope

In the twilight of the last millennium, an audacious scientific project was started by an international team of researchers. Their objective, like the countless scientists who came before them, was to advance humanity. But unlike all of the proceeding projects, this effort would map out what it meant to be human. The project, known as the human genome project (HGP), had the seemingly impossible goal of describing every gene within the Homo sapiens genome and mapping all 3 billion base pairs. If completed, the applications were said to be limitless. From social science research to medicine, the innovation gatekeepers of the world said that our lives would change for the better. But who has benefited from the HGP? Surely all of humanity, right? But at what point, and will it be equitable? These are questions I wrestle with, though I didn’t always. (read more...)

The left side of the image shows birch trees in the summer. The right side of the image is overexposed and white

Environments that Could’ve Been

Speculation is inevitable in social science. Infinite variables exceed what a researcher can grasp, making confidence hard to attain. There are always gaps in our knowledge of reality, and we fill those with guesses and hunches. Along these lines, in my own work, I am in the same camp as Alan Klima’s Ethnography #9, which tries to do away with non-fiction realism in the social sciences and instead invites literary sensitivities to understand the world beyond what is representable. (read more...)

Textbook lateral view of a drawn mosquito in black and white.

The Vector, the Viruses, and the “Healthy World”: Placing Aedes aegypti in Brazil

Mosquito: the “most dangerous animal in the world,” human’s “deadliest predator.” This insect is often described as the most probable target for gene-editing technologies that have the potential to eliminate the unwanted. Mosquitoes are usually presented as the number one enemy of humankind, a globally hated pest: the most killable of all beings. (read more...)

Woman standing on the top of a ruin overlooking the vast, green canopy of the Maya Biosphere Reserve

So long, Indiana Jones, or who owns “El Mirador”?

The rule of “finders, keepers” has held true for most archaeological discoveries at least since museums, as we now know them, have existed. Collectors of foreign objects have been around, of course, as long as war, but the officialization of plunder for the purpose of exhibiting foreign treasures in public spaces dates back to the Enlightenment (mid 18th to early 19th centuries), when feeding museums was part of anthropologists’ tasks, an expectation that survived until very recently. Explorers and discoverers were romanticized and immortalized in literature and, later, film. The debate over ownership of archaeological sites and objects has followed a similar arch; now the decolonization of knowledge and critiques of cultural appropriation are central to anthropological debates. Despite growing public questioning of ownership of the past and its objects, the ghost of Indiana Jones continues to capture and seduce many. The battle over who decides over the Mayan archaeological (read more...)

Judicial delays in Bhopal Gas Leak Case

The Making of Vizag Gas Leak Disaster: Procedural lapses or Regulatory Design?

Under the Environment Protection Law in India, industries that process petrochemical-based products, such as styrene, require two levels of clearances—an Environmental Clearance (EC) from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and a Consent to Operate (CTO) from the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) which needs to be renewed every five years. As per the reports of the Center for Science and Environment, LG Polymers India had not adhered to rules at both these levels. The inquiry into the causes of the Vizag Gas leak that wreaked havoc in the lives of the denizens of the port city has made it clear that the industry has thrown to the winds any sense of responsibility by withholding crucial information whilst applying for the Environmental Clearance (EC) and Consent To Operate (CTO), thus subverting the regulatory framework to its advantage.  (read more...)

Street art of Donald Trump that has had a Bernie sticker placed over his mouth.

STS and Electoral Politics

In the context of the upcoming US presidential election and increasing evidence of the importance of voting infrastructure, this week we revisit past posts that highlight the key role STS must play in these conversations. (read more...)

Island lazzaretto of Venice

40: Quarantine & The Origins of Computation

Quarantine is a number. Quarantine was the name given to the strategy of isolating potentially harmful populations for forty days in an effort to impede potential dangers. Deriving from the Italian word for forty (quaranta), alongside quarantines there existed the trentine (thirty) and sessantine (sixty), each defined by the number of days of mandated isolation. The word took its meaning following the Black Death and subsequent waves of plague. It was first legally enforced in Ragusa (Dubrovnik today) in 1377. Today, especially at this precise moment, quarantine is rather estranged from this history. (read more...)