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Can Sucro Futures Answer our Biotechnofix Dreams?

What would plastic containers, cosmetic fragrances, and paint thinners be made of if we stopped using petrochemicals? Some plant biologists and biotech companies are suggesting an answer: sugar. Amid calls for people to change the fossil-fuel consumption habits that drive climate change, replacing petroleum-based fuels with renewable ones frequently takes center-stage. However, we often overlook how petrochemicals—chemicals derived from petroleum, the mixture of hydrocarbons extracted from the ground as crude oil—pervade our everyday lives as an invisible ingredient in a vast array of ordinary materials and items, such as plastics, food preservatives, synthetic clothing, tires, and even toothpaste. (read more...)

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Data Science Ethnography with Brittany Fiore-Gartland

In the second episode of the “Down to a Science” podcast, I talk to Brittany Fiore-Gartland about data and its contexts, and what that means for what data science does and could look like. Fiore-Gartland is director of data science ethnography at the eScience Institute and research scientist in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. This episode is intended to be a scaffold to help students and general audiences think about what data is and how science works. (Listen Now...)

Call for 2018 Contributing Editors!

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in learning more about the position, and will be in DC for the anthropology meetings, be sure to come to the CASTAC business meeting! It runs from 10:00 AM – 11:15 AM on Saturday the 2nd. I’ll be talking about the past year at blog, and would be happy to hang around afterwards and answer any questions folks may have about the contributing editor role.  Contributing Editors are responsible for curating 4-5 posts from scholars and researchers in the field each year, and frequently also contribute to the blog themselves. We are especially interested in contributors eager to continue our podcast series, Down to a Science, and assist the editor with compiling biweekly roundups of interesting and relevant content from around the web. This is a great opportunity to get involved in CASTAC, and in the anthropology of science and technology more generally. We are open to a wide range of topical interests at the intersection of anthropology and STS, especially those that complement our existing ones. Work on information technologies, human-animal relations, biosciences and healthcare, disability, gender, and sexuality are of particular interest. CEs must commit to 4-5 post slots at the beginning of the year. Their responsibilities include communication with guest authors, initial editorial supervision, and managing the production process. This is a one-year renewable term. (read more...)

What do Japanese Internet Trolls think of Trump?

It’s hard not to think about Trump in Japan without one eye cast warily on North Korea. After all, it was only about two months ago that North Korea sent a ballistic missile sailing over Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, prompting fears that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un might target the U.S.’s nearby ally. As wary as many Americans are of Trump’s using Twitter to relentlessly bait Kim Jong Un, the matter is perceived with greater reservation by many in Japan. Kim Jong Un’s volatility is by no means news in East Asia, and a common fear holds that the American folly of electing Trump could cost Japan more than it has the U.S. (read more...)

“Becoming Blind” in Virtual Reality

Can technology convey experiences that are not our own, ones we can at the most imagine experiencing from a first person perspective? Furthermore, can technology help us understand the multisensory and deeply emotional qualities of such experiences? Central to this post is the consideration of how the Virtual Reality (VR) documentary Notes on Blindness may enable us to experience a ‘world without images’. I explore these questions through touching upon the problem of individual experience contra the universal. Indeed, if there is no such thing as a “universal” experience of blindness (Cupitt 2017; Hull 1990; Sacks 2005), and if VR experiences are also highly individualized (Aardema et al 2010), is there still value to be found in the personal experience? In an auto-ethnographic description of my experience with Notes on Blindness, I will focus mostly on my bodily sensations, changing emotions and how I went about “looking for my legs” in a VR. (read more...)

Locating Servers, Locating Politics

When we think of servers, like web servers and Amazon servers, we don’t usually think of them as occupying physical space. We might think of a remote data center, thanks in large part to images that have been circulated by companies like Facebook and Google. But still, these only visualize unmarked buildings and warehouse rooms, showcasing a particular tech aesthetic of colored wires and tubes, and neatly assembled rows of blinking machines (Holt and Vondereau 2015). Such imagery is hardly meant to provide the public with a sense of where servers are actually located. For most day-to-day computer users, it often doesn’t matter at all whether servers are in the U.S. or China or Russia, so long as they work.     But server location matters, and many groups of people value certain material benefits and effects of the placement of servers and their own proximity to servers. It matters (read more...)

Policy-Making and the Public: Where are the People in Bureaucratic Rulemaking?

I’m a lawyer-turning-cultural anthropologist and I study rulemaking (please don’t go away just yet!). In policy-setting circles, rulemaking has a specific statutory origin and a particular meaning, denoting a process that most federal agencies must undergo as they create policies (also known as “regulations” or “rules”). Though never a sexy topic of conversation, rulemaking is gaining public traction as a process that imposes a duty upon the government to solicit feedback from the public on proposed rules. News outlets report that President Trump is reviewing and likely revoking some of President Obama’s policies. As new presidents usually review the previous president’s policies, this is neither unusual nor unexpected. But the urgency with which such news is received by some Americans indicates an opportunity to learn what it takes to revoke or alter a rule: a new rulemaking.[1] (read more...)

This House Harvests the Rain: Multiple Waters and Infrastructure in a Changing Climate

Seventy-five year-old Mary-Jean climbs up on a short ladder to clear the fruit from her rain gutters. “The gutter likes grapefruit, and they like to plug the little hole where the water goes,” she explains, referring to the opening between the gutters and the downspout. The aluminum downspout drains the rainwater that falls on her roof into an 1100-gallon plastic cistern sitting in her backyard. She has two cisterns, and in early September they are halfway full, fed by the summer monsoon rains. Her yard is sparsely landscaped with reddish gravel and a handful of native trees and succulents. If she were not collecting the rain, she would be sweeping the gravel from the street back to the yard after every heavy rain. “It really slows down the water,” she tells me referring to the runoff and pointing to her front yard and steep driveway. The grapefruit tree came with the house, so she kept it. To water the thirsty tree, she connects a hose to the valve at the bottom of the cistern. The hose has little holes on the underside, so she can leave it running. “It works like a slow drip,” she explains. In front of her house there is a small sign made by the city that reads: “This house harvests the rain.” (read more...)