Category: General

On The Social Life of TBI

A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a common injury that occurs when a physical blow or force to the head damages the brain inside the skull—full stop. As such, TBI is a natural part of life in a world in which it is possible (and easy) to hit one’s head. It is often fatal, one of the leading “causes of death and disability” in the US (CDC 2015). This straightforward conception is codified in biomedical publication and practice, enshrined in the federal TBI Act of 1996 and national disability policy, and has even made brief appearances in popular film and public debate about the health risks of contact sports. This bio-political consensus is thus clear and plain: “TBI” indicates a singular event and its direct and natural bodily consequences.[1] (read more...)

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

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...)

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...)

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...)

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...)

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...)

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...)

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...)