Science & Social Justice

History of Biotechnology

In this course, we will historically investigate biotechnology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, paying attention to how efforts to engineer life are grounded in social, cultural, and political contexts. Topics include reproductive technologies, genetic engineering and cloning, genetically modified foods, bioprospecting, genomics, stem cells, intellectual property, and biosafety and biosecurity. The course is organized around five crosscutting domains in which we will explore the ethical, legal, and social impacts of biotechnology: (1) food, (2) property and law, (3) sex and reproduction, (4) disease and drugs, and (5) genomic identities. We will learn to evaluate the social constitution and impact of biotechnology on daily life, as well as how to place contemporary issues and debates in biotechnology in historical context.

Medical Anthropology

This course explores the social and cultural contexts of health, disease, and healing.  We will focus on two central claims of medical anthropology: * Sickness involves more than biological dysfunction. It is also produced by larger scale forces, involving the political economy, history and forms of inequality of specific societies. The disease profile of entire populations as well as the personal experience of individuals reflect such macro-social forces . * Biomedicine (“Western” or “scientific” medicine) is not culture-free or value-neutral.  The organization of medical knowledge is not inevitable. It has a history and it depends on shifting social forces. The ways people understand illness and devise treatments bear the marks of distinctive cultural worldviews and political arrangements.

The Obamacare Challenge We Need? Improved, Expanded Medicare for All

By Robert Zarr | CommonDreams

As a primary care pediatrician who sees children of low-income families in Washington, D.C., I am reminded every day of the vulnerability of our children’s health to the ill-informed whims of our lawmakers and courts.

Those children will be on my mind as I gather with others outside the Supreme Court today.

Just yesterday, I saw my 16-year-old patient Mary, who suffers from Down’s syndrome and congenital heart disease, both conditions with lifelong disabilities. I have known Mary for the last 13 years.

Her family has been through some very rough times. I still distinctly remember listening to Mary’s mother tell me that her family was homeless, just a few years ago. Mary’s mother was in tears. They had no place to live, two children to feed, and both parents were unemployed.

The Education of Underrepresented Students in STEM: An Interview with Dr. Michael Summers

By Regina Stevens-Truss, Contributing Editor, Science and Social Justice, and Kalamazoo College students Virginia Greenberger, Amanda Bolles, and Rina Fujiwara

Now in its 26th year, the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) is a model for all to follow. This program has its humble beginnings in 1988 and was created as a means to provide financial assistance for the STEM education of African American male students. Today, the program boasts over 900 alumni, with over 300 students enrolled in graduate and professional programs. No other program can claim the successes of this program. President Freeman Hrabouski and Dr. Michael Summers, two major players in this program, can certainly take the credit for nurturing the achievements of many underrepresented scientists.

This past year, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology presented Hrabowski and Summers with the annual Ruth Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award. This award was established in 2011 to “honor an outstanding scientist who has shown a strong commitment to the encouragement of under-represented minorities to enter the scientific enterprise and/or to the effective mentorship of those within it.” The award was presented to Dr. Summers at the society’s annual meeting in San Diego, CA on April 28 where Kalamazoo College students Virginia Greenberger, Amanda Bolles, and Rina Fujiwara had an opportunity to interview Dr. Summers and ask him about his motivation and life-long passion for the education of underrepresented students in STEM. Here is the interview with Dr. Michael Summers.

Panel Discussion: Dawkins, Tyson, Druyan, Stenger, Grothe The panel features Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan and Victor Stenger. Moderated by D.J. Grothe (of Point of Inquiry), it took place at the New York Academy of Sciences at a Center for Inquiry conference titled “Secular Society and its Enemies.” The panel discusses atheism versus science, science education, the nature of science, various strategies for advancing society in society, threats to science education including religion and popular culture, racism and sexism in science, and many other topics.

Girls in STEM: A New Generation of Women and Science

Girls in STEM, featuring young women scientists and engineers who wowed the President and the nation at the White House Science Fair in February, shines a spotlight on these extraordinary young role models and their exciting projects — ranging from a machine that detects buried landmines, to a prosthetic hand device, to a lunchbox that uses UV light to kill bacteria on food.

Standing Our Ground

By Regina Stevens-Truss, Contributing Editor, Science and Social Justice

When did we lose our humanity and accept circumstances in which we are allowed to say, “I have a right to be here and to prove that I’m going to shoot you”?  As I ponder on the multitude of “stand your ground” laws that have been enacted in states across the country, I agree, in one sense, that we all have a right to be wherever we want to be. In fact, the Declaration of Independence gives all Americans the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” After all, this is the United States of America, the welcoming land, is it not? What I disagree with is this:

“The law removes a person’s duty to retreat before using deadly force against another in any place he has the legal right to be – so long as he reasonably believed he or someone else faced imminent death or great bodily harm.”

But if we all step back and think about this law, it suggests that retreating is equivalent to cowardice, which is ridiculous. When one is faced with a life or death situation, retreating can be the wise and brave thing to do.

Okay, so I can imagine what you might be thinking right about now: “not another piece on Florida’s stand your ground cases.” But rest assured, what I actually want to suggest is that there are other important issues we should stand our ground on: education, health, and climate change. With so many pressing issues of life and death in the world today, perhaps if laws existed that prevented us from ignoring people’s needs, we would be better off.