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Science, Technology, and Society

Science, Technology, and Society

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Representation in Scientific Practice, published by the MIT Press in 1990, helped coalesce a long-standing interest in scientific visualization among historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science and remains a touchstone for current investigations in science and technology studies. This volume revisits the topic, taking into account both the changing conceptual landscape of STS and the emergence of new imaging technologies in scientific practice. It offers cutting-edge research on a broad array of fields that study information as well as short reflections on the evolution of the field by leading scholars, including some of the contributors to the 1990 volume.

The essays consider the ways in which viewing experiences are crafted in the digital era; the embodied nature of work with digital technologies; the constitutive role of materials and technologies—from chalkboards to brain scans—in the production of new scientific knowledge; the metaphors and images mobilized by communities of practice; and the status and significance of scientific imagery in professional and popular culture.

Contributors
Morana Alač, Michael Barany, Anne Beaulieu, Annamaria Carusi, Catelijne Coopmans, Lorraine Daston, Sarah de Rijcke, Joseph Dumit, Emma Frow, Yann Giraud, Aud Sissel Hoel, Martin Kemp, Bruno Latour, John Law, Michael Lynch, Donald MacKenzie, Cyrus Mody, Natasha Myers, Rachel Prentice, Arie Rip, Martin Ruivenkamp, Lucy Suchman, Janet Vertesi, Steve Woolgar

Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles

The Culture of the Copy is a novel attempt to make sense of the Western fascination with replicas, duplicates, and twins. In a work that is breathtaking in its synthetic and critical achievements, Hillel Schwartz charts the repercussions of our entanglement with copies of all kinds, whose presence alternately sustains and overwhelms us. This updated edition takes notice of recent shifts in thought with regard to such issues as biological cloning, conjoined twins, copyright, digital reproduction, and multiple personality disorder. At once abbreviated and refined, it will be of interest to anyone concerned with problems of authenticity, identity, and originality.

Through intriguing, and at times humorous, historical analysis and case studies in contemporary culture, Schwartz investigates a stunning array of simulacra: counterfeits, decoys, mannequins, and portraits; ditto marks, genetic cloning, war games, and camouflage; instant replays, digital imaging, parrots, and photocopies; wax museums, apes, and art forgeries—not to mention the very notion of the Real McCoy.

Working through a range of theories on biological, mechanical, and electronic reproduction, Schwartz questions the modern esteem for authenticity and uniqueness. The Culture of the Copy shows how the ethical dilemmas central to so many fields of endeavor have become inseparable from our pursuit of copies—of the natural world, of our own creations, indeed of our very selves. The book is an innovative blend of microsociology, cultural history, and philosophical reflection, of interest to anyone concerned with problems of authenticity, identity, and originality.

Praise for the first edition

“[T]he author...brings his considerable synthetic powers to bear on our uneasy preoccupation with doubles, likenesses, facsimiles, replicas and re-enactments. I doubt that these cultural phenomena have ever been more comprehensively or more creatively chronicled.... [A] book that gets you to see the world anew, again.”
The New York Times

“A sprightly and disconcerting piece of cultural history”
—Terence Hawkes, London Review of Books

“In The Culture of the Copy, [Schwartz] has written the perfect book: original and repetitive at once.”
—Todd Gitlin, Los Angeles Times Book Review

The Ethical Choreography of Stem Cell Research

After a decade and a half, human pluripotent stem cell research has been normalized. There may be no consensus on the status of the embryo—only a tacit agreement to disagree—but the debate now takes place in a context in which human stem cell research and related technologies already exist. In this book, Charis Thompson investigates the evolution of the controversy over human pluripotent stem cell research in the United States and proposes a new ethical approach for “good science.” Thompson traces political, ethical, and scientific developments that came together in what she characterizes as a “procurial” framing of innovation, based on concern with procurement of pluripotent cells and cell lines, a pro-cures mandate, and a proliferation of bio-curatorial practices.

Thompson describes what she calls the “ethical choreography” that allowed research to go on as the controversy continued. The intense ethical attention led to some important discoveries as scientists attempted to “invent around” ethical roadblocks. Some ethical concerns were highly legible; but others were hard to raise in the dominant procurial framing that allowed government funding for the practice of stem cell research to proceed despite controversy. Thompson broadens the debate to include such related topics as animal and human research subjecthood and altruism. Looking at fifteen years of stem cell debate and discoveries, Thompson argues that good science and good ethics are mutually reinforcing, rather than antithetical, in contemporary biomedicine.

Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany

Emil du Bois-Reymond is the most important forgotten intellectual of the nineteenth century. In his own time (1818–1896) du Bois-Reymond grew famous in his native Germany and beyond for his groundbreaking research in neuroscience and his provocative addresses on politics and culture. This biography by Gabriel Finkelstein draws on personal papers, published writings, and contemporary responses to tell the story of a major scientific figure. Du Bois-Reymond's discovery of the electrical transmission of nerve signals, his innovations in laboratory instrumentation, and his reductionist methodology all helped lay the foundations of modern neuroscience.

In addition to describing the pioneering experiments that earned du Bois-Reymond a seat in the Prussian Academy of Sciences and a professorship at the University of Berlin, Finkelstein recounts du Bois-Reymond's family origins, private life, public service, and lasting influence. Du Bois-Reymond's public lectures made him a celebrity. In talks that touched on science, philosophy, history, and literature, he introduced Darwin to German students (triggering two days of debate in the Prussian parliament); asked, on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War, whether France had forfeited its right to exist; and proclaimed the mystery of consciousness, heralding the age of doubt. The first modern biography of du Bois-Reymond in any language, this book recovers an important chapter in the history of science, the history of ideas, and the history of Germany.

In The Techno-Human Condition, Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz explore what it means to be human in an era of incomprehensible technological complexity and change. They argue that if we are to have any prospect of managing that complexity, we will need to escape the shackles of current assumptions about rationality, progress, and certainty, even as we maintain a commitment to fundamental human values.
Humans have been co-evolving with their technologies since the dawn of prehistory. What is different now is that we have moved beyond external technological interventions to transform ourselves from the inside out—even as we also remake the Earth system itself. Coping with this new reality, say Allenby and Sarewitz, means liberating ourselves from such categories as “human,” “technological,” and “natural” to embrace a new techno-human relationship.

A History of Blackouts in America

Where were you when the lights went out? At home during a thunderstorm? During the Great Northeastern Blackout of 1965? In California when rolling blackouts hit in 2000? In 2003, when a cascading power failure left fifty million people without electricity? We often remember vividly our time in the dark. In When the Lights Went Out, David Nye views power outages in America from 1935 to the present not simply as technical failures but variously as military tactic, social disruption, crisis in the networked city, outcome of political and economic decisions, sudden encounter with sublimity, and memories enshrined in photographs. Our electrically lit-up life is so natural to us that when the lights go off, the darkness seems abnormal.

Nye looks at America’s development of its electrical grid, which made large-scale power failures possible and a series of blackouts from military blackouts to the “greenout” (exemplified by the new tradition of “Earth Hour”), a voluntary reduction organized by environmental organizations.

Blackouts, writes Nye, are breaks in the flow of social time that reveal much about the trajectory of American history. Each time one occurs, Americans confront their essential condition—not as isolated individuals, but as a community that increasingly binds itself together with electrical wires and signals.

Can Russia Compete?

When have you gone into an electronics store, picked up a desirable gadget, and found that it was labeled “Made in Russia”? Probably never. Russia, despite its epic intellectual achievements in music, literature, art, and pure science, is a negligible presence in world technology. Despite its current leaders’ ambitions to create a knowledge economy, Russia is economically dependent on gas and oil. In Lonely Ideas, Loren Graham investigates Russia’s long history of technological invention followed by failure to commercialize and implement.

For three centuries, Graham shows, Russia has been adept at developing technical ideas but abysmal at benefiting from them. From the seventeenth-century arms industry through twentieth-century Nobel-awarded work in lasers, Russia has failed to sustain its technological inventiveness. Graham identifies a range of conditions that nurture technological innovation: a society that values inventiveness and practicality; an economic system that provides investment opportunities; a legal system that protects intellectual property; a political system that encourages innovation and success. Graham finds Russia lacking on all counts. He explains that Russia’s failure to sustain technology, and its recurrent attempts to force modernization, reflect its political and social evolution and even its resistance to democratic principles.

But Graham points to new connections between Western companies and Russian researchers, new research institutions, a national focus on nanotechnology, and the establishment of Skolkovo, “a new technology city.” Today, he argues, Russia has the best chance in its history to break its pattern of technological failure.

Recursive Partnerships and Infrastructures

In Monitoring Movements in Development Aid, Casper Jensen and Brit Winthereik consider the processes, social practices, and infrastructures that are emerging to monitor development aid, discussing both empirical phenomena and their methodological and analytical challenges. Jensen and Winthereik focus on efforts by aid organizations to make better use of information technology; they analyze a range of development aid information infrastructures created to increase accountability and effectiveness. They find that constructing these infrastructures is not simply a matter of designing and implementing technology but entails forging new platforms for action that are simultaneously imaginative and practical, conceptual and technical.

After presenting an analytical platform that draws on science and technology studies and the anthropology of development, Jensen and Winthereik present an ethnography- based analysis of the mutually defining relationship between aid partnerships and infrastructures; the crucial role of users (both actual and envisioned) in aid information infrastructures; efforts to make aid information dynamic and accessible; existing monitoring activities of an environmental NGO; and national-level performance audits, which encompass concerns of both external control and organizational learning.

Jensen and Winthereik argue that central to the emerging movement to monitor development aid is the blurring of means and ends: aid information infrastructures are both technological platforms for knowledge about aid and forms of aid and empowerment in their own right.

Recipes for Reality

Standards are the means by which we construct realities. There are established standards for professional accreditation, the environment, consumer products, animal welfare, the acceptable stress for highway bridges, healthcare, education—for almost everything. We are surrounded by a vast array of standards, many of which we take for granted but each of which has been and continues to be the subject of intense negotiation. In this book, Lawrence Busch investigates standards as “recipes for reality.” Standards, he argues, shape not only the physical world around us but also our social lives and even our selves.

Busch shows how standards are intimately connected to power—that they often serve to empower some and disempower others. He outlines the history of formal standards and describes how modern science came to be associated with the moral-technical project of standardization of both people and things. Busch suggests guidelines for developing fair, equitable, and effective standards. Taking a uniquely integrated and comprehensive view of the subject, Busch shows how standards for people and things are inextricably linked, how standards are always layered (even if often addressed serially), and how standards are simultaneously technical, social, moral, legal, and ontological devices.

Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012

In a rapidly changing world, we rely upon experts to assess the promise and risks of new technology. But how do these experts make sense of a highly uncertain future? In Arguments that Count, Rebecca Slayton offers an important new perspective. Drawing on new historical documents and interviews as well as perspectives in science and technology studies, she provides an original account of how scientists came to terms with the unprecedented threat of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). She compares how two different professional communities—physicists and computer scientists—constructed arguments about the risks of missile defense, and how these arguments changed over time. Slayton shows that our understanding of technological risks is shaped by disciplinary repertoires—the codified knowledge and mathematical rules that experts use to frame new challenges. And, significantly, a new repertoire can bring long-neglected risks into clear view.

In the 1950s, scientists recognized that high-speed computers would be needed to cope with the unprecedented speed of ICBMs. But the nation’s elite science advisors had no way to analyze the risks of computers so used physics to assess what they could: radar and missile performance. Only decades later, after establishing computing as a science, were advisors able to analyze authoritatively the risks associated with complex software—most notably, the risk of a catastrophic failure. As we continue to confront new threats, including that of cyber attack, Slayton offers valuable insight into how different kinds of expertise can limit or expand our capacity to address novel technological risks.

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