December 2011 Archives

Sally Gregory Kohlstedt on the rise of women in science

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sally600.jpgI attended a lecture by Sally Gregory Kohlstedt titled “Uncovering the past, charting the future: the rise of women in science.” A few points she made that stuck with me:

  • History writing is entwined with history making

  • The concept of “compensatory history” – seeking out women to study

  • The role of “collaborative couples” – how being married to a scientist gained female scientists access to resources

  • Yes, Marie Curie was amazing, but focusing too much on well-known women like Curie overshadows the work of ordinary women in higher education science.

  • The “leaky pipeline” – women drop off as you move to higher and higher degrees

  • Research has shown that fathers make a big difference in encouraging daughters to pursue science.

Why create human-animal hybrids and chimeras?

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I imagine the most common question in discussions of creating animal-human hybrids is "why do it?" Julian Savulescu wrote an article for the American Journal of Bioethics addressing this question. He assents that there may be questionable motives - "commercial exploitation of 'freaks'; artistic motivation...or curiosity, just to see what it is like" (22). But he also discusses reasons that are more difficult to dismiss.

Medical purposes: Studying oncogenesis, as source of stem cells, or combining our genes with those of a species resistant to certain diseases

Delay aging or prolong human life: Could we incorporate turtle genetic sequences into our own to reduce telomere degradation?

Enhance human capabilities: Incorporate an elephant's memory genes, an owl's night vision, or a bat's ability to navigate in the dark.

Human-animal hybrid literature review

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If "science fiction is the dress rehearsal for social change" (Vint 181), what this genre has to say about human-animal hybridity will not only allow us as individual readers to examine our views on genetic hybrids and chimeras, but it will also become an important foundation for the ethical and moral discussions of society as a whole. The time for these discussions is ripe; the last decade has seen increasing research in the creation of chimeras (a product of two species in which the genes do not combine) and hybrids (each cell contains genetic material from both parents).

These conversations are taking place within bioethical and philosophical journals, but they are also playing out between literary scholars. The five articles I analyzed talk about what it means to be on the cusp of creating beings that occupy the space between human and animal, each calling on literature to ground their arguments in our culture.