Cultural Studies Program Organizes Conference on Scientific Controversies

Posted: April 12, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

This past year, a U.S. District Court judge in Pennsylvania ruled that “intelligent design” is religion, not science. It was also revealed that the National Security Agency conducts “data sweeps” of e-mail communications and otherwise eavesdrops on thousands of Americans without probable cause or court warrant.

Meanwhile, Science Magazine published, then retracted, a “breakthrough” paper by scientists purporting to have cloned human cells. Data for the study turned out to have been fabricated.

These events raise open-ended questions about the role of science and technology in American society, and about the role of science journals and science journalists as gatekeepers in the flow of information.

In response to these and other controversies, scholars from MIT, Yale, Harvard, the University of California, Berkeley and other universities will gather at George Mason’s Fairfax Campus on Tuesday, April 18, to discuss the relationship between science, politics and society.

Organized by the Cultural Studies program, “Who Owns Knowledge: Science and Technology in the Global Circuit” will feature discussions of global climate change, the genetics of race, “bioprospecting” and the practices of pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporations.

The all-day conference, which will be held in Mason Hall beginning at 9 a.m., is free and open to the public. It will be followed by a reception at 5 p.m.

Speakers will include Chris Mooney, author of the bestselling “The Republican War on Science,” and Troy Duster, whose book “Backdoor to Eugenics” examines how the genetic theories once associated with scientific racism and Nazism continue to influence medicine, criminal justice and public health policies.

Rayna Rapp, a founding figure of feminist scholarship, and Langdon Winner, whose early work on nuclear power plants helped launch the field of critical science and technology studies, will also be among the presenters.

Presenters will examine the role of science in war and nationalism, the position of scientists as laborers and the highly contested practice of “patenting” biological information.

“Today’s ‘science wars’ revolve around a different axis than those of a decade ago,” explains Roger Lancaster, director of the Cultural Studies Program and author of “The Trouble with Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture.”

“Our symposium is organized as a scholarly consensus conference on recent controversies. The question of ownership seems pivotal: Who owns, controls and benefits from the new scientific knowledge? How is the public affected, and how is the public involved, in globalized science? Can the new technologies be made more democratic?”

A schedule and further information is available online.

For more information, call the Cultural Studies program at 703-993-2851.

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