Heterogeneity in the sciences: Production, Suppression, Interpretation—Draft of a graduate seminar

This draft of a graduate Seminar was collectively constructed by participants of the 2009 NewSSC workshop on “Heterogeneity and Development: Methods and Perspectives from Sciences and Science Studies”

  • material in <carat brackets> indicates uncertainty during transcription.  [Readers interested in more detail can contact me to connect with the authors of each session (indicated by the initials in parentheses)]

Heterogeneity in the sciences: Production, Suppression, Interpretation

1. Appreciating Extrinsic Heterogeneity in Developmental Biology

  • Concepts to convey
    • Discriminate & understand the intrinsic (within) vs. extrinsic (affected from without) processes that contribute to stages of development — dependent on level of complexity (prokaryotic unicellular -> multicellular eukaryotes)
    • Especially an awareness of the heterogeneity of the extrinsic environment
  • Assignments
    • Background readings that prepare students to answer the question: Are organisms closed or open systems? Is there a developmental program? How does this affect the notion of heterogeneity?

2. The Gene for X: Genetic Determinism as Suppression of Causal Heterogeneity
(Jake Metcalf)

  • Core theme: genetic determinism operates by relieving scientists of the responsibility to provide adequate causal stories and evidential support
  • Exercises
    • 3 Case studies of hyped claims about the discovery of a gene for some important trait: IQ, Speech, and Maleness
    • Assigned readings
      • primary (include journalistic coverage of original papers)
      • background literature (STS, about genetic causality & history of gene concept)
        • Lenny Moss, What Genes Can’t Do
        • Scott Gilbert, Ecological Developmental Biology
    • Students responsible for presenting cases to the other students

3. Helicobacter pylori and its modes of existence

  • Concept: How Microorganism is Constructed as Heterogeneous / Non-Heterogeneous Entity
    • Bacteria in the stomach as non-existent entity (demonstrated by experiment in 50s)
    • Production of H. pylori as a pathogen, on the specific design of research whose intention is to show that it exists and it is a pathogen. (In context: no research of other types, such as symbiotic relation)
    • Return of heterogeneity through a range of strains of H. pylori; Each phenotype is characterized through its ‘virulence’. Less virulent strains are being used to transform <…> as pathogens. Is a carrier of vaccines)
    • Looking at H. pylori from point of view of public health policy: to socially study the suppression through <…>
    • Show historically how predominant policy generates over <h…> becomes resistant to interventions
    • Discussion whether Helicobacter pylori <…>
  • Readings
    • Pioneers (first-hand practitioner accounts, historical)
    • “Biography of Objects… Discovery of Biomedical Sciences.” STS-type study of the whole case study by Portuguese researchers.

4. Heterogeneity in Epidemiology

  • Concept
    • Convey historical perspective on epidemiology, and shift from acute to chronic infectious diseases
  • Class Exercises
    • Case study built around AIDS: Ask whether there’s more of a social or more biological roots of epidemiology
    • Field trip to contaminated community–
  • Background Readings
    • Levins & Lewontin, Biology Under the Influence
    • ?, Critical Epidemiology
    • Peter… Social Epidemiology

5. Understanding Different Concepts of Ecological Heterogeneity and the Limits of Models

  • Objective:
    • Convey how difference concepts about ecological heterogeneity both produce and suppress the understanding of heterogeneity in ecological systems
  • Concepts to Convey
    • Spatial Heterogeneity:
      • Suppresses:
    • Genetic
      • Differences in underlying molecular codes
      • Produces: many things…
    • Structured Interactions:
      • Can induce differences in individuals…
    • <> Structure
  • Readings
    • Lee Worden, … (tragedy of the commons)
    • Lee Worden, … (exposing differences in power)

6. Landscapes

  • Objectives
    • For students to know how to read their own landscapes (communities) through “textbook” knowledge
    • To understand the evolving sciences of/about these places; changing of paradigms
    • See the concrete power of the ideas that the sciences was struggling for
    • To be able to link changing scientific paradigms to specific communities of scientists
  • Format
    • Big lecture class
    • To adopt case studies that were ‘close to home’ for them
    • Nested scales
    • Focus on the themes, the heterogeneities that the scientists are encountering.
    • (would not normally use term such as ‘heterogeneity’ in front of undergrad class; will choose an existing definition; will explain the definition at the outset of the lecture)
    • Case studies
      • Day 1:
        • Michigan Dunes (Frederick Clements; Climax theory; primary sources (requires warning students about limits of primary sources))
        • Reading Forested Lanscapes (idea of succession; disturbances; move through… fire as an intrinsic part of heterogeneous landscape mosaics)
      • Day 2:
        • Silent Spring: Paradigm from focus on carcinogenesis to endocrine disruption
      • Day 3:
        • Aquatic ecology: Invasive species and persistent pollutants.

<7. qq
8. Production and Suppression of Heterogeneity in Reproductive Narratives

  • Readings:
    • Emily Martin: <Egg and Sperm article… stereotypes>. How stories about
  • Assignment:
  • Tell students to read the article carefully, give detailed account of the article
  • Present different textbook examples
  • Write their own ‘story’ about how eggs and sperm meet, with demand for ‘political neutrality’
  • Discuss how this ‘political neutrality’ is impossible; how language can homogenize stories.. (suppress heterogeneity)
  • Reflexive writing exercise:
    • What would be a feminist reading of the dilemma?

9. Looking at Heterogeneity in Science & Science Education

  • Concept to convey
    • How we know science through ourselves; how we know ourselves through science
  • Course Materials (Reading + Interview Material)
    • Case Study 1: “Mr. Swain is Gay”
      • Look at the kind of highschool biology texts that he’s teaching. (10th grade texts: sperm, egg, heterosexual assumptions)
      • Personal narratives collected through interviews: “I didn not see myself in what I was teaching”; experimentation in classroom about behavioral genetics; leads to doubt about whether God would create genes for simple behaviors.
    • Case Study 2: “Jim’s Flip Flop”
      • Kuhn on science education
      • From personal narrative (interview data): Distinction between “knowing that” and “knowing how,” Similar to Kuhn.

10. Mapping Intersecting Processes

  • Topic / Objective
    • Understanding means of mapping intersecting processes in order to have a tool for dealing with complexity
    • (Via case study of Oaxaca Mexico)
  • Background Reading
    • Introduction
      • Provide simple population growth models
    • Themes: Subvert this through other themes
      • Heterogeneous elements and scales
      • Differentiation among dynamic agents are implicated; inequality among people
    • Practice
      • Individual exercises:
      • Collective: (“historical scan“): Getting group of people looking back on whole semester, elicit a lot of different (heterogeneous) ways of responding to experience; relate to course objectives; personal objectives; academic career objectives; analyze the responses to look for patterns; and to steer this towards engagement

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