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Center for Science and Society End of Year Newsletter

The Center for Science and Society is pleased to present its End of Year Newsletter which includes information and reviews about Center activities in the 2016-2017 academic year and offers a preview of upcoming events in Fall 2017.

To read our newsletter, please click here and sign up to receive our newsletters here

Center for Science and Society Welcomes Four New Postdoctoral Scholars

The Center for Science and Society welcomes four new postdoctoral scholars in two of its programs:

The Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience program welcomes 2017 Scholars Federica Coppola and Noam Zerubavel. The two incoming postdoctoral scholars were selected from a highly competitive pool of more than 100 applicants from a variety of backgrounds and fields of research. The Making & Knowing Project welcomes two new postdoctoral lecturers in History, Sophie Pitman and Tillmann Taape, who will participate in research related to the the cluster as well as teach in Columbia’s core curriculum.

Federica Coppola is a criminal lawyer specializing in neurolaw. As a Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, she will investigate how findings from social and affective neuroscience about the role of emotions in prosocial behavior might be used to inform criminal justice approaches and correctional interventions, with special focus on offenders with socioaffective impairments.

Noam Zerubavel is a social and neural scientist. He is broadly interested in understanding the building blocks of human relationships and group life. As a Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Noam will investigate the organizing sociological principles, psychological processes, and neural mechanisms that engender social ties and shape their network structure.

For more information please visit the PSSN website.

Sophie Pitman is a historian specializing in early modern material culture. Her doctoral research, conducted at the University of Cambridge, explored the making, buying, wearing, regulation and bequeathal of clothing in early modern London. She is particularly interested in reconstruction as a methodology for historians, and collaborates with makers and museums in her research on clothing, materiality, and craft in the early modern era.

Tillmann Taape is s a historian of science working on craft knowledge, medicine, and the occult in the early modern period. After a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Sciences specializing in Genetics at the University of Cambridge, UK, he turned to the history of science and discovered the sixteenth-century German surgeon and apothecary Hieronymus Brunschwig, whose printed books became the subject of his recent PhD thesis.

For more information, please visit the Making & Knowing website.

For more news about the Center for Science and Society, please see our recent newsletter.

Call for Applications: Course Development in Science and Society

ELIGIBILITY: Core Lecturers and tenured or tenure-track faculty at Columbia University (including Barnard) in any discipline. (see Proposal Instructions for further details).

AMOUNT: $3,000 research allowance to be used for the development and teaching of the course over the following two years. If the course is to be co-taught, the instructors will split the award.

DEADLINE: Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis but should be submitted no later than September 15, 2017.

PROPOSAL INSTRUCTIONS: Available as PDF here 

Course Development in Science and Society

The Columbia University Center for Science and Society invites proposals for the development of new undergraduate curricular offerings in the study of science and society. The aim is to introduce courses that can be offered within current disciplinary structures, as part of already-existing majors and concentrations, but that bring significant discussion of science and society into these offerings. This is the fourth round of grants, and information on the courses funded in the previous rounds can be found at here.

Tenured faculty must use the entire award to support research for the course (e.g. book purchases or photocopying) and to hire a student to provide research and/or teaching assistance. Funds will be transferred to the awardee’s accounts in his/her home department. Awardees will commit to teaching the course within two years of the start of the grant. The Center for Science and Society will help to publicize the courses and will feature them on its website.

Successful applicants will receive a $3,000 research allowance to be used for the development and teaching of the course over the following two years. If the course is to be co-taught, the instructors will split the award.

Submitting Proposals

Please download the full application before starting your proposal. In order to apply, please complete the following form along with a one-page proposal and a full CV for each instructor. Applications should be submitted on or before Friday, September 15, 2017 to Melinda Miller, Associate Director, The Center for Science and Society, mmm2370@columbia.edu.

Proposals will be judged by a multi-disciplinary panel drawn from the steering committee of the Center for Science and Society.

Summary Report for “Weaving: Cognition, Technology, Culture,” April 5 – 8, 2017

Over the course of five days, the WEAVING: COGNITION, TECHNOLOGY, CULTURE conference at Columbia’s Center for Science and Society brought together artisans, scientists, scholars and curious visitors to explore the world of weaving. Together, they addressed a wide range of issues relating to the craftsmanship of textiles and the cognitive and historical context of the design and manufacture of cloth. Guests enjoyed lectures and discussion about the art and science of weaving and participated in hands-on demonstrations of loom and textile techniques. The conference presented a unique opportunity to learn from a wide variety of professionals.

WEAVING opened with a discussion about the business of handloom fashion in India and Okinawa, conducted by Annapurna Mamidipudi (History of Science, Maastricht University), Amanda Mayer Stinchecum (Harvard and Hosei University), and Dorothy Ko (History, Barnard College). The next two days of WEAVING were dedicated to weaving demonstration workshops. Carla Childs invited visitors to hand-weave a small textile and showed a variety of textile samples; she briefly discussed basic weaving vocabulary and techniques. Mrs. Bouakham Phengmixay (Lao Masterweaver, Lao Textiles) and Mrs. Simone Khamdypaphanh (Lao Ikat Master, Lao Textiles), both Laos textile weavers, wove on their handloom while guests observed. The workshops and learning demonstrations were a lively way of showing the art and science of crafting vibrant textiles.

Pamela H. Smith, the director of the Center for Science and Society, opened the conference portion of WEAVING by exploring “Why Weaving and Cognition?” She discussed the relationship between handwork and mindwork, and the impact of a modern economy on skilled artisans. In today’s world, how can this “timeless tradition” evolve while maintaining its artistic integrity? Daphna Shohamy (Psychology, Columbia University) expanded on the “mindwork” aspect in her lecture about changing cognitive habits and skills due to aging. Shohamy talked about semantic dementia and how we might relate craft to cognition. She noted that there are few studies specifically relating creative skills to cognition—a scholarship field full of potential. Wrapping up the morning session, Roger Kneebone (Surgical Education and Engagement Science, Imperial College London) and Izzy Dabiri (Freelance Costume Tailor) discussed how needle and thread factor into their different career paths. Kneebone elaborated on the history of thread in surgery, and how much of the skills learned are “embodied knowledge,” or knowledge that is difficult to put into words. Dabiri, a costume tailor, offered similar insights about embodied knowledge. She described that in her tailoring, being actively aware of how each step of a task is completed might impede the natural flow of repetitive stitching. However, she was intrigued by the elements of cognition that are clearly present in her craft. Carol Cassidy (Lao Textiles) and weavers from Laos Textiles opened the afternoon session by describing new techniques that relate computer coding and mobile applications to weaving. Concluding the first day of the conference, Patricia Greenfield (Psychology, UCLA) discussed learning to weave in a Maya community. Greenfield studied three generations of Mayan weavers and observed massive changes in technique that were fueled by social, economic, and educational changes from 1970 to the present. Younger generations of female weavers lost kneeling skills that were integral to old ways of weaving, as they were used to sitting in chairs for prolonged periods due to better education access.

On the final day of the conference, Annapurna Mamidipudi returned to talk about weaving as a sociotechnical system. She proposed that innovation is the most difficult challenge for modern weavers. Weaving is a millennia-old art, but the handwork of weaving does not need be replaced by mechanization—a weaver can integrate new technologies while preserving craftsmanship. In her keynote lecture, handloom activist Uzramma (Independent Scholar, Goldsmith, and Handloom activist) discussed The Indian Loom, Climate Change, and Democracy. She explored how modernity might manifest in communities of Indian weavers. An industrial revolution might be one way, but she expressed hope that weavers could keep their artistic integrity and adapt to the modern economy. Sustainability of materials and processes use to make textile is a concern that weavers must keep in mind. Barbara Faedda (Associate Director, Italian Academy at Columbia University) gave visitors a glimpse into the world of high fashion and how creativity and cognition go hand in hand in the industry. A discussion followed on how priorities in the industry have shifted from individual expression of clothes to a uniform, mass-produced ideal. Clare King (President and Owner, Propel LLC) wrapped up WEAVING: COGNITION, TECHNOLOGY, CULTURE with a conversation about modern textile businesses; her company provides textile technology for the U.S. military and fire services. She discussed maintaining the integrity and quality of textile work while confronting issues of the modern marketplace.

WEAVING: COGNITION, TECHNOLOGY, CULTURE allowed for innovative collaboration between professionals in the arts and sciences. The practice of weaving served as rich ground to explore artistic, scientific and technical challenges of past and present weavers. The conference showed that the arts and science enhance—rather than oppose—each other.

For more details about the conference, including a session-by session conference report, please click HERE.

Summary Report for “Evidence: An Interdisciplinary Conversation about Knowing and Certainty,” April 21 – 22, 2017

Spanning two days in April 2017, academic scholars, public policy makers, non-governmental advocates, and media experts gathered to attend Evidence: An Interdisciplinary Conversation About Knowing And Certainty, sponsored by the Center for Science and Society (CSS) and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) at Columbia University. The format of the conference was designed to facilitate dialogue and cross-pollination between fields, with each session consisting of two primary speakers from one discipline and responses from two to three panelists with differing and contrasting backgrounds. This creative structure allowed conference participants to critically and multidimensionally examine the use of evidence within and between disciplines. EVIDENCE was organized around guiding questions, including: What counts as evidence in different fields; why do some disciplines have explicit norms surrounding evidence while others are guided by implicit customs; why do evidentiary norms change over time in a given discipline and how can these changes be explained; and what happens when new theories outpace a discipline’s current evidentiary practices? Together these questions served as both a baseline for exploration and the common thread throughout the eleven sessions and two keynote speeches.

After an introduction from the conference organizers (Pamela Smith, Stuart Firestein, and Jeremy Kessler), Veronica Vieland, Niall Bolger, and Shai Silberberg examined the role of reproducibility in evidence calibration and authenticity. Veronica Vieland and Niall Bolger highlighted the importance of reproducibility in creating and evaluating evidence, but underscored that variation across results and replications should be expected. While discussing big data, David Madigan reiterated this point, stating how the same datasets can produce contradictory interpretations. Shai Silberberg challenged the use of the term “reproducibility,” stating that it masks the various reason that experiments cannot be replicated, and why he uses the phrase “transparency and rigor” instead. Moving forward, Wendy Wagner questioned how standards of scientific evidence were regulated and how they evolved over time. The federal funding panel questioned the five factors (significance, innovation, approach, investigators, and environment) used to evaluate a research funding proposal. The explicit preference for quantitative evidence has shifted the conception of research and consequently which projects are funded. For example, the BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal) does not publish qualitative studies because they do not produce tangible results. Thus certain kinds of evidence are prioritized, creating explicit norms about the uses of evidentiary fact.

Participants in the journalism panel discussed the role of evidence in journalism, especially within a 21st century context. When writing scientific articles for the general public, journalists are forced to weigh the conflicting priorities of correctly representing the integrity and complexity of issues, abiding by space and time constraints, and creating mass appeal for the general public. Additionally, journalists act as a voice of authority and accuracy, while often only providing everchanging partial knowledge as the evidence develops. Nick Lemann described the press as the “ER doctors of epistemology,” working with limited information and under pressure. The lack of shared standards and definitions of evidence only exacerbates the challenges journalism face.

EVIDENCE also examined the difference between scientific standards of evidence and the role of evidence in the courtroom. Like journalism, legal scholars struggle to standardize proof, leading to a high margin of jury error. How are “preponderance of the evidence” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” conceptualized within a legal context and what standards of proof can be applied? Without distilling evidence and testimony into statistics, how can courts weigh the facts? As stated by Barbara Shapiro, the notion of “probable cause” is not a static term describing a specific quantity of evidence, but variable nomenclature based on time, place, and situation context. The amorphous notion of evidence positions the courtroom as an adversarial testing ground for evidentiary standards.

Annie Duke, a World Series of Poker champion, and Jennifer Mnookin, Dean of the UCLA School of Law, served as EVIDENCE’s keynote speakers. Annie Duke’s address focused on the use of evidence within poker and how the game was instrumental in creating game theory. Poker serves as a unique testing laboratory with a tight and closed loop offering many opportunities for collecting evidence. However, Ms. Duke noted that emotions create short term swings in poker, creating a self-serving bias that can color evidence collection. She states strong emotions generally trump evidence in many settings. Meanwhile, Jennifer Mnookin offered a history and critique of forensic evidence in the courtroom. Forensic science is culturally perceived as absolute, but in reality produces subjective evidence that is rarely tested. As noted by Zoe Crossland, statistical evidence is endowed with scientific power, granting it authority and validity. There has been very little success in altering the use of evidence within the legal system or changing evidentiary norms.

Evidence: An Interdisciplinary Conversation About Knowing And Certainty provided a venue for an interdisciplinary analysis of evidence and its boundaries within academic and professional fields. The conference critiqued and analyzed current notions surrounding evidence, while also serving as an incubator – allowing participants to think about cross discipline solutions for problematic evidentiary practices, bias, and theories. Throughout the conference, participants explored how evidence can be conceptualized, defined, compared, and applied across and within disciplines.

For more details about the conference, including a session-by session conference report, please click  HERE.

Job Opportunity: Adjunct – NYU Department of Technology, Culture, and Society

The Department of Technology, Culture and Society at NYU Tandon School of Engineering is seeking PhDs in anthropology, sociology, STS, history of science, or related fields to teach the following classes in fall 2017. Recent graduates and exceptional ABDs (with teaching experience) are invited to apply. There is some flexibility in terms of course materials, instructor methods and assignments.

Please send a short message of interest and CV to the Director of STS, Amber Benezra, amber.benezra@nyu.edu. Open until filled. Adjunct positions are unionized and well-compensated.

Ethics and Engineering M,W 10:30am-12:20pm
This course examines issues relating to engineering practice and applied technology. We will study foundations for moral decision making such as professional codes and ethical theories such as Kantianism and utilitarianism. These ethical tools will be applied to a range of case studies. We will also seek a deeper understanding of important issues and challenges stemming from technology with an eye to how globalization and its attendant cultural and moral pluralism affect them.

Magic Bullets and Wonder Pills T,Th 4:00pm-5:50pm
We will spend the semester investigating the history of psychoactive drugs and related medical technology, through a ‘Science and Technology Studies’ (STS) lens. After establishing some of the core concepts in STS theory, we will turn to the development of a number of different psychoactive drugs, and what these drugs tell us about wider social and structural inequalities, science and the politics of knowledge and corporatist logics.

2017 Interdisciplinary Seed Grants Awarded

The Center for Science and Society provides annual Seed Grants up to $3,000 to cross-disciplinary projects that involve the study of science and society. All full-time faculty, students, and postdocs at Columbia University and Barnard College are eligible, and proposals are encouraged especially from undergraduate and graduate students. This year, the Center for Science and Society has awarded funding to five interdisciplinary projects led by faculty from a number of departments at Columbia University, including psychology, journalism, political science, sociology, and history. Our 2017 Seed Grant recipients are:

Maneeza Dawood (Doctoral Student, Department of Psychology) & Valerie Purdie-Vaughns (Associate Professor, Department of Psychology)
Proposal Title: Social Ties to Muslims and Political Engagement: A Social Network Approach

Kristen Michelle Frazer (Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Psychology), Christopher Medina-Kirchner (Post Baccalaureate Student/Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Psychology), Ana Singh, (M.A. Student, School of Journalism), & David Lipkin (Student, Bronx High School of Science).
Proposal Title: The Fight against ‘Alternative Facts’: Finding Ways to Accurately Communicate Neuroscientific Information to the General Public

Ben Mylius (Doctoral Student, Department of Political Science)
Proposal Title: Graduate Student Transdisciplinary Salon: Increasing Literacy around Ecological Concepts, Frameworks, and Vocabularies

Erela Portugaly (Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology), Adrianna Bagnall-Munson (Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology), & Jonathan Lin (Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology)
Proposal Title: Impairment and the Social World: Towards a Sociology of Disability

Adrien Zakar (Doctoral Student, Department of History)
Proposal Title: ‘Materialized Cosmologies’ Concept Lab

Learn more about the 2017 Seed Grants


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