Tag Archive for Science in Society

Gottschalk writes on Islamophobia, Homophobia and Orlando

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

In the wake of the unparalleled homophobic violence committed in Orlando this month, and the Islamophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments expressed only hours later (notably, by presidential candidate Donald Trump), Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk writes an op-ed for Inside Sources about the deep roots of all three in America.

He opens on a personal note: “As a boy in the late 1960s and 1970s, I knew there were few more destructive suspicions that could be voiced about me than those connoted by the label ‘gay.’ While the term might be flung at someone by friends as a joke, it could be a damning adjective if antagonistically and permanently attached to one’s name. […] Meanwhile — in an era that extended through two Israeli-Arab wars, the OPEC oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution — Middle Eastern politics reinforced longstanding American antipathies toward Arabs and Muslims. I grew up with the impression that all Muslims were Arab, violent and non-American. Of what others did one hear?”

Gottschalk goes on:

Raised in the United States, perhaps (killer Omar) Mateen’s homophobia stemmed, at least in part, from the same fears from which mine did. However, it seems significant that his father reported that Mateen’s outrage was piqued recently when the killer’s 3-year-old son saw two men kissing. In addition to whatever childhood antipathies with which he likely grew up, his homophobic-fueled fury seemingly also fed on fears that public gay life represented a threat to his family, if not to society in general: attitudes still expressed by too many Americans.

It is here that the homophobia still sadly endemic in America intersects with an Islamophobia that also has a long history. Donald Trump lost no time connecting Mateen’s horrible violence to his demand that all Muslim immigration into the United States temporarily cease. His speeches repeat tired stereotypes debunked too long ago to be accidental.

The Republican presidential nominee consistently uses “Muslim” and “Middle Eastern” as interchangeable terms, even though the overwhelming majority of Muslims live outside that region, which is also populated by sizable Christian and Jewish populations.

And Trump loudly insinuates that Muslims should be suspect not only because, as immigrants from conflict zones, they might bring violence with them. In his statement about Muslim migrants on Sunday, he claimed, “And we will have no way to screen them, pay for them, or prevent the second generation from radicalizing.”

An uncritical audience would likely ask why — if the children of migrants might radicalize — might not the third, fourth or 10th generation do so? Are not nearly all Muslims therefore suspect?

Read more here.

Gottschalk is also professor of science in society.

Gruen Weighs in on Killing of Gorilla at Zoo

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen

Writing in The Washington PostLori Gruen, the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy, argues that fingers are being pointed in the wrong direction after Harambe, an endangered lowland gorilla, was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 4-year-old child entered his enclosure. “The real culprits are zoos,” she writes.

Many in the animal protection community contend that the gorilla didn’t pose a real threat to the boy, and are questioning if zoo staff did enough to try to separate Harambe from the child. Others are blaming the boy’s mother for not properly supervising him.

Gruen writes:

For me, the real question is not who to blame, but why anyone was in a situation in which they had to make a choice between the life of a human child and the life of an endangered teenage gorilla in the first place. Keeping wild animals in captivity is fraught with problems. This tragic choice arose only because we keep animals in zoos.

Though killing is less common at U.S. zoos compared with the regular practice of “culling” at European ones, zoos are nonetheless places that cause death. Harambe’s life was cut short intentionally and directly, but for many zoo animals, simply being in captivity shortens their lives. We know this is true for whales in SeaWorld. Elephants, too, die prematurely in zoos. So why have zoos?

One of the reasons often given is that zoos protect and conserve endangered wild animals. A few zoos do fund conservation efforts — the Cincinnati Zoo is one of them. These efforts are laudable, and I would hope that in light of the tragedy the Cincinnati Zoo will spend more to help protect lowland gorillas. Their habitat, as is true for so many wild animals, is under threat.

But captive animals, especially large mammals born in captivity, like Harambe, cannot be “returned to the wild.” These sensitive, smart, long-lived gorillas are destined to remain confined, never to experience the freedom of the wild. They are, at best, symbols meant to represent their wild counterparts. But these symbols are distortions, created in an effort to amuse zoo-goers. Zoos warp our understanding of these wonderful beings and perpetuate the notion that they are here for our purposes.

If we really need someone to blame, maybe we should look at our society, which supports these types of institutions of captivity. If zoos were more like sanctuaries, places where captive animals can live out their lives free from screaming crowds and dangers not of their own making, no one would have had to decide to kill Harambe. Sanctuaries are places where the well-being of animals is of primary concern and animals are treated with respect. Four-year-olds and their families could see gorillas in Imax theaters, where their curiosity could be safely satisfied and gorillas could live with dignity, in peace.

Gruen also is chair of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. She also commented in The Christian Science Monitor’s coverage of the gorilla’s killing, and wrote this piece for the Center for Humans & Nature.

Eiko Otake to Present Major Platform at Danspace in NYC, March 11

Eiko performing at Wesleyan's Alsop House.

Visiting Instructor in Dance Eiko Otake performed at Wesleyan’s Alsop House.

Building off research she did for her work “Body in Places” at Wesleyan in fall 2015, Visiting Instructor in Dance Eiko Otake will present a major platform at Danspace Project in New York City on March 11. The free talks include those by Wesleyan faculty members William Johnson, professor of history, professor of East Asian Studies, professor of science in society, professor of environmental studies, and Katja Kolcio, associate professor of dance, associate professor of environmental studies.

March 11 marks the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. A photo collective by Eiko and Johnston will be on display in the St. Mark’s Church sanctuary for 24 hours. Singers and poets will mark each hour with a song and poem.

Johnston will speak at 4 p.m., together with Marilyn Ivy of Columbia University. Kolcio will speak at 6 p.m. together with Yoshiko Chuma, artistic director and choreographer of The School of Hard Knocks and Daghdha Dance Company.

Admission is free, and attendees are encouraged to RSVP here.

Learn more about Eiko’s month-long, multi-disciplinary program here. Read recent coverage of the project in The New York Times here and here. (All photos by William Johnston).

Eiko at Governors Island.

Eiko at Governors Island.

Eiko in Manhattan.

Eiko in Manhattan.

Eiko on Governors Island ferry.

Eiko on Governors Island ferry.

Jennifer Tucker Talks Gun Control in Boston Globe op-ed, on WNPR’s ‘Scramble’

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is the co-author of an op-ed in the Boston Globe titled, “What the Clean Air Act can teach us about reducing gun violence.” Tucker and co-author Matthew Miller of Northeastern University write, “The recent scandal over Volkswagen’s polluting engines vividly illustrates the contrast between the way Americans, and in particular elected officials, treat guns and the way we (and our elected officials) treat cars — both of which kill approximately 32,000 Americans every year.”

The Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, has averted tens of thousands of premature deaths though “a systematic and scientific approach to the impact of the actors of private actors (from auto owners to power station operators) on the health of their fellow citizens. The force of the law was then used to ensure that these externalities were borne by the companies contributing to the problem.”

Tucker and Miller argue the same approach should be applied to regulating firearms. At present, legislation now exempts guns from federal consumer-safety laws and provides immunity for gun manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits. And since 1996, the Centers for Disease Control has been effectively barred from funding research into the cause of firearm-related deaths.

Tucker also was a guest this week on WNPR’s “The Scramble” in a discussion about gun control, following the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon.

“Our nation’s lax attitude toward gun proliferation is partly the result of a Hollywood version of gun technology,” said Tucker. “There’s a 1953 movie ‘Shane,’ which has had a powerful influence. Shane is a gun fighter and in a conversation about gun control, he says ‘A gun is just a tool. It’s as good or bad as the man who uses it. We’ve heard this notion a lot, but that’s certainly not a notion… that we apply to other consumer products in America. We could take, for example, the recent scandal over Volkswagen’s polluting engines to illustrate this difference. So after Volkswagen’s recent admission that it used illegal devices to cheat on admission testing of diesel vehicles in the United States, the company faces billions of dollars of fines along with expensive recalls and class action lawsuits and criminal charges.”

Tucker describes the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 as having a major impact on public health, averting tens of thousands of premature deaths. “It succeeded because it took a scientific approach to the impacts of the activities of private actors on the health of fellow citizens. In contrast to that, while the impact of automobiles on the public’s health and safety is closely regulated, astonishingly, the firearms that are used to kill Americans are not subject to government oversight.”

Tucker is also associate professor of science in society, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, associate professor of environmental studies. She recently authored an op-ed on the history of gun control published on Inside Sources.

Tucker on the Wild West, Hollywood and Gun Control

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

At a time when gun deaths are spiking and Congress has failed to enact significant legislation to tackle the problem, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker writes an op-ed looking at how we got here. She contends that it is Hollywood’s version of history—not reality—that is behind the belief that guns have been a critical part of American culture over centuries. She writes:

The 1953 movie “Shane” exemplifies the narrative of a “good man with a gun.” Responding to a woman’s wish that guns be banished, Shane replies: “A gun is just a tool, Marian. It’s as good or bad as the man that uses it.”

This notion is central to the National Rifle Association’s worldview. But it is a classic and tragic example of what Oxford professor Margaret McMillan has called “bad history,” or picking only a small part of a complex story.

In reality, the 19th century Wild West was the setting for the passage of some of the nation’s first gun control laws, and it was widely understood that civilized people did not walk around carrying guns. It wasn’t until the 1980s when laws liberalizing concealed carry swept the country, and the most profound changes in gun law occurred in 2008 and 2010.

Tucker concludes:

Our “gun industrial complex” is not the inevitable outcome of two centuries of gun-possession; it is the result of changes in the law and cultural attitudes over the past couple of decades.

Today, 36 states have adopted “shall-issue” laws.

Texas allows unlicensed people to carry semi-automatic rifles in public. In May, the NRA fought the efforts of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to restrict guns at parks, fairgrounds and recreational areas. And with a proliferation of guns in homes — which is associated with a twofold increase in the risk of homicide — 2013 saw 1,670 children die by gunshot and an additional 9,718 injured.

Guns might not kill people but guns get people killed.

Gun owners should familiarize themselves with the true history of the frontier. Regulation advocates should make more of the fact that history is on their side.

Tucker is also associate professor of science in society, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and associate professor in the environmental studies program.

Johnston Reveals Truth About Bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki in Op-Ed

johnston550Seventy years later, it is widely believed that President Harry S. Truman made a decision to authorize the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The truth, writes William Johnston in the Hartford Courant, is that he never did, at least not explicitly.

Johnston, professor of history, professor of East Asian Studies, examines in an op-ed how history has been rewritten surrounding the bombings. In fact, Truman’s first explicit decision about atomic bombs was to later order that their further use be stopped without his “express authority.” But in summer 1946, Johnston explains, the need arose to write an alternative narrative, as the bomb’s horrific effects on the people of Japan were revealed, and critics started asking whether the atomic bombings had been necessary, or even truly effective in ending the war.

Johnston writes:

The historian’s job is to explain the past using the most complete evidence available. That evidence shows both that Truman’s most substantial atomic decision was to demand his express authority for future bombings and that the bombings’ role in ending the war was ambiguous.

We may not like it when history is fuzzy, but that’s how it is.

It is more important now than ever that we understand history’s ambiguities, especially when it comes to the history of World War II and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Our country today faces many national security threats, from terrorism to global warming. A healthy democracy requires a well-educated populace, and history plays a major role in that education. Science, technology engineering and math cannot replace it.

The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan is a good time to recall their history and meaning. We need to remember where we have been while keeping an eye on the future. It is hard for those who are blind to the past to have a clear vision for the future.

Johnston is also professor of Science in Society, and professor in the Environmental Studies Program.

Uchendu ’17 Researches Production of Biofuels as McNair Scholar

Stacy Uchendu ‘17 is researching second generation biofuels with Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry and environmental studies, as a McNair Scholar.

Science in Society major Stacy Uchendu ‘17 is researching second generation biofuels as a McNair Scholar.

In this News @ Wesleyan story, we talk with Stacy Uchendu from the Class of 2017. Uchendu is participating in Wesleyan’s Ronald E. McNair Post Program, which assists students from underrepresented groups in preparing for, entering and progressing successfully through post-graduate education.

Q: Stacy, where are you from and what is your major?

A: I’m from Houston, Texas, and my major is Science in Society with concentrations in chemistry and religion.

Q: When did you become a part of the McNair Program? Why did you decide to participate?

A: McNair offers a wonderful opportunity to do paid research over the summer and during the academic school year.

Johnston, Nakamura Present Papers at History of Science in East Asia Conference

Bill Johnston and Miri Nakamura celebrating after the conference at the Terroir Paris restaurant.

Professor Bill Johnston and Associate Professor Miri Nakamura celebrated with a toast after presenting papers in Paris.

Two Wesleyan faculty members presented talks at the 14th International Conference on the History of Science in East Asia, held in Paris, July 6-10.

On July 7, Miri Nakamura, associate professor of East Asian studies, read from a paper titled “Atomic Maids,” which focused on the role of Japanese housekeepers in mystery novels that were indirect criticisms of nuclear issues. On July 9, Bill Johnston, professor of history, professor of East Asian studies, professor of Science in Society, professor of environmental studies, spoke about the changing role of the environment in ideas about disease causation in 19th century Japan.

The conference is held every four years at venues around the world. Researchers from around the world came together to present and discuss their latest research relevant to the history of science, technology and medicine in East Asia from antiquity up to the present day. With 317 papers, about 200 of which were delivered as part of the 45 panels, this year’s conference was the largest ever held.

 

Faculty, Students Discuss Risk at Symposium

On May 2, the Wesleyan Symposium on Risk brought together faculty and students for an interdisciplinary discussion of risk. The event was sponsored by American Studies, the Center for the Humanities, the College of Letters, Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the Neuroscience and Behavior Program, the Science in Society Program, and the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies support funds. (Photos by Hannah Norman ’16)

Brian Stewart, professor of physics, professor of environmental studies, spoke on "The Metastasis of Risk."

Brian Stewart, professor of physics, professor of environmental studies, spoke on “The Metastasis of Risk.”

5 Questions With . . . William Johnston on the History of Disease

William Johnston

This issue, we ask “5 Questions” of  William Johnston, professor of history, professor of science in society, professor of East Asian Studies. One of his areas of specialty is the history of disease and epidemics.

Q: How did you become interested in the history of diseases, and more specifically, flu outbreaks?

A: While in graduate school I examined a number of different fields of history, but was drawn to the history of medicine in Japan because it was in that field that the Japanese first absorbed European scientific ideas and methods.  My advisor suggested that I take courses in the History of Science Department, and one course I took was a history of tuberculosis in the Untied States.  It was an eye-opener because it made me realize the ways in which societies interpret and respond to disease tells us a lot about their most basic values and fundamental structures. Sometimes people get very excited about relatively minor diseases while accepting major causes of illness and death as somehow “normal.”

Q: What are among the more notable outbreaks over the last, say, 100 or so years?

A: The most important outbreak of flu in the past century was, of course, the one that occurred between 1917 and 1920. For that matter it was one of the deadliest pandemics of all time, killing about 2.5 percent of all infected, with a total mortality estimated between 20 and 50 million worldwide. Some estimates go even higher. It possibly was a swine flu, although it could have been an avian strain that infected swine and then mutated to infect people; its exact origins

Stark Finds Treasure Buried Within the Bureaucracies

Laura Stark, assistant professor of science in society, assistant professor of sociology.

Mention “records and documents of a large bureaucracy” and images of stacks of dense paperwork, rows of beige filing cabinets, and perhaps even a slight sensation of suffocation comes to mind. But mention the same phrase to Laura Stark and her pulse steps up a beat as she sees something quite different: buried treasure.

“I am interested in the power of bureaucracies and the discretion people within them have to interpret rules,” says Stark, assistant professor of science and society, assistant professor of sociology. “How people who work in big organizations, including government agencies, apply general rules to specific cases is hard work and often not intuitive at all. I also find the people who work in bureaucracies to be endlessly fascinating.”

Stark, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology

Grabel Receives Grant to Support Stem Cell Seminar, Workshop

Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, received a $28,750 grant from the Connecticut Stem Cell Initiative for a “Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core” outreach component. The grant is subcontracted with the University of Connecticut Health Center. Outreach activities include running a seminar program for Connecticut colleges and universities, and holding a workshop every summer at the UConn Health Center.