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Biology and Society

Semester and Year FA 2012
Course Number IDSEM-UG1519
Section 001
Instructor Myles Jackson
Days Mon,Wed
Time 3:30 PM - 4:45 PM
Units 4.0
Level U
Foundation Requirement SCI


Course meets during the last seven weeks only, October 24–December 13.


Perhaps the most recent ethical challenge faced by all of us is biotechnology. This seminar explores the relationship between the biological sciences and society in the U.S. throughout the twentieth century. We will examine how debates concerning "nature versus nurture" have been framed historically. We shall discuss the history of eugenics and investigate how the U.S. government saw eugenics as proffering an objective tool for testing immigration and sterilization policies. We shall ask if there is a link between eugenics and the Human Genome Project. How has the patenting of human and plant genes reshaped the conduct of scientific research? How are molecular biology and pharmaceutical and biotech firms simultaneously challenging and reifying notions of race in the age of biocapitalism? How much of human behavior is shaped by genes, and how does that affect issues concerning free will and culpability? Is it ethical for developing countries to use genetically modified crops rather than their own sustainable practices? How has the HIV/AIDS epidemic reshaped the historical notions of the doctor-patient relationship and objectivity of drug testing? This course aims at drawing attention to the ethical, legal, and social issues generated by biology over the past century. Readings will include works from twentieth-century politicians such as Teddy Roosevelt, eugenicists, including Charles Davenport, the historian of science Dan Kevles, the philosopher of science Michael Ruse, the sociologist and historian of medicine Steven Epstein, the sociologist of race Troy Duster, and intellectual property lawyers such as Rebecca Eisenberg, as well as recent works by molecular biologists and geneticists on the definition of race, the role of patenting in biotechnology, and how commercial interests are driving scientific research.

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)

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