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15 Feb
The Dean's Conference Room
Feb 15, 2013 | 6:00 PM-8:00 PM


Making Democracy through the Gene Patent Controversy

In the coming months, the United States Supreme Court will decide whether human genes are patentable. This decision will have an enormous impact on research conducted by the American biotechnology industry, as well as the overall quality of health care in the U.S.

The upcoming talk by Shobita Parthasarathy will focus on another significant—but rarely discussed—consequence: how the decision will cause American democracy to evolve, particularly in the context of how it governs technology.

Parthasarathy, an associate professor in the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, will explore the gene patent case from a historical and comparative perspective. She will demonstrate how the case has challenged ideas about how the patent system understands the public interest; defines relevant knowledge and expertise; and determines appropriate types of participants and modes of participation.

She will argue that to really understand modern democratic order, we must consider how it takes shape in the unlikeliest of places, including highly technical policy domains like the patent system.

About the speaker:

Shobita Parthasarathy's research focuses on the challenges of governing controversial science and technology in democratic societies, particularly in cross-national and global perspective. She is the author of several articles and a book, Building Genetic Medicine: Breast Cancer, Technology and the Comparative Politics of Health Care (MIT Press, 2007), which compared the development of genetic testing for breast cancer in the United States and Great Britain. Research findings from this book have been used to support the ongoing litigation against gene patents in the United States.

She is currently working on her second book, which compares the politics of patenting life forms in the United States and Europe. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Chicago and master’s and doctoral degrees in science and technology studies from Cornell University. She has held fellowships at several leading universities and research institutions.