Introductory Seminar—Science and Justice: Experiments in Collaboration

This course will meet in Spring 2010 on Tuesdays, 10:00 am–1:00 pm in 599 Engineering 2.

Many of our age’s most important and challenging questions require collaboration across engineering, the arts, the natural and social sciences, and humanities. Access to vital resources such as clean water, food, and medicines often requires innovation—both novel science and engineering practices and novel social practices and policies.

The nature of privacy rights is one example of such a question. Decisions about what can be owned and patented shift not only with changing societal values, but with the changing nature of science and engineering. Privacy rights depend both on political and cultural ideas about the nature of humanness and on scientific and engineering design. This class offers a unique opportunity for graduate students from engineering, natural and social sciences, humanities, and the arts to learn to collaborate together to address such issues of fundamental importance across disciplines.

The course will culminate in each student creating a research proposal that incorporates insights developed in the course about an entangled ethical and epistemological challenge in his or her field. This will follow a series of problem-based inquiries into topics at the junction of science and engineering and ethics and justice. It will thread broad questions about epistemology, ethics, and justice through specific contemporary problems. The topics have been previewed by the UCSC Science & Justice Working Group (SJWG) and have proven to be fruitful focuses for collaborative research on the UCSC campus. A preliminary topic list includes

  • category formation at the interface of bioinformatics and genomics
  • uncertainty at the junctures of science and policy
  • energy and transportation infrastructure and policy

The class will study each topic for two weeks: the first week’s class will examine broad literature related to the topic; the second week’s class will have a model inquiry, pairing a faculty member from science and engineering with a faculty member from the social sciences, humanities, and arts to explore the places where questions of science and engineering meet questions of ethics and justice in the topic at hand. For example, David Haussler (Biomolecular Engineering) and Donna Haraway (History of Consciousness) will address questions of human and non-human relations—which are relevant to a broad range of issues—from computer modeling to animal welfare to the construction of racial categories. Karen Barad (Feminist Studies) and Marc Mangel (Applied Mathematics) will address issues of uncertainty and indeterminacy, which are relevant to efforts to address problems such as climate change and health reform.


  Center for Biomolecular Science & Engineering
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University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064
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Fellowship Opportunity

This course is also the gateway to the UCSC Ethics & Justice in Science fellowship program. At the end of the course, students will have the chance to use the proposals they develop to apply for this fellowship, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.