Science, Technology and Society Program

The multidisciplinary program in Science, Technology, and Society is designed to enable students to pursue three objectives: a) to understand the central role of science and technology in contemporary society; b) to examine how science and technology reflect their social, political, philosophical, economic and cultural contexts; and c) to explore the human, ethical and policy implications of current and emerging technologies.

Students interested in the program are urged to plan for declaration as early as possible in their college careers. Freshmen and sophomores should talk with the director concerning courses to be taken in the freshman and sophomore years.

Course Requirements: 141//2 units including: (1) Non-science disciplinary requirements: 3 units including Introductory Sociology (SOCI 151); Microeconomics (ECON 101); and at least one course selected from Cultural Anthropology (ANTH 140), Readings in Modern European History (HIST 121), Readings in U.S. History (HIST 160), Philosophy and Contemporary Issues (PHIL 106), or International Politics (POLI 160); (2) Natural science requirements: 4 units from at least 2 departments, 2 of which must include laboratory work from biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, psychology or statistics (e.g., PSYC 200, MATH 141, ECON 209); (3) STS 200 (Science and Technology Studies); (4) 5 additional units in STS, with only 1 at the 100-level. Ordinarily these are courses that originate or are cross-listed in STS. Additional courses may meet this requirement with the approval of the director, (5) STS 300 (thesis) and STS 301 (senior seminar).

After declaration of the major, all required courses must be taken for a letter grade.

Distribution Requirements: At least 3 units in a sequence of courses leading to the 300-level in one of the social sciences, or one of the natural sciences, or a discipline in one of the humanities by permission of the director; at least 5 units to be taken in any of the divisions other than the one in which the student has achieved the 300-level requirement; no more than 251/ 2 units may be taken within any one division of the college.

I. Introductory

131. Genetic Engineering: Basic Principles and Ethical Questions(1)

This course includes a consideration of: 1) basic biological knowledge about the nature of the gene, the genetic code, and the way in which the genetic code is translated into the phenotype of the organism; 2) how this basic, scientific knowledge has led to the development of a new technology known as "genetic engineering''; 3) principles and application of the technology itself; 4) the ethical, legal, and economic issues which have been raised by the advent of this technology. Among the issues discussed are ethical questions such as the nature of life itself, the right of scientists to pursue research at will, and the role of the academy to regulate the individual scientific enterprise. Ms. Kennell.

Not offered in 2011/12.

138a. Energy: Sources and Policies (1/2)

A multidisciplinary introduction to the principal sources of energy currently being used in the United States and the economic, political, and environmental choices they entail. The two largest energy sectors, electrical generating and transportation, are the main focus for the course, but emerging technologies such as wind power and hydrogen are also examined. There are no science prerequisites except a willingness to explore the interconnections of scientific principle, engineering practice and social context. Mr. Challey.

Six-week course.

139. The Electronic Media (1/2)

An introduction to the history and evolution of the three principal electronic media of the twentieth century, radio, television, and the Internet. In each case the course examines the ways the technology and its social context have shaped each other. As a result this course also serves as an introduction to some of the major themes and methodologies in the history of technology. Mr. Challey.

Six-week course.

Not offered in 2011/12.

146b. The Culture and Chemistry of Cuisine (1)

(Same as Chemistry 146b) A basic biological need of all organisms is the ability to acquire nutrients from the environment; humans accomplish this in many creative ways. Food is an important factor in societies that influences population growth, culture, migration, and conflict. Humans discovered the science and art of food preparation, topics that are explored in this course, not in a single step but rather as an evolving process that continues to this day. This course develops the basic chemistry, biochemistry and microbiology of food preparation; explores the biochemical basis of certain nutritional practices; covers social and political aspects of foods throughout world history. It covers controversies like genetically modified organisms, the production of high-fructose corn syrup, and the historic role of food commodities such as salt, rum, and cod in the world economy. Course topics are explored through lectures, student presentations, and readings from both popular and scientific literature. The course includes a few laboratories to explore the basic science behind food preparation. Ms. Rossi, Mr. Jemiolo.

172b. Microbial Wars (1)

(Same as Biology 172b) Mr. Esteban.

180a. The Scientific Child (1)

This class considers both the history of science education and the roles that the sciences played in the construction of childhood and adolescence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among the topics discussed are the changing technologies of scientific instruction; the Nature-Study movement; debates about the place of evolution in American schools; the history of science museums; the media's place in the public consumption of science; scientific parenting and pediatrics; and Vassar's traditions of euthenics and home economics. Mr. Fiss.

II. Intermediate

200b. Science and Technology Studies (1)

An introduction to the multidisciplinary study of contemporary science and technology through selected case studies and key texts representing the major perspectives and methods of analysis, including work by Thomas Kuhn, Robert Merton, Bruno Latour, Sandra Harding, Helen Longino, and Naomi Oreskes. Some of the issues include the concept of scientific revolution, the nature of "big science" and "high technology," the sociology of scientific knowledge, the social

construction of science and technology, the ethics of funding/owning

science and technology, and feminist approaches to science and technology. Mr. Fiss.

Prerequisite: 1 unit of a natural or a social science.

Two 75-minute periods.

202. History of Modern Science and Technology (1)

A survey of major developments in Western science and technology from 1800 to the present. Major topics include; Laplace and the rise of mathematical physics; the development of thermodynamics; the work of Darwin and Pasteur; Edison and the rise of electrical technology; the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics; the Manhattan Project; plate tectonics and molecular biology; and the development of computers and cybernetics. Special emphasis is placed on the concepts of "big science. Mr. Challey.

Prerequisite: 1 unit of natural or a social science.

Two 75-minute periods.

Not offered in 2011/12.

220a. The Political Economy Health Care (1)

(Same as Economics 220a) Ms. Shirley Johnson-Lans.

222. Bioethics/Human Reproduction (1)

(Same as Political Science 222) Scientific and technological advances are revolutionizing the ways in which human beings can procreate. This has given rise to debates over the ethical use of these methods, and over whether and how law and public policy should regulate these procedures and recognize the family relationships created by their use. This course examines topics such as fertility treatments, the commodification of gametes and embryos, contraceptive development and use, genetic screening and genetic modification of embryos, genetic testing in establishing family rights and responsibilities, and human cloning. We examine issues surrounding the ethical use of these methods, and consider whether and how law and public policy should regulate these procedures and recognize the family relationships created by their use. Ms. Pokrywka, Ms. Shanley.

Not offered in 2011/12.

226. Philosophy of Science (1)

(Same as Philosophy 226) Mr. Winblad.

Not offered in 2011/12.

231b. Topics in Archaeology (1)

(Same as Anthropology 231b.) Ms. Johnson.

234. Disability and Society (1)

(Same as Sociology 234)

Not offered in 2011/12.

245a. Automobiles (1)

This course examines the evolution of the automobile both as a revolution in human transportation and as a case study in the complex ways in which technology and society shape each other. The course begins with a study of the history of the automobile, primarily from an American perspective, but culminating in the globalization of the automobile industry. The second half of the course examines the contemporary role of the automobile in such contexts as energy policy, the environment, gender, and urban and suburban planning and design. Mr. Challey.

248b. Gender and Science (1)

(Same as Women's Studies 248b) This class introduces the subfield of STS and women's studies that has been variously labeled "gender and science," "women and science," "feminist critiques of science," and "feminist science studies." We consider the methodological perspectives of a wide range of authors, including Judith Butler, Evelyn Fox Keller, Joan Wallach Scott, Londa Schiebinger, Margaret Rossiter, Donna Haraway, Emily Martin, and Helen Longino. Topics include: histories of women in the development of the sciences; the place of feminisms in current scientific practice; debates about abortion; technologies of sex and sexuality; feminist epistemologies of science; and ways in which an awareness of gender can lead to novel approaches to science education. Mr. Fiss.

254b. Bio-politics of Breast Cancer (1)

(Same as Women's Studies 254b) We examine the basic scientific, clinical and epidemiological data relevant to our current understanding of the risks (including environmental, genetic, hormonal and lifestyle factors), detection, treatment (including both traditional and alternative approaches), and prevention of breast cancer. In trying to understand these data in the context of the culture of the disease, we explore the roles of the pharmaceutical companies, federal and private foundations, survivor and other activist groups, and the media in shaping research, treatment and policy strategies related to breast cancer. Ms. Gray.

255. The Science of Forensics (1)

(Same as Biology 255 and Chemistry 255)

Not offered in 2011/12.

260a. Health, Medicine, and Public Policy (1)

(Same as Sociology 260a) Ms. Miringoff.

267b. Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (1)

(Same as Economics 267b) Mr. Rudd.

270b. Drugs, Culture, and Society (1)

(Same as Sociology 270) This course draws on a variety of Science Studies and Sociological frameworks to consider the implications of various substances that we conventionally refer to as “drugs.” Topics include medical, psychiatric, instrumental, or recreational use of licit and illicit substances. Relevant conceptional frameworks are used to explore and analyze the impact of new chemical technology, debates regarding the safety and efficacy of pharmaceuticals, the consequences of globalization on patterns of use, policy and enforcement, as well as the social construction of drugs as a social problem. Heroin, Cocaine, Marijuana, Methamphetamine, MDMA, Ayahuasca, ADHD drugs, SSRIs and hormonal Steroids are all of special interest in so far as they constitute strategic sites for the study of social or technological controversy. Mr. McAulay.

Two 75-minute periods.

273. Sociology of the New Economy (1)

(Same as Sociology 273) Mr. Nevarez.

Not offered in 2011/12.

280b. Albert Einstein (1)

This course explores the complex life and work of the iconic scientist of the 20th century. Using recent biographical studies and a wide range of original sources (in translation), Einstein’s revolutionary contributions to relativity and quantum mechanics, his role in Germany in the opposition to the rise of Nazi ideology and anti-Semitism, and his work as a political and social activist in the United States are examined. Students are encouraged to make use of Vassar’s Bergreen Collection of original Einstein manuscripts. Mr. Challey.

290a or b. Field Work (1/2 or 1)

298a or b. Independent Work (1/2 or 1)

III. Advanced

300a. Senior Thesis (1)

301b. Senior Seminar (1/2)

The seminar meets during the first six weeks of the second semester. Senior majors present and defend their senior theses before the student and faculty members of the program.

302. History of Science and Technology Since World War II (1)

An examination of major developments in science and technology since 1945, with particular emphasis on the social contexts and implications. The topics to receive special attention are: the origins and growth of systems theories (systems analysis, operations research, game theory, cybernetics), the development of molecular genetics from the double helix to sociobiology; and the evolution of telecommunications technologies. Mr. Challey.

Prerequisites: 1 unit of natural science and 1 unit of modern history, or permission of instructor.

Not offered in 2011/12.

331. Seminar in Archaeological Method and Theory (1)

(Same as Anthropology and Environmental Studies 331)

Not offered in 2011/12.

353b. Bio-Social Controversy (1)

(Same as Sociology 353b) Scientific controversies take place not only within scientific communities but may be joined and waged in public arenas as well. This course is about the "Darwin Wars" fought not only between advocates of Evolution and proponents of Intelligent Design but also about selected disagreements among Darwinians on occasions when they speak with more than one voice. Topics addressed in this course include the feasibility of Darwinian sociology (the sociobiology debate and disputes over evolutionary psychology), evolutionary accounts of sex/gender (mating, gender differences, homosexuality) and conflicting views regarding Darwinian analyses of violence, ethnic conflict and race. The range of conceptual resources deployed to interpret these controversies includes Popperian philosophy of science, the social construction of science, Foucauldian power/knowledge as well as studies of scientific rhetoric. Mr. McAulay.

360a. Issues in Bioethics (1)

Topic for 2011-12a: Abstract for “On the Prospect of a ‘Posthuman’ Future”. From circumcision and foot binding to matchmaking and public schools, human beings have always sought to shape themselves and their children. The convergence of Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology and Cognitive neuroscience (or “NBIC,” according to the National Science Foundation) seems poised to radically transform our capacity to pursue that ancient ambition. The aim of this course is to understand the emerging and sometimes acrimonious debate about the prospect of what observers—some with dread and others with enthusiasm—are calling our “posthuman future.” As sympathetically and critically as possible, we will explore the arguments for and against pursuing such a future, and thereby will begin to articulate our own positions vis-à-vis the debate. We will investigate the competing conceptions of technology, nature, and happiness at work on each side of the debate, and will see to what extent competing conceptions of those key ideas aggregate to form what might be called distinctive “ethical frameworks.” Most importantly, we will seek to understand the ethical framework that we find ourselves operating out of when we come to discuss the prospect of using NBIC to transform our own and our children’s selves. Class discussion will be built around texts from multiple genres, including bioethics, philosophy, and psychology. The only prerequisite is a willingness to read complex arguments carefully. Mr. Parens.

364. Seminar on Selected Topics in Law and Technology (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 364) This course explores the dynamic interrelationship between technology and law, through the study of environmental protection, law and policy. It is designed to analyze the reciprocal effects of our society, a developing jurisprudence and the advancement and use of science and technology on each other. Areas explored include American Constitutional, international, environmental, criminal, and property law. This course is taught using the same Socratic methods used in American law schools.

Not offered in 2011/12.

367. Mind, Culture, and Biology (1)

(Same as Sociology 367) Increasingly in recent years Darwinian approaches to the analysis of human behavior have emerged at the center of modern science-based opposition to social constructionism and postmodernist thinking. Nowhere is this challenge more pointed than in the use of evolutionary perspectives to explain patterns of human culture. This course examines the deployment of Darwinian social science to account for morality and religion; art and literature; consumerism and consumer culture; sex/gender and standards of beauty. The goal is neither to celebrate nor to dismiss evolutionary psychology and its allies but rather to play Darwinian insights and potentially questionable claims off against those of feminist, Marxist and sociological critics. Mr. McAulay.

Not offered in 2011/12.

370. Feminism and Environmentalism (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies and Women's Studies 370) In this seminar we explore some basic concepts and approaches within feminist environmental analysis paying particular attention to feminist theory and its relevance to environmental issues. We examine a range of feminist research and analysis in 'environmental studies' that is connected by the recognition that gender subordination and environmental destruction are related phenomena. That is, they are the linked outcomes of forms of interactions with nature that are shaped by hierarchy and dominance, and they have global relevance. The course helps students discover the expansive contributions of feminist analysis and action to environmental research and advocacy; it provides the chance for students to apply the contributions of a feminist perspective to their own specific environmental interests. Ms. Schneiderman.

Prerequisite: permission of the instructor; Women's Studies 130 recommended.

One 2-hour period.

Not offered in 2012/13.

380. Risk Perception and Environmental Regulation (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 380) This course explores the relationship between how individuals perceive risk and attempts to regulate the environment. In particular, we examine problems (both conceptual and practical) that arise in attempting to effectively manage risks to the environment. Gathering together empirical insights from Psychology and Behavioral Economics, we evaluate a number of proposed theoretical frameworks for regulation regimes (e.g., the Precautionary Principle, and Cost benefit Analysis). Problems to be discussed include the roles of popular (e.g., referenda) and non-democratic (e.g., judicial review) institutions, the feasibility of identifying relevant scientific expertise, and difficulties posed by inequalities in political, and economic power. Readings include works by thinkers such as Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Cass Sunstein, and Richard Posner, as well as studies of existing legislation (e.g., the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act). Mr. Kelly.

Not offered in 2011/12.

399a or b. Senior Independent Work (1/2 or 1)