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.

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: 14 ½ 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 25 ½ 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 2013/14.

138. 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.

Six-week course.

Not offered in 2013/14.

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

(Same as Chemistry 146) 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.

172. Microbial Wars (1)

(Same as Biology 172) This course explores our relationship with microbes that cause disease. Topics including bioterrorism, vaccinology, smallpox eradication, influenza pandemics, antibiotic resistance, and emerging diseases are discussed to investigate how human populations are affected by disease, how and why we alter microorganisms intentionally or unintentionally, and how we study disease causing microbes of the past and present. The use of new technologies in microbiology that allow us to turn harmful pathogens into helpful medical or industrial tools are also discussed. Mr. Esteban.

Not offered in 2013/14.

182a. Relatively Uncertain: A History of Physics, Religion and Popular Culture (1)

(Same as Physics and Religion 182) This course will examine the cultural history of key ideas and experiments in physics, looking in particular at how non-scientists understood key concepts such as entropy, relativity, quantum mechanics and the idea of higher or new dimensions. It begins with an assumption that's widely accepted among historians -- namely, that the sciences are a part of culture and are influenced by cultural trends, contemporary concerns and even urgent personal ethical or religious dilemmas. In this course we will be attuned to the ways that physicists drew key insights from popular culture and how non-scientists, including religious or spiritual seekers, appropriated (and misappropriated) scientific insights about the origin and nature of the world, its underlying laws and energetic forces, and its ultimate meaning and purpose. Mr. Daly and Mr. White.

Two 75-minute periods.

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. Perrillán.

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.

Prerequisite: 1 unit of natural or a social science.

Two 75-minute periods.

Not offered in 2013/14.

220a. The Political Economy of Health Care (1)

(Same as Economics 220) Topics include the markets for physicians and nurses, hospital services, pharmaceuticals, and health insurance, both public and private; effects of changes in medical technology; and global health problems. A comparative study of several other countries' health care systems and reforms to the U.S. system focuses on problems of financing and providing access to health care in a climate of increasing demand and rising costs. Ms. Johnson-Lans.

Prerequisite: Economics 101 or 102. Students who have not taken Economics 101 but have strong quantitative backgrounds may enroll with instructor's permission.

222. Bioethics and Human Reproduction (1)

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.

Not offered in 2013/14.

226. Philosophy of Science (1)

(Same as Philosophy 226) A study of the principles of scientific reasoning. Topics include explanation, justification, scientific rationality, realism versus instrumentalism, and laws. Mr. Winblad.

Not offered in 2013/14.

231b. Tools and Human Behavior (1)

(Same as Anthropology 231) Humans are obligate tools users. For the last 2 million years humans have evolved in concert with tools and all human interactions with the environment are mediated by technology. This course will examine theories of technological change, drawing upon scholarship in anthropology, the history of technology, economic history, and evolutionary theory. Also considered will be the ways in which people, individually and in groups, interact with raw materials to transform them into artifacts, use these artifacts and then redeposit them in the natural environment. Ms. Johnson.

Prerequisite: previous coursework in Anthropology or permission of the instructor.

Two 75-minute periods.

234. Disability and Society (1)

(Same as Sociology 234) The vision of disability has changed radically over the past twenty years. Public policies have been legislated, language has been altered, opportunities have been rethought, a social movement has emerged, problems of discrimination, oppression, and prejudice have been highlighted, and social thinkers have addressed a wide range of issues relating to the representation and portrayal of people with disabilities. This course examines these issues, focusing on the emergence of the disability rights movement, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the various debates over American Sign Language, "deaf culture," and the student uprising at Gallaudet University and how writers and artists have portrayed people with disabilities. Ms. Miringoff.

Two 2-hour periods each week; one 2-hour period is devoted to lecture and discussion of reading materials, the second 2-hour period serves as a laboratory for films, speakers, and trips.

Not offered in 2013/14.

254. Bio-politics of Breast Cancer (1)

(Same as Women's Studies 254) 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.

Two 75-minute periods.

258a. Black Holes, Human Clones and Nanobots: The Edge of Science (1)

Will the newest version of the CERN accelerator in Europe create a mini black hole on earth? What are the implications of our advances in genetic engineering and nanotechnology? Twentieth-century science gave us revolutions in many diverse fields, but three of the most important and pervasive innovations were relativity, quantum theory, and the mapping of the human genome. The effects of these advances on human knowledge have begun to ripple through our society but they are far from having realized their full potential. Where do we stand now and where are we headed? These are the fundamental questions we will grapple with in this course. The implications of understanding nature, and by extension learning to manipulate nature, straddle multiple disciplines. We explore topics in the conceptual understanding of modern science and its relationship to religion, politics, economics, and philosophy. No mathematical background is necessary; a sincere interest in the subject matter is the only pre-requisite for this course. Readings may include works by authors such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, James Watson, Justine Burley, Thomas Kuhn, Hilary Putnam, Arthur C. Clarke, Richard Dawkins, and Brian Greene among others. Mr. Perrillán.

Two 75-minute periods.

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

(Same as Sociology 260) Health care represents one of the thorniest arenas of public policy today. Current issues include the rising numbers of uninsured, concerns over privacy, protection of the public from emerging infectious diseases, the debate between health care as a right vs. a privilege, and the ways in which we conceive the relationship between health, medicine, and society. This course begins with an analysis of the ‘social construction' of health, looking particularly at the issue of AIDS, national and international. We then examine policies arising from epidemic or infectious diseases, including the Black Death, the 1918 Influenza epidemic, and Typhoid Mary, as well as contemporary dilemmas over newly emergent diseases. Finally, we consider controversies over national health insurance, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian health care system, the Massachusetts experiment, and the history of Medicare and Medicaid. Ms. Miringoff.

267a. Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (1)

(Same as Economics 267) This course examines environmental and natural resource issues from an economic perspective. Environmental problems and controversies are introduced and detailed, and then various possible policies and solutions to the problems are analyzed. Economic analyses will determine the effectiveness of potential policies and also determine the people and entities which benefit from (and are hurt by) these policies. The goal is for students to develop a framework for understanding environmental problems and then to learn how to analyze policy actions within that framework. Topics include water pollution, air pollution, species protection, externalities, the energy situation, and natural resource extraction. Mr. Ruud.

Prerequisite: Economics 101 or 102, or permission of the instructor. Economics 209 recommended.

270a. 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.

273b. The New Economy (1)

(Same as Sociology 273) The new economy is, in one sense, a very old concern of sociology. Since the discipline's 19th-c. origins, sociologists have asked how changes in material production and economic relations alter the ways that people live, work, understand their lives, and relate to one another. However, current interests in the new economy center upon something new: a flexible, "just in time" mode of industry and consumerism made possible by information technologies and related organizational innovations. The logic of this new economy, as well as its consequences for society, are the subject of this course. Topics include the evolving role of technology in economic globalization; the precarity of today's workplaces and labor markets; the question of the "creative class"; digital divides in technology access, education, and lifestyles; and the cutting edges of consumerism. Mr. Nevarez.

280. 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.

Not offered in 2013/14.

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.

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

Not offered in 2013/14.

331b. Topics in Archaeological Theory and Method (1)

The theoretical underpinnings of anthropological archaeology and the use of theory in studying particular bodies of data. The focus ranges from examination of published data covering topics such as architecture and society, the origin of complex society, the relationship between technology and ecology to more laboratory-oriented examination of such topics as archaeometry, archaeozoology, or lithic technology.

May be repeated for credit if the topic has changed.

Topic for 2013/14b: Technology, Ecology, and Society. (Same as Anthropology and Environmental Studies 331) Examines the interactions between human beings and their environment as mediated by technology, focusing on the period from the earliest evidence of toolmaking approximately up to the Industrial Revolution. Student research projects often bring the course up to the present. Includes experimentation with ancient technologies and field trips to local markets and craft workshops. Ms. Johnson.

Prerequisite: previous coursework in Anthropology, Environmental Studies, or Science, Technology, and Society, or permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period; plus 4 hour lab.

353b. Bio-Social Controversy (1)

(Same as Sociology 353) 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 response to the extension of evolutionary logic to all aspects of contemporary life including education, politics, gender, violence and social behavior in general. It examines "Darwin Wars" fought not only between advocates of evolution and their opponents but selected disagreements among Darwinians themselves. Scientific controversy is treated as a strategic site for analyzing the social bases of various disputes including those between evolution and religious conservatives, sociobiology and cultural anthropology, and debates over sex/gender difference. Provocative perspectives including Darwinian feminism and efforts by transgender biologists to challenge the gender binary will also be considered. 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.

360b. Issues in Bioethics (1)

Topic changes.

Topic for 2013/14b: On the Prospect of a “Posthuman Future” Course Abstract. 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 increasingly vitriolic 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 that are at work on each side of the debate, and we will seek to see how competing conceptions can 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 the debate about the technological transformation of our bodies and those of our children. 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.

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 2013/14.

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 2013/14.

375. Gender, Race, and Science (1)

Not offered in 2013/14.

382. Renewable Energy (1)

This seminar is a careful examination of the renewable energy technologies currently available to replace fossil fuels. Primary attention goes to wind, solar power, hydroelectric power and biomass (including ethanol and biodiesel), with briefer consideration of other renewables such as geothermal and tidal energy. The seminar draws upon such methodologies as the social construction of technology and actor-network theory to understand the interaction of technological, economic, environmental and political factors currently shaping the field of renewable energy.

Prerequisites: Science, Technology and Society 139, 200, and two units of natural science; or permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period.

Not offered in 2013/14.

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