Public Understanding of Science – the 1960s

At the end of last year I wrote a blog post about a book in which Sheila Jasanoff asks ‘Can science makes sense of life’. She answers this question in a rather bleak and negative way. However, questions about the nature of science and the nature of life have stayed with me ever since, which …

Making Science Public: End of year blog round-up, 2018

2018 is the year that the Leverhulme Trust funded programme ‘Making Science Public’ really ended (today our director Sujatha Raman is submitting the final report to the Leverhulme Trust). My last post on the programme, entitled ‘Making Science public: six years on’, mentioned one of the most important milestones of our work, namely the publication with Manchester …

Epigenetics: Grappling with definitions

Definitions of epigenetics are notoriously slippery. This does not seem to hamper basic research. But it might hamper public understanding. The words ‘epigenetics’ and ‘epigenetic’ have undergone quite substantial changes in meaning over time, leading up to a meaning which is now popular but open to misinterpretation. This history and increasing confusion has been charted, …

Epigenetics and sociology: A critical note

I recently read an interesting article by Michel Dubois, Catherine Guaspare and Séverine Louvel entitled “De la génétique à l’épigénétique: une révolution ‘post-génomique’ à l’usage des sociologies”, which appeared in the Revue française de sociologie, 59(1), 71-98 (2018). Dubois et al.’s ‘critical note’ is intended to introduce French readers to English works that explore the boundaries between …

Biology and sociology: estrangement and entanglement

Ever since my PhD, I have been fascinated by the interplay, interrelations, mutual inspirations, struggle and strife between various disciplines that began to establish themselves during the 19th century, such as linguistics (which became the focus of my research), sociology, biology and so on. In recent years, a little flood of literature has emerged that …

Our microbiome: Separating hype from health

This is a blog post by Nicholas Staropoli, originally posted at the Epigenetics Literacy Project on April 18, 2017. It’s reposted here with permission. The post deals with the issue of hype, which we have discussed a lot on this blog; in this post the focus is on the microbiome. *** The details of science — how to …

Epigenetics, hype and woo

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a new twitter account: @EpigeneticsBs (short for ‘epigenetics bullshit’). Its mission is to make epigenetic ‘bullshit’ public, or as it says: “There’s a lot of #epigenetics pseudoscience & quackery out there. We RT some of it for your edification and entertainment.” These (re)tweets are produced by people working …

Making sense of plasticity

I recently got an invitation to a workshop on ‘Plasticity and its Limits’ (which will bring together scholars from the social sciences, humanities and life sciences and focuses mainly on epigenetics). When I accepted the invitation I had, I have to confess, not given much thought to the concept of plasticity – I had, however, …

When epigenetics gets under the skin

A few days ago, on 12 August, I saw the following conversation on twitter between Martyn Pickersgill and Muireann Quigley. It started with Martyn saying/sighing: “I’m probably going to start crying with frustration if I read the phrase ‘how the environment gets under the skin’ one more time today.” Whereupon Mauireann asked him what he …

The epigenetic muddle and the trouble with science writing

I have been interested in epigenetics, especially public portrayals of epigenetics, for about six or seven years. About three years ago I tried to get some funding to examine emerging and changing meanings of epigenetics in traditional and new media (including what one might call ‘alternative’ media), but unfortunately never got the funding. When writing …