Katharine Tyler at the Biological Interest Group – Monday, 13th November, 2-3pm, Byrne House

The third meeting of BIG was on the role of genetic ancestry testing in shaping and supporting the entrenchment of attitudes of nationalism and racism. In her paper, entitled ‘Blogging Descent: Genetic Ancestry Testing, Whiteness and the Limits of Anti-racism’, Dr. Katharine Tyler examined the expression of these attitudes, which were found to be published in an anonymous internet-based comments section and blog. This generated some fascinating discussion over a broad range of complex issues.

The author builds on the work of M’Charek, who examined how potential differences, based on race, begin to materialise and actualise only when certain social relations serve to enact them (M’Charek, 2010). The author sought, amongst the published web-based content, to categorise the attitudes found, into one of two narrative discourses: one discourse uses scientific findings to support an image of British identity, which is entwined with images of white Nordic European origins; the second discourse, advocating an apparently opposing image, uses scientific findings to support a discourse on the common descent of humanity from African origin. The author showed how those adhering to the first discourse evoked scripts, icons and images, which conform to some aspects of the media’s dissemination of Walter Bodmer’s work – Bodmer is a population geneticist who has had a leading role in the public dissemination of both the science and the technology of genetic ancestry testing (e.g. see Fortier (2012) and Nash (2015) on Face of Britain [Channel 4, 2007]). The author also explores how those adhering to the second discourse, reflect some of the guiding beliefs underpinning The Genographic Project, which succeeded the Human Genome Diversity Project. For example, Reardon and Tallbear write that such a project is motivated by the “common belief among human population geneticists and biological anthropologists [that] if you undercut race as a biological category, you also undercut racism” (Reardon & Tallbear, 2012, p. 243). However, the author contends that both discourses shape and support attitudes of nationalism and racism. Despite the explicitly anti-racist ethos embedded in the second discourse, it nonetheless reproduces (albeit unintentionally) hierarchies of racial, ethnic and national differences, which reflect asymmetrical relations of values and inequalities (e.g., see: Cross, 2001; Reardon & Tallbear, 2012).

Since it was apparent that some agencies had used some scientific findings to suit agendas other than the dissemination of information, a few participants raised a question of responsibility concerning some agencies (e.g. the marketing and advertising of genetic ancestry testing and some media broadcasts and productions), which were responsible for enacting the narrative discourses that the paper discusses. In addition, since science does not, all at once, speak with one voice or as one agency, the group discussed the divergent research cultures that comprise it. Moreover, it was felt that some criticism could be levied at the service industry for their role in promoting genetic ancestry. This is especially acute, since a change in industries (i.e. from the science to service) could mean a change in aims: where the intentional action could change from making a problem comprehensible to making some product or service marketable.

We discussed some of the peculiar methodological concerns, which would face the researcher who would use the blogs and comments sections of websites as a resource for social research. In particular, what sort of voices do these publications represent? How would a blog that was curated effect the sort of voice telling a narrative? One could imagine that curated blogs might require each blogger to set up an account with some amount of contact information; but how would this differ to a website where authors could be completely anonymous? What sort of voice would be represented there? An interesting feature the group discussed was the capacity and ease of an author to revise a position after publication.

If you’d be interested in joining the group and discussing, with Katharine, her research, please contact us here.

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Cross, K., ‘Framing whiteness: the human genome diversity project (as seen on TV)’, Science as Culture, 10:3 (2001) 411-438

Fortier, A., ‘Genetic indigenisation in ‘The People of the British Isles’, Science as Culture, 21:2 (2012) 153-175

M’Charek, A., ‘Fragile differences, relational effects: stories about the materiality of race and sex’, European Journal of Women’s Studies, 17:4 (2010) 307-322

Nash, C., Genetic Geographies: the Trouble with Ancestry, (University of Minnesota Press, 2015)

Reardon, J., & K. Tallbear, ‘“Your DNA is our history”, genomics, anthropology, and the construction of whiteness as property’, Current Anthropology, 53:5 (2012) 233-245.

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Çağlar Karaca at the Biological Interest Group – Monday, 23rd October, 2-3pm, Byrne House

The second meeting of BIG saw some fruitful discussion of a draft chapter, titled ‘order, disorder, and self-organisation’, from Çağlar Karaca’s doctoral work. The author has sought to assess the concept of self-organisation, and it was suggested that to adequately treat issues of self-organisation for theoretical biology, one should encourage an interdisciplinary approach; specifically, the fields of thermodynamics, nonlinear dynamics, and chemistry were identified as fertile for promoting theoretical work for our concept of self-organisation in nature. In general, the discussion moved towards identifying shared concepts in these fields, such as ‘regulation’ and ‘homeostasis’; but concerns were raised as to their differing uses, meanings, and contexts. Interesting distinctions and comparisons were made between the writings of Kaufmann (1993, 1996, 2000), Schrödinger ([1967] 2013) and Kant ([1790] 1978). Finally, the case of microtubule self-organisation was briefly explored (see Glade, Beaugnon & Tabony, 2006).

If you’d be interested in joining the group and discussing, with Çağlar, his research, please contact us here.

At our next meeting (13th November), we have Dr. Katharine Tyler presenting a paper.

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Glade, N., E. Beaugnon, & J. Tabony, ‘Ground-based methods reproduce space-flight experiments and show that weak vibrations trigger microtubule self-organisation’, Biophysical Chemistry, 121:1 (2006) 1-6

Kant, I., Critique of the Power of Judgement [1790], trans. by J.C. Meredith, (Clarendon Press, 1978)

Kauffman, S., The Origins of Order (Oxford University Press, 1993)

Kauffman, S., At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organisation and Complexity, (Oxford University Press, 1996)

Kauffman, S., Investigations, (Oxford University Press, 2000)

Schrödinger, E., What is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell [1967], (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

 

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John Dupré at the Biological Interest Group – Monday, 9th October, 2-3pm, Byrne House

— Dear all,

It is my pleasure to have taken over from Thomas Bonnin as coordinator of the Biological Interest Group. I look forward to the forthcoming year of discussions. If you should need to get in contact with me, my email address is bs406@exeter.ac.uk.

Benjamin Smart

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The first meeting of the new academic year has commenced (9th October), and saw the discussion of two articles co-authored by Professor John Dupré (University of Exeter): ‘Sex-Linked Behavior: Evolution, Stability, and Variability’ (Fine, Dupré & Joel, 2017) and its complement, ‘The Biosocial Genome’ (Müller et al., 2017).

This discussion saw the fruitful exchange of many ideas with John and the group. One point, for example, was the possibility that environmental factors are a source of stable inheritance of sex-linked behavioural traits. Such a possibility may indeed help explain cases where sex-linked traits fail to develop as environmental conditions change. We might think to Rhesus monkeys and how adequate care of their firstborn depends upon early social experiences of the mother (Fine, Dupré & Joel, 2017, p. 670; Seay et al., 1964). This is contrary to the notion of maternal instincts. Similarly, we might also think to the case of male Charles River strain rats. Research has shown that, when placed in close proximity to pups, male rats showed ‘maternal’ behaviour within one week (Fine, Dupré & Joel, 2017, p. 670; Rosenblatt, 1967). Moreover, such a possibility is significant because it extends the debate on the scope of the determinacy of the genome. Thus Fine, Dupré & Joel (2017) challenge the often-assumed idea that genetic inheritance is the only process that provides both phenotypic variation and the reliable transfer of traits.

If you’d be interested in joining the group and discussing John’s paper, please contact us here

Next week (23rd October), we have Çağlar Karaca presenting a paper.

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Fine, C., J. Dupré & D. Joel, ‘Sex-Linked Behavior: Evolution, Stability, and Variability’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21:9 (2017) 666-673.

Müller, R., C. Hanson, M. Hanson, M. Penkler, G. Samaras, L. Chiapperino, J. Dupré, M. Kenney, C. Kuzawa, J. Latimer, S. Lloyd, A. Lunkes, M. Macdonald, M. Meloni, B. Nerlich, F. Panese, M. Pickersgill, S. Richardson, J. Rüegg, S. Schmitz, A. Stelmach, & P.-I. Villa, ‘The Biosocial Genome? Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Environmental Epigenetics, Health and Society’, EMBO Reports, 18:10 (2017) e201744953. DOI 10.15252/embr.201744953

Rosenblatt, J.S. ‘Nonhormonal basis of maternal behavior in the rat’, Science, 156 (1967) 1512-1513

Seay, B., et al., ‘Maternal behavior of socially deprived rhesus monkeys’, The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69:4 (1964) 345-354

 

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End of the 16-17 year for the BIG

June 8, 2017 Leave a comment

This summer term saw fruitful discussions of drafts from Jack Griffiths (24th April), Daniel Nicholson and John Dupré (8th May), William Bechtel (22nd May) and Thomas Bonnin (5th June). Thanks a lot to the presenters and the participants for their contributions.

The Exeter Biological Interest Group will be back next October. If you are interested in helping to coordinate the reading group, to present a draft, or simply to join the group, you can contact us here.

 

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Davide Serpico at the Biological Interest Group – Monday 27th February, 2-3pm, Byrne House

February 24, 2017 Leave a comment

I’m sorry I have missed out on updating the website lately. Over the last few weeks we have discussed papers from Astrid Schräder (5th December), Gregor Halfmann (16th January), Mark Canciani (30th January) and Niccolo Tempini/Sabina Leonelli (13th February).

The next meeting of the Biological Interest Group. It will take place this coming Monday 27th of February. The meeting will be held in the seminar room at Byrne House, from 2-3pm. Participants can bring food and drinks if they wish.

Next week we are very pleased of having the visit from Davide Serpico, from the University of Genova, discussing his draft chapter “The Quantitative Genetic View: A Critical Evaluation”.

If you’d be interested in joining the group and discussing Davide’s paper, please contact Thomas Bonnin [tb391 (at) exeter.ac.uk].

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Adam Toon at the Biological Interest Group – Monday 14th November, 2-3pm, Byrne House

November 7, 2016 Leave a comment

The next meeting of the Biological Interest Group will take place this coming Monday 14th of November. The meeting will be held in the seminar room at Byrne House, from 2-3pm. Participants can bring food and drinks if they wish.

Next week we are very pleased of having the visit from Adam Toon, from the University of Exeter, discussing the draft chapter “Epistemology as fiction”.

If you’d be interested in joining the group and discussing Adam’s paper, please contact Thomas Bonnin [tb391 (at) exeter.ac.uk].

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Sabina Leonelli at the Biological Interest Group – Monday 31st October, 2-3pm, Byrne House

October 26, 2016 Leave a comment

The next meeting of the Biological Interest Group will take place this coming Monday 31st of October. The meeting will be held in the seminar room at Byrne House, from 2-3pm. Participants can bring food and drinks if they wish.

Next week we are very pleased of this reading group’s founder, Sabina Leonelli, from the University of Exeter, discussing the paper “Time-Scales of Data Use: On the Life Cycles, Ontology and Understanding of Biological Data”.

If you’d be interested in joining the group and discussing Nils’ paper, please contact Thomas Bonnin [tb391 (at) exeter.ac.uk].

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