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Assignment 1

Representing Human Nature and the Brain
Due: Class #6

You may either critically analyze a news item or scientific article. The purpose of this assignment is to practice critically discussing the way in which assumptions are embedded in presentations of facts. There is no right answer to the assignment, but there are better and worse ways of analyzing.

You are to search for an article that discusses the brain and some aspect of personhood (a disease, mental illness, intelligence, emotions, violence, etc.). Your task is to discuss the assumptions made regarding human nature in the text, and to respond to these assumptions: are they necessary? If so, why? If not, what else could have been looked at and discussed?

Discuss the point of view of the article. Who is it written by? Who for? Who benefits by these assumptions?

If the article is not enough in itself or if you would like more information to contrast it with, feel free to draw upon any of the readings we have done, other articles you find, and/or books. You may compare and analyze up to three sources.

The point is to get as specific as possible about how the assumptions are used, the advantages and limitations of them, and your own evaluations of this.

Length: Limit is 1200 words (approx 5 pages). You are not to quote more than a phrase or short sentence at a time and no summaries.

Grading

  • A: Excellent writing, defended argument (anticipation of responses), critical use of concepts from class with citation, use of secondary or contextual literature. (Other articles)
  • B: Good writing, flow of paragraphs, argument with evidence, use of concepts from class.
  • C: Good grammar, good analysis of assumptions and rhetoric.


Assignment 2

Due: Class #12

Pick a subfield or specific brain-related research topic in neuroscience or neurology or psychiatry. Write an account of it as a field using the artifact model. The paper should address all of the following areas:

  • What are the key research questions and debates? How have these evolved over time? Is the field fractured across irreconcilable lines, or is it growing (or declining)? What keywords allow you to find relevant articles about this field (in what databases)? What fields is this one opposed to or put in a series with?

  • Who are the key people and institutions? What is their history? How international is the field--what countries, with what circulation through the US? Are there significant non-central institutions? Are there 'renegade' researchers? Are there key companies involved in this field? What relations do they have with the academic insitutions and people?
    • How are new people in this field trained? Where, with what backgrounds? What other fields or industries does this field exchange people with? What are the key textbooks or portions of general textbooks devoted to this field? Who is featured in these and how does it differ from the current organization of the field?

  • What kinds of labs do work in this field? What sorts of equipment are used? How has this evolved? Who works in the labs--how big are they, are there significant numbers of undergrads, of technicians, of visitors, of industry reps? How has the personell changed over the years? What actually do people do in the labs? How much of the work is automated, and who has to take care of the equipment? How much work is done completely in front of a computer? How has this changed over the years?
    • Where does this field establish its facts? What conferences and journals are key vehicles? Who controls these? What counts as a key or career-making publication (Nature, Nature-Neuroscience, Science)?

  • What is the political-economy of the field? How is it funded? What government agencies provide grants (what kinds)? What kinds of industry sponsored research are there--are entire labs supported, with what sorts of intellectual property agreements? Does the field engage in lobbying?

  • What about the social and popular context--how does the field circulate outside the labs? Are there activist groups concerned with this field? What sorts of relationships are there? Have these groups funded research? Do they participate in research?
    • What popular vehicles are there for information on this field? Is it covered in pop-science magazines (Sci.Am, Discover, Science News)--who writes these articles (the same journalist, or many)? Is it covered in newspapers and general magazinse? Is it written about online?
    • Are there popularizers within the field--scientist-authors? Do they write articles or books, appear on talk shows, play other prominent roles?

Note 1: In answering questions about how something has changed over the years, you need to pay critical attention to how 'periods of time' are created. Do different people tell different stories about the evolution of a field or its practices? What might account for that?

Note 2: This project will require research including defining your field (and probably refining and redefining it a couple of times if it is too big or too small). Then you will need to search databases, online, and journals to produce a map. Please document all of your sources (your bibliography will also serve as a map online and off to further information about the field). You will also have to talk with a few people in the field. You do not need to formally interview them, but rather have them help you understand the field and its dynamics. You may also want to spend some time in a lab observing the sorts of behavior that takes place there and talking with undergrads, grads and techs in addition to senior and junior researchers.

Length: 3000-3500 words or more, proofread, plus bibliography and footnotes.



Assignment 3

Drugs and Culture: Popularizing Brains
Due: Class #15

Here is the third and final project for the class. It is basically the same as the first assignment but you must find a scientific article and a popular account of it. You cannot do the same article from your first assignment. Again, it is easier to take a popular account and search for the scientific article(s).

Also, you must use some concepts from class and cite them (the authors of the books or articles that we discussed). Failure to do so will result in a C.

As discussed, you may substitute either a paper related directly to your mapping project, or a multimedia presentation that works with images, but you must clear these two alternatives with me beforehand.

Your task is to trace a scientific article concerning the brain into popular culture. Ideally this will be related to your field mapping project. This may be done by finding an article in a newspaper or magazine and working backward to the scientific article upon which it was based. You may look at a set of popular articles based on one article, or you may choose a magazine article (such as the Newsweek one on violent boys, and look at a small set of scientific articles). The purpose of this assignment is to critically analyze the translation of facts across genres (in this case between articles written by scientists for scientists and those written by science journalists for popular consumption).

Examine how the experimental text was transformed into news. How is the meaning of the experiment changed in the translation to a popular media? What limitations of the experimental setup and qualifications on the results are deleted? What assumptions are added? How are the different forms of uncertainty (S. L. Star) dealt with? What assumptions remain through the research and the popularization?

In particular, pay attention to assumptions made regarding human nature in the text (Foucault, Hacking): how might these be shaped by the different audiences? And respond to these assumptions: are they necessary? If so, why? If not, what else could have been looked at and discussed?

For each text, make sure that you cover: Who is it written by? Who for? Who benefits by these assumptions? Where is the information? Who has access to it? How easy is the access (who doesn't have access to it)?

Discuss the point of view of the article. Who is it written by? Who for? Who benefits by these assumptions?

If the article is not enough in itself or if you would like more information to contrast it with, feel free to draw upon any of the readings we have done, other articles you find, and/or books. You may compare and analyze up to three sources.

The point is to get as specific as possible about how the assumptions are used, the advantages and limitations of them, and your own evaluations of this.

Length: Limit is 1600 words (approx. 5-6 pages). You are not to quote more than a phrase or short sentence at a time and no summaries.

Grading

  • A: Excellent writing, defended argument (anticipation of responses), critical use of concepts from class with citation, use of secondary or contextual literature. (Other articles)
  • B: Good writing, flow of paragraphs, argument with evidence, use of concepts from class.
  • C: Good grammar, good analysis of assumptions and rhetoric.



 
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