Research


My dissertation, Biology and Pedagogy: From Public Outreach to Training Future Experts, takes as its starting point the national efforts biologists made in the United States during the 1970s to educate the public on the significance of biomedical research. Through archival research in the Mandeville Special Collections Library on the Salk Institute’s initiatives to communicate the relevance of biology to social issues, I show the ethical imperative that emerged after World War II within biology to educate the public on scientific advances. This project draws a contrast with the federally-funded outreach programs that the Salk Institute spearheaded and the present climate in which there is less public confidence in biomedical research and less effective public communication. I answer the question: to what have biology’s communicative efforts been dedicated if not to largescale public outreach?

To answer this question, I conducted three-year participant-observer study of a leading laboratory of neurobiologists who use mice as models of the genetic underpinnings of the cognitive components of conditions such as Down syndrome (DS) and Alzheimer’s disease. By studying the everyday practices of this laboratory, I show how senior scientists train graduate students to overcome two ethical and technical challenges posed by biomedical research after the Human Genome Project. The first concerns the strict guidelines which prevent researchers from using human brains and, thus, require them to work with animal models. The second is that the lab’s junior members must justify and learn to assess particular translations of data from animal models to human genetic material outside of their hyper-specialization. By revealing these challenges and how the lab members meet them, I argue that the very same scientific practices that have made professional biology so successful in its research have also resulted in a wide gap between practitioners and the lay public. The project contributes to closing this gap by showing how collaborations between biologists and philosophically-informed social scientists can create greater understandings between biologists and general audiences.