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Monthly Archives

November 2007

Contemporary academic life between the Scylla of grant applications and Charybdis of research evaluations

By Biomedicine in museums

As far as I can remember, my academic life has been a constant oscillation between grant applications and research evaluations. Now again. Tuesday we had a four hour long meeting with the Novo Nordisk Foundation reference group who commented on a 22 page report of the “Biomedicine on Display” project (which took at least a week to complete).

And now I’m working 18 hours a day to finish the pre-application for a new project, tentatively called “Material and Visual Culture of Contemporary Biomedicine” — deadline is tomorrow at 4pm!  So, not much sleep tonight — and no blog posts, except for this one. Added 30 nov: Finished the pre-application 18 minutes before dead-line. I guess there are probably 500 or more applicants to this 6th round of applications to the Danish National Research Foundation. Cross your fingers!

Why is there no biomedicine and biotech of the Multitude?

By Biomedicine in museums

Most science, technology and medicine today originates in ‘Empire’, not in ‘Multitude‘. But there are interesting exceptions, for example The 2nd annual Maker Faire in the Bay Area in May, which seems to have been a feast for bottom-up inventive science and technology geeks — if you can trust this video (from Quest).

Make-zine described the Maker Faire as a “science fair, with beer”. Quest wrote:

It’s been called “Burning Man for science geeks.” The annual Maker Faire attracts thousands of amateur inventors and scientists, displaying their home-made prototypes and gadget hacks. In a world where the technological race is speeding up, the Maker movement has revealed that the do-it-yourself culture is in no danger of dying out.

Apparently not the boring standard ‘public understanding of science’ kind of event, but a truly sci&tech popular movement occasion. A sort of sci&tech of the ‘Multitude‘ pace Michael Hardt and Toni Negri.

But — most of the DIY things in the first two Maker Fairs seem to have been based on classical physical science and engineering. No biomedicine or biotech.

It makes me wonder (again) if there is any DIY-biotech movement out there? Where are the Steve Jobs of postgenomics fiddling around with recombinant technology and protein sequencers?

I shortly discussed the future possibilities of “garage biotech and medicine” with Steve Kurtz when he was in Copenhagen in early September. He suggested that the limiting factor for a DIY biotech and biomedicine movement is the costs of the reagents. In other words, it is not the complexity of the protocols, or the hardware, or the lack of ambitions that set the limits, but the fact that the reagents used, for example in basic recombinant technology, are so expensive that happy amateurs cannot afford them.

Is Steve really right? Does anyone have a price list at hand? Or are there other, and less pedestrian, reasons for the lack of biotech and biomedicine stands on the Maker Fair?

Google Body

By Biomedicine in museums

More on transplantation: The release of Google Body — “a search service aiming to index the internal and external anatomy of every living creature on the planet” — has just been announced. The new service is said to include “a fuzzy-logic ‘match my organ’ feature, which helps users get in touch with the nearest, most suitable donor for multiple organ systems”.

From FutureFeedForward (via Erik/Mymarkup), reflecting the ever-growing nervousness around the expanding Google empire — now also stretching into the medical field (cf. their interest in 23andMe).

Besides this future-dated report from 2022, there are rumours around that Google will in fact launch (a less ambitious, I suppose 🙂 Google Body in 2008-09. Can someone substantiate this?

To share or not to share: Shall heart transplant recipients be grateful for ever?

By Biomedicine in museums

Apropos our own Søren Bak-Jensen‘s article “To share or not to share: institutional exchange of cadaver kidneys in Denmark” (forthcoming in Medical History in January) — there is also a more satirical side to the history of contemporary transplantation, as you can see on this recent Today Now! morning show in The Onion‘s online edition.

Sometimes I’m in doubt whether The Onion’s mockumentaries, -news and -shows are actually real programmes copied directly from Fox News or some other channel of the same ilk.

The rise of nanomedicine: a great topic for a contemporary biomedical Begriffsgeschichte

By Biomedicine in museums

I’m waiting for someone to write a Begriffsgeschichte of the contemporary biomedical discourse.

The most recent Begriff-candidate on my list is ‘nanomedicine‘. The field’s pioneer, Robert A. Freitas, used the term ‘medical nanotechnology’ in a paper in 1998; a year later, the shorthand ‘nanomedicine’ appeared for the first time in a scientific article; and the same year (1999) Landes Bioscience started publishing a nanomedical book series with Freitas as its main editor.

Now ‘nanomedicine‘ is all over the place: the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine was started by Elsevier in 2005; the year after came Nanomedicine, and in March 2007 the European Science Foundation (ESF) published their authoritative report on the future prospects of the field.

It’s high time for historians of ideas to get involved in an analysis of the variegated and rapidly changing contemporary biomedical and biotechnological disciplinary discourses. Why are so many historians focussing on, say, 18th and 19th century political discourses when there are so many important biopolitical discourses emerging around us right now?

Lab web sites compete for recognition and visibility

By Biomedicine in museums

During the last two months, readers of The Scientist have nominated 60 life science laboratory web sites for the monthly magazine’s ‘Laboratory and Video Web Site Awards’. A group of judges have evaluated the nominated sites according to four criteria (design, usability, content and community) and shortlisted 10 of them. And now it’s the readers’ turn, again — to vote for the best site. Read more here.

It’s like parliamentary elections. I will vote, of course. Some sites are quite good, others turn me off. But even more interesting — from a humanities scholar’s point of view — is the voting and award event itself, because it reflects something pretty fundamental about what is going on in the world of biomed/biotech/life sciences these days, viz., the race for web visibility and the competition for recognition among scientists and labs.

Visibility on PubMed is apparently not enough any more to guarantee labs a net flow of grant money. Of course, a steady output of peer-reviewed papers in high-impact journals is still a basic prerequisite for funding — but on top of that you seem to need to a strong web presence as well.

So The Scientist‘s lab site award is not just a parlour game or beauty contest. It indicates that web presence is about to become a sine qua non in the world of biomedicine and biotech too. Do astrophysicists need web presence?

Apropos Oldetopia — CFP: conference on the aging body

By Biomedicine in museums

Speaking of our recently opened exhibition Oldetopia: On Age and Ageing — Antje Kampf at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität in Mainz is one of the organisers of an interdisciplinary conference titled ‘(Re)constructing the Aging Body: Western Medical Cultures and Gender 1600–2000’, 26-28 September, 2008.

With an ever growing proportion of elderly people in many Western societies and modern medicine promising to prolong life and well-being, the aging body has become an increasingly common image in current society. ‘Anti-aging’ has become a popular movement for promoting activity, mobility and life-style choice instead of conventionally held stereotypes of decline and decrepitude. Current theoretical contributions argue that the aging body cannot completely be reduced to culture and stand up for a materialistic deconstructionist perspective considering the elderly’s experiences and the interaction of mind, body and society. It is the meaning attached to gendered aging bodies by medical cultures that needs further investigation. Uncovering the meanings attached to, the knowledge produced of, and the processes inherent to gendered aging bodies in the past and in contemporary Western societies requires an interdisciplinary approach.

Much more info on Deadline for 300 word abstracts is 7 January, 2008 (or mail to

Wanted: archivist of contemporary biomedicine to Office of NIH History

By Biomedicine in museums

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are looking for a full-time archivist in the Office of NIH History who shall maintain the documentary and artifact collections at the Office and the Stetten Museum, including more than 30,000 prints and photographs, 2,000 instruments and artifacts, 400 books, and 1,500 feet of documents and audiovisuals. Some of the collections are used in exhibits around the huge NIH campus. Salary: $66,767.00+. Applications before 23 November. See more here.

Doctors, patients, scientists and their seductive objects — tokens of affection and devotion

By Biomedicine in museums

Yet another nearly missed conference: the Design Research Group (Anna Moran, Sorcha O’Brien and Ciáran Swan) are organising a one-day conference titled “Love Objects: Engaging Material Culture” on the relationships between people and their objects, to be hosted by the Faculty of Visual Culture, National College of Art and Design, Dublin, 14 February 2008. Dead-line for papers was last Friday — but maybe one can attend without a contributed paper?

Here is the aim of the conference:

The relationship between people and their objects is a complex and multifaceted one, which is continually negotiated between the material and the immaterial. Objects are used as tokens of affection, symbolic gestures and statements of devotion and can be represented, employed and appropriated in a multitude of ways. They carry out important roles in our relationships with each other, either as bearers of significance, or through embodiment, engagement or control. The seductive quality of objects can also mediate our relationships with them, as they engage our emotions in both subliminal and visceral ways. In doing so they facilitate the projection and subversion of identities, and the creation of the contexts in which they operate.

This is obviously very significant for any sci/tech/med museum, including our own medical collecting and display work — every single topic and theme vibrates of relevance:

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