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July 2008

University museums and the community (Manchester 16-20 September) now open for registration

By Biomedicine in museums

The registration is now open for the ‘University museums and community’ conference in Manchester, 16-20 September. The meeting is organised by ICOM’s International Committee on University Museums and Collections (UMAC) and the registration fee is reasonable low. So this is a good opportunity to meet others engaged in university museums. This year’s topic is important because our kind of museums have to find a way to balance on the one hand our identity as university museums with international research ambitions and on the other hand our identity as university museums that cater for local and regional community interests. Hopefully some of the presentations will address this problem. See program and other details here:

(thanks to Cornelia Weber)

Science blogging, science communication and the multitude

By Biomedicine in museums

Here’s the audience gathering for the session on ‘The Public Engagement of Science and Web 2.0’ organised by Gustav Holmberg for the 10th Public Communication of Science and Technology conference (PCST-10) held in Malmö a month ago (read more on our joint session blog).

And here’s my own paper for the event (responses are welcome, it needs a lot of improvement and re-writing before it can go to publication):

Within a few years, science blogging has emerged as a new genre for science communication. But is science blogging really best understood in terms of ’science’ and ‘the public’? Or does the phenomenon of science blogging suggest other dichotomies? This paper argues that ’science communication’ is better conceptualized in terms of ‘Empire’ and ‘Multitude’. Science is financed and managed by a network of national and transnational state organisations and corporations, while the overwhelming number of laboratory and field workers constitute a global knowledge proletariat. These different positions in the global ’scientific field’ entail two different domains of communication practices which correspond, roughly, to the cultures of ‘Empire’ and ‘Multitude’, respectively.

And here’s the talk:

1. Those of you who have followed the field of science communication over the last decade have seen how earlier approaches to public understanding of science — usually based on what is often called the ‘deficit model’ — have repeatedly been challenged by demands for more participatory (dialogic, two-way, etc.) models for science communication.

2. In spite of these attempts to foster more participatory modes of engagement, however, the traditional one-way public understanding of science through institutionalized mass media, such as newspapers and magazines, radio and television, museums, etc., still constitutes the ruling paradigm, both in communication practice and in communication studies. Even the internet and web-based science communication is more often than not used for institutionalized one-way communication — a kind of digital broad-casting. More dialogic practices are still a largely utopian vision.

3. However, the possibility for developing more dialogic science communication practices has become much more realistic with the recent emergence of the participatory web, i.e., web platforms and services that aim to enhance user-driven content, easy and informal information sharing, and collaboration among users. Podcasting, image and movie content sharing services like Flickr and YouTube, social networking services like Facebook, wikis like Wikipedia, and not least blogging provide the means for a new flourishing of dialogic science communication.

4. In other words,  Read More

How to engage the public in biomedicine through the arts?

By Biomedicine in museums

If you happen to be based in UK or Ireland you can now apply for one of Wellcome Trust’s Arts Awards — which are given to organisations or individuals for projects that engage the public with biomedical science through the arts.

The general idea behind the scheme is that the Trust believes that art is a great mediator for the public engagement with science in general and with biomedicine in particular:

Visual art, music, moving image, creative writing and performance can reach new audiences which may not traditionally be interested in science and provide new ways of thinking about the social, cultural and ethical issues around contemporary science. Collaborative and interdisciplinary practice across the arts and sciences can help to provide new perspectives on both fields. The arts can also provide imaginative ways of engaging and educating young people in the field of science.

Thus the scheme aims to:

  • stimulate interest and debate about biomedical science through the arts
  • examine the social, cultural and ethical impact of biomedical science
  • support formal and informal learning
  • encourage new ways of thinking
  • encourage interdisciplinary practice and collaborative partnerships in arts, science or education practice.

All art forms are covered by the programme, i.e. “dance, drama, performance arts, visual arts, music, film, craft, photography, creative writing or digital media”. People from a wide range of professinal backgrounds are eligible for awards, including artists, scientists, curators, filmmakers, writers, producers, directors, academics, science communicators, teachers, arts workers and education officers, and so forth. The only restriction is that the applicant and the activity must be based in UK or Ireland. Deadline is 10 October 2008 — see more one the scheme’s webpage:

Human remains: from anatomical collections to objects of worship

By Biomedicine in museums

How to handle human remains is a key issue for us and for other (medical) museums (see earlier post here, here, here and here). Last February, the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris organised a series of round-table discussions about the ethics of collecting and displaying human remains. Now the full text of the discussions have been published (in French and English) — see here.

(thanks to Haidy L. Geismar, Material World, for the tip)

What is artscience? And how can it support creativity and innovation?

By Biomedicine in museums

In an earlier post, I summarized the fascinating autobiographical story behind Harvard biotech professor David Edwards’s new experimental institution, Le Laboratoire in Paris. In his recent book Artscience (Harvard University Press 2008), Edwards tells about his education, how he was swamped with money after a short but succesful career as a biotech inventor, and how he was decent enough to use it for good and visionary purposes.

‘Le Lab’ makes a lot of sense from the perspective of his own life narrative. But Edwards has the ambition to raise above the particularities of his own personal trajectory, to make a more general argument for what he calls ‘artscience’, i.e., the fusion of aesthetic and scientific methods. He wants to foster ‘idea translation’, i.e., to bring innovative ideas between academic disciplines, and across academia, the corporate world, and cultural and social institutions; he wants to break down the ubiquitous organisational and institutional barriers to creativity and innovation. ‘Idea translators’ are people who happen to be ‘curious’ and above all have the ‘passion’ to traverse cultural barriers. And ‘artscience’, in Edwards’s view, ‘holds a special key to succesful, sustained idea translation’, because ‘art-science barriers are among the most intractable of obstacles in human organizations of all kinds’ (p.172).

One of Edward’s points is a variation of the old science studies theme (popularized by, among others, Bruno Latour), namely that ‘science in the making’ (the construction of science) is very different from ‘ready-made science’ (which we read about in journal articles and textbooks). For example, there is a lot of art and science in museums (and sometimes ‘art AND science’ which museums have good reasons for bringing inside their walls). But museums usually only tell the story of ready-made art and ready-made science (and ready-made ‘art AND science’), and rarely give their visitors insights into the creative processes behind art and science. Thus the ‘laboratory’ shall explicitly not be a museum.

Le Laboratoire in the 1er arrondissement in Paris is the first instance of such an artscience laboratory (see earlier post here). It is supposed to become a site where ideas can be translated, where they can ‘accelerate’ and transcend barriers. In Le Lab the public is invited to experience the creative process that drives innovation as a fusion of art production and science production. Experiments by leading international artists in collaboration with leading international scientists are supposed to catalyze changes in cultural institutions, in industry, in educational institutions and in society as a whole. And more generally, by experimenting with the art-science relations in such specially designed artscience laboratories, we will somehow learn in practice how to break down the general institutional barriers that block creativity and innovations.

Read More

All 883 health and medicine blogs on display in one image (playing with Wordle – part 3)

By Biomedicine in museums

A couple of days ago I tried to make a cloud of eDrugSearch‘s latest list of health and medicine blogs. But since I couldn’t make Wordle process all 883 blog names on the list into one single display, I abbreviated the run to the top 100 blog names (see the result here).

Wordle doesn’t explictly say there is a size limit, however. So I ran the list again and — lo and behold — after 90 minutes heavy traffic between my Thinkpad and Wordle’s server (it takes time because it’s a phrase cloud and not a word cloud), this image of all 883 health and medicine blogs on eDrugSearch’s list gradually emerged on my screen:

Cannot find yourself in it? Well then either you’re not a visible health-and-medicine-blog — or you just need new glasses. Or click on this image (if it doesn’t open properly you have to update your Java version to make it work):

Such a huge cloud isn’t very useful, of course, it’s mainly for the fun of it. Again, here’s the list of blogs that went into the image above: Read More

Biomedical animation movies and biomolecularmindedness — selling new technologies to the public (but they really need to do something about those creepy sound tracks)

By Biomedicine in museums

A couple of years ago there were only a few biomedical animation movies. Now they seem to be all over YouTube.

I have commented on the biomedanimation phenomenon before (e.g., here, here and here), but always feel an urge to come back to it, because I believe these movies (and there are many more in the pipeline because of the pull from the pharma industry marketing departments) will change the general public’s understanding of biomedicine and biotechnology dramatically in the future. As a consequence, a new kind of public biomolecularmindedness (analogous to airmindedness and terrormindendness) will probably emerge.

It’s just a question of time, I think, before a new generation of Spielbergs and Wachowski brothers will adopt this animation language into a new generation of films (perhaps a biomedanimation hybrid of Minority Report + The Matrix + Shrek 1-3 + Blade Runner as a starter). If so, biomolecularmindedness will be launched to the level of airmindednesses in the 1930 (and terrormindedness today).

Here are a few examples of current biomedanimation movies on YouTube:



Read More

No animals were harmed in the making of this website

By Biomedicine in museums

I was so glad to find this disclaimer at the bottom of‘s site: “No animals were harmed in the making of this website”. I mean, so many animal lives could be saved if only web masters were just a little more aware of what they are doing.

But we should also be aware of the harm we may afflict on innocent, sentient beings after having closed down our rich html source editors. As Gerard Butler writes on his blog: “No animals were harmed in the making of this website, although the Chihuahua next door is living on borrowed time, let me tell you”.

Cloud of top 100 health and medicine blog names

By Biomedicine in museums

Last week I used Wordle to create a blogroll cloud from my link list (which worked quite well, see here) — and today I tried to make a similar cloud of eDrugSearch‘s latest (25 July) list of 883 health and medicine blog names (i.e., the full names of the blogs, not just the single words).

It turned out to be too big a mouthful for Wordle to turn the whole health and medicine sector of the blogosphere into a cloud display. So I abbreviated the run to the top 100 blog names on eDrugSearch’s list. But even then it took Wordle about 45 (!) minutes to complete these 100: (click image to make it bigger; added 28 July: if it doesn’t work, upgrade your Java version).

Wordle has rapidly become a favourite pastime among internet users so their bandwidth seems to be quite filled up. Maybe its slow also because it takes more computing power to construct a phrase cloud than a word cloud. But if you want to make a blogroll cloud, as opposed to say a tag cloud, then phrase clouding is the only option, of course.

The image is printable, but so far not clickable. Maybe Jonathan Feinberg could add a function that makes it possible to open a blog by clicking on its name in the image?

And here’s the list I took from eDrugSearch (again, only the first 100 are in the cloud; maybe I can try to process all 883 when Japan and California have stopped playing with Wordle tonight): Read More

Somatechnics — the technologisation of bodies and selves (Sydney, April 2009)

By Biomedicine in museums

If you are interested in discursive techniques and practices for the formation and transfomation of bodies you may want to attend the Fifth International Somatechnics Conference which will be held in Sydney 16-18 April 2009 under the title ‘The Technologisation of Bodies and Selves’. So what does ‘somatechnics’ stand for?

“Somatechnics” is a recently coined term used to highlight the inextricability of soma and techné, of the body (as a culturally intelligible construct) and the techniques (dispositifs and ‘hard technologies’) in and through which bodies are formed and transformed. This term, then, supplants the logic of the ‘and’, indicating that technés are not something we add to or apply to the body, but rather, are the means in and through which bodies are constituted, positioned, and lived. As such, the term reflects contemporary understandings of the body as the incarnation or materialization of historically and culturally specific discourses and practices.

(Cannot become much more discursive, can it?). Keynote speakers include Claudia Castaneda (Brandeis University), Nichola Rumsey (University of the West of England) and Jennifer Terry (University of California, Irvine), and possible paper topics include:

  • somatechnologies of the self (‘non-mainstream’ body modification, body sculpting, performance, fashion, drug use, ‘self-mutilation’, religious practice, etc)
  • medical somatechnologies (cosmetic, reproductive, imaging, corrective, sex (re)assignment, implantation, enhancement, bio-techs, public health initiatives, etc)
  • somatechnics of law
  • somatechnologies of gender, sexuality, race, class, etc
  • somatechnologies of normalcy and pathology
  • somatechnics of war
  • somatechnologies of the post-human (cyborgs, nanotechnology, virtuality, etc)
  • soma-ethics

Deadline for 300-500 words abstracts and proposals for panels and performance pieces (wow!) is 30 November 2007. Further information from Nikki Sullivan, and (or visit the Somatechnics Research Centre website)