Last year, I co-taught the course “Medicine and Literature” with Tetyana Dzyadevych, my colleague in Russian Literature. (She deserves credit for the idea, assignment design, and most of the syllabus—I only added conceptual readings.)
Here is the course description:
This course examines the literary representation of the physician and narratives of illness in Russia from the 1860s to the present. We read fiction and memoirs from writers who were also practicing physicians (Chekhov, Bulgakov, and Veresaev), as well as semi-fictional and fictional case histories (Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, and Palei). We examine how narratives help make sense of the human experience in times of physical and emotional crisis. We trace medical ideas through history and literature, and explore how medicine employs literary concepts. We will interrogate literary works in order to see how they have influenced cultural assumptions about disease, disability, and medical authority. Addressing some of the pressing issues of the present, the reading will challenge us to question our understanding and reconceptualize notions of normality/disability, health/disease, and life/death. Located at the intersection of literature and medicine, this course aims to enhance your narrative competency and communication skills, essential to the practice of both disciplines.
I’m turning 34 today, which at least in my life is the moment when seemingly everyone around me has young children, is pregnant, or both. That in itself is great—I love other people’s children. Yet, I can’t help but feel anger and disgust in the face of the patronizing treatment to which my childbearing and childrearing female friends are being subjected. In many cases, my friends are complicit in their own abuse and perpetuate it by uttering the following self-deprecating remarks like mantras:
“I have baby brain syndrome.”
“Oh, it’s my pregnancy brain again.”
“That’s just my momnesia.”
“What else can you expect from my mommy brain?”
If you’re unfamiliar with the manifold offensive ways these (popular/pseudo-) scientific terms are being used, just take a look at this, this, this, and this Google Image search.
I thought I had to write a paper on the history of these ideas to help my friends understand that these stereotype-laden insults are not objective truths but contingent historical constructs crafted to keep them down. To my surprise and amazement, I came across the following mind-blowing selection of existing scholarship. Continue reading →
There’s been a lot of conversation about the value of scientific peer review lately. Less than a week ago, the New York Times reported that: “Two major [coronavirus] study retractions in one month have left researchers wondering if the peer review process is broken.” Much more concerningly to me, “[a]n unscientific and racist article” (quote from here) was published in Philosophical Psychology in December 2019 and the editors refused to let a group of scholars publish a critical commentary in a timely fashion. On a related note, the transphobic Gliske paper about which I had posted previously was retracted in April after months of controversy about how it could have possibly passed peer review.
Why does peer review not prevent the fruits of scientific racism, transphobia, and so many other damaging -isms and phobias from getting published?
I announced recently that I had been trying to publish an op-ed and that I would post it here if no newspaper would have it. No newspaper would have it, so here you go (and please imagine it were still the end of December, when this was all more recent and it still seemed a fitting time for new year’s resolutions):
As the year in which President Trump reinstated the ban on
trans* persons from military service is coming to a close, many of us are hoping
for a less transphobic new year. But the current year of sickening transphobia
isn’t quite over yet. “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling just made headlines
by expressing support for Maya Forstater, an openly transphobic researcher who claimed
that sex was unchangeable and had nothing to do with identity. Anthony Ramos
from the LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization GLAAD referred
to Forstater’s view as “an anti-science ideology.”
The disturbing truth is that some scientists hold similar views as Forstater. A recent publication in eNeuro, an open-access journal published by the Society for Neuroscience, proves this point. Author Stephen Gliske, a nuclear physicist by training, proposed a novel theory regarding the neurobiological underpinnings of gender dysphoria (the distress that some trans* individuals experience because of the incongruency between their bodies and gender identities). Much of the argument relies on data from previously published rodent studies.
A colleague of mine just shared with me a defensive manifesto of “gender-critical philosophers,” which I find extremely transphobic. When I read things like this, I’m not sure if I’m more angry, sad, shocked, or just embarrassed by my own naïveté (why can’t we just be respectful and get along?!).
These feminists (!) claim that “no trans woman is an adult human female, no trans woman is correctly categorised as a woman,” but they “don’t accept that [their] views are ‘transphobic’.” Instead, they claim that their “views are motivated, as most views in political philosophy are, by a belief in the existence of a certain combination of values and facts.”
What is it that makes members of a minority lash out against similarly or even more marginalized individuals within the same group? Continue reading →
I found out on October 3, 2019, that British psychologist Marian Annett had passed away in April 2018. I was just (and still am) in the process of revising a paper on her work for resubmission with History of the Human Sciences. I am grieving like never before, because this is the first time that I’m grieving as a historian, not as a friend or family member. None of my historical actors (or actresses) had previously passed away while I was writing about them. And, frankly, Marian was alive to me while I was working on my manuscript. I was in conversation with her. I still am.
In lieu of an obituary, which is currently being prepared by her colleagues Chris McManus and Alan Beaton, I want to let Marian speak. Not much is known about British female psychologists of the 20th century, and I’ll let Marian tell her story in her own words. Continue reading →
By virtue of my profession, I do not believe in scientific truths that are independent of space and time. Nonetheless, while I was nearing the completion of my dissertation (aka the first draft of my book project), I had to answer frequently to questions such as the following: Is there a true theory of handedness? What does handedness truly tell us about the brain, mind, and person? Is there any truth in the stereotypes associated with handedness? My highly contingent and situated answers to questions of this sort are the following (copied from my final dissertation chapter): Continue reading →
Disclaimer: Serious times call for serious posts, and this one has nothing to do with neuroscience—though a lot with brains and academia.
People keep asking me if I am “on the (job) market.” I tell them that I’m not, but that I’m applying for jobs.
There is a crucial difference between seeing oneself as an agent (and being treated as such) and being a good “on the market.” Whoever came up with this terrible formulation anyway? The only humans I am aware of who have been on a market (to be sold) were enslaved people. Do we really want to talk like this about ourselves, in my case, a middle-class-raised white German soon-to-be graduate of an Ivy League university?
It makes me sick (!) to hear the “on the market” phrase over and over again from my peers, teachers, and role models. Talking as if we were on a market to be sold means great injustice to those who have been—and still are—actually enslaved, and it diminishes our own power as discerning agents and excellently educated individuals. Is this way of talking (and acting) an indicator of the fact that political correctness and its enforcement are really more of a shallow habit rather than an honest concern of ours? (I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole now.)
So, no, I’m not on the market. And I’m fully aware that up to 45 search committees for jobs and postdocs that I have applied for might be reading this. Hello to you, and thank you for reading my blog.
Once more, I organized a panel for the History of Science Society Annual Meeting, this time in collaboration with my friend Yize Hu. It will be a fantastic opportunity to discuss how 20th-century practitioners perceived the potential and perils of hormones in Japan, China, central Europe, Scotland, and the U.S. Join us if you can!
The overall panel:
Glands and Hormones: 20th-Century Hopes and Fears across the Northern Hemisphere
Research on glandular secretions and their metabolic impact transfigured the medico-scientific understanding of the body in the late 19th century. In 1905, British physiologist Ernest H. Starling (1866–1927) coined the word “hormone,” an umbrella term for secretions from various parts of the body. In the subsequent decades, glandular science flourished and fueled a refashioning of concepts such as aging, growth, reproduction, and sex/gender. This panel sheds light on various ways in which the hormonal view of the body impacted 20th-century science in Asia, Europe, and North America. What role did glands and hormones fulfill in scientific and social lives at different times and places? What hopes and fears were associated with interfering in the hormonal body? To what extent were hormone-related practices and theories mobile across space and time? The papers exemplify multiple connotations of hormones: they could be both promises and threats to human health, as well as disruptors or justifications of the contemporary social order. Furthermore, due to the double role of hormones as actively sexing/gendering (through their metabolic function) and passively sexed/gendered substances (through social ascriptions), hormonal theories and practices transcended the binaries between nature and nurture, and between the physical and the social world.