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Vol. 6, Issue 16

2019-2020 Year in Review

Dear Friends,

It has been my pleasure to serve as Interim Director of the Center for Science and Society for the past year, a year marked by academic accomplishments and new beginnings, but also by a global crisis in public health and science during the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic has exposed and accentuated long standing marginalization, racism and social vulnerabilities; and we have witnessed the use and misuse of science and ‘theories’ of COVID-19’s contagion and containment. It has also fostered new solidarities and social resistance. There has been popular mobilization to assert and renegotiate the inequitable distribution of power and its public accountability, especially for communities of color who have also borne the devastating impacts of this unfolding pandemic. As I reflect on the activities undertaken by the Center this year, it is clear I cannot do so without considering how unprecedented this year has been in living memory. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended lives, relationships and economies, and has brought to light the inequality embedded in our institutions and economic systems in the U.S. and abroad. While the full impact of the virus will not be known for years, it is clear that we are at a critical historical conjuncture as we seek to articulate ideas and more redistributive visions and actions to rebuild our societies and to recast social ties and networks.

The Center for Science and Society is committed to using its platform to highlight disparities and amplify the voices, ideas, and knowledge of individuals and communities who have been systematically marginalized, misrepresented and made invisible. In celebration of our fifth anniversary year, we embraced a theme of Knowledge and Access last fall, and worked to engage more with undergraduate and graduate students, as well as members of the general public. As this topic has only become more prescient, we have extended our exploration of Knowledge and Access through the 2020-21 academic year to focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion in policies, systems, and spaces in science and society. For more information about our response to recent police violence and injustice, please read our full statement.

Our efforts to work across Columbia, NYC, and beyond would not have been possible without the encouragement, time, and support of our students, staff, faculty, CSS Steering Committee members, funders, community partners, and public. We take this opportunity to thank you sincerely and warmly for solidarity, strength, and for an enduring sense of community that has sustained us over the past year, and especially the last few, difficult months. We will turn to you going forwards as well.

As a part of Columbia University, we face many questions about the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year. Of this we can be sure, the Center will continue to serve our mission of interdisciplinary research, teaching, and outreach with creativity and community.

Best wishes,
Kavita Sivaramakrishnan
Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences
Columbia University


New Additions

The Center is pleased to announce the arrival of Madisson Whitman, who joined us July 1 as a postdoctoral scholar and the new Assistant Director of Co-teaching. We also welcome two new Scholars to the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience (PSSN) program, Valerio Amoretti and Raphael Milliere.

We are also celebrating our own Jozef Sulik, who has been promoted to Senior Project Manager, and will be overseeing both PSSN and the Center for Science and Society. 

Departing Scholars

In bittersweet news, we bid a fond (virtual) farewell to our 2017-2020 Presidential Scholars, Federica Coppola and Noam Zerubavel. We also send our best wishes to the departing Making and Knowing postdoctoral scholars, Tianna Uchacz, Tillmann Taape, and Clément Godbarge. 

Image: Valerio Amoretti, Raphael Milliere, and Madisson Whitman (top to bottom)

CSS at Home

Missed one of our events? Rewatch CSS and PSSN videos at your convenience. We’ve also gathered some of our favorite COVID-19 resources, from teaching tools to free media coverage and citizen science. To see what our scholars and faculty are up to, be sure to follow our revamped Instagram account, or find us on Facebook, and Twitter.

Research Cluster Updates

To learn more about our Research Clusters, please visit our website.

Big Data and Science Studies

Led by Mathew Jones (James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization)
  • Cluster Leader Matthew Jones continues to teach Data: Past, Present, and Future, which explores the history, practice, and ethics of data science. 
  • Currently, he is writing a book based on the course material and creating more online course resources. 


Led by Jacqueline Gottlieb (Professor of Neuroscience)
  • Since its inception in fall 2019, the Cluster for Curiosity organized three minisymposia, on Learning in Virtual Environments, the Cognitive Neuroscience of Boredom and the Neural Mechanisms of Exploration. 
  • A two-day international conference on Curiosity, Creativity and Complexity, originally planned for May 2020, will most likely be postponed to early 2021.

Global Histories of Science

Led by Marwa Elshakry (Associate Professor of History), Eugenia Lean (Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures), and Kavita Sivaramakrishnan (Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences)
  • The Cluster’s graduate students organized a reading group exploring air pollution as a public health issue; held mock job talks and dissertation workshops.
  • Faculty members from Columbia and other universities joined the Cluster and members of the public to discuss their latest books for the discussion series, Histories of Medicine and Health in the Global South.
  • The Cluster planned two events, Knowing and Making: Immigrant Women from the Global South, and Worlds at Waste: Air, Water, Land, and the Public in Asia and Africa, both postponed until 2021.

Historical Study of Race, Inequality, and Health

Led by Samuel K. Roberts (Associate Professor of History, Sociomedical Sciences, and of African American and African Diaspora Studies)
  • In collaboration with the Research Cluster in Science and Subjectivity, the Cluster led the course Marginalization in Medicine. Students researched health services available to individuals returning home from incarceration.
  • The Cluster launched Bearing Witness: The COVID-19 & Inequality History Documentation Project, which collects data, political, policy, and scientific events to display in an interactive timeline and website. 
  • The Columbia University Press series in Race, Inequality, and Health signed three authors this past year. 

Making and Knowing Project

Led by Pamela Smith (Seth Low Professor of History and Director of the Center for Science and Society)
  • After five years of research and reconstruction, the Making and Knowing Cluster published Secrets of Craft and Nature in Renaissance France, a digital critical edition of a 16th-century artisanal manuscript. 
  • To complement Secrets of Craft and Nature, the Project has started work on a Research and Teaching Companion to help educators adapt the Making and Knowing Project for their own research projects, classrooms, and events. 
  • The Project piloted the Companion in Spring 2020 with students from Vassar College.

Science and Subjectivity

Led by Robert Pollack (Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of University Seminars)
  • Dedicated to undergraduate research and service, the Cluster celebrated the graduation of seven Intern-Scholars. The remaining Intern-Scholars are finding ways to maintain Cluster projects in the upcoming academic year. 
  • Students brought live dance to residents at Terence Cardinal Cooke Nursing Home as a form of recreational therapy. 
  • The Cluster has recently launched the Tricentennial Project, an undergraduate student and faculty working group to expand the university’s vision of climate action ahead of Columbia’s 300th anniversary in 2054. 

Grants Awarded

Columbia University instructors are encouraged to submit an application for our Course Development Grants for Co-teaching. Deadline is rolling. 

Seed Grants

Four Seed Grants were awarded for interdisciplinary projects in science and society from students and scholars across nine departments. 
  • Hiding in Plain Sight led by Vijay Ramesh (Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology) and Pratik Dubal (Computer Science)
  • Navigating the Era of Information Surplus: Who Knows Who Knows? led by Adam Calderon (Clinical Psychology) and Joseph Lap (Philosophy)
  • Unto the Stage: An Exploration of Science Themes Through a Theatrical Perspective led by Alfredo Spagna (Psychology), Juan Guerrero (Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute), and OH Prema (Biological Sciences)
  • “What Do We Know?”: An Undergraduate Podcast led by Ben Wolman (Earth and Environmental Sciences) and Kate Steiner (Astrophysics)

Public Outreach Grants

Two Public Outreach Grants were awarded for projects that develop public understanding of issues at the intersection of society and science, technology, and/or medicine, educate K-12 students, or work with communities to respond to issues that affect or are affected by science.
  • Science Talks! Bringing Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Complex Societal Issues to the Greater Harlem Area, led by Paula Croxson (Zuckerman Institute)
  • Unsung Stories: Oral Histories of Women at Columbia’s Computer Music Center led by Ellie Hisama (Music) and Zosha Di Castri (Music)

Event Highlights

While many spring events have been postponed, the Center supported 51 events during the academic year. See below for highlights:

Select Center for Science and Society Lectures and Events

Boredom: Behavioral and Clinical Implications (September 2019)

A Playlist for Our Future? Accelerating the Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Complexity (December 2019)

Ephemera: Science and Technology (December 2019)

Rethinking Craft in Postindustrial Society (December 2019)

Climate, Environment, and the Politics of Public Trust (April 2020)

Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience

Changing Two Minds Is Better Than One (October 2019)

Neuroscience and the Study of Intergenerational Trauma (November 2019)

Presidential Scholars Research Symposium: 2nd-Year Presentations (February 2020)

Improvisation and Time: Perspectives Across Disciplines (April 2020)

New York History of Science

Co-sponsored with NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study; CUNY Graduate Center; The New York Academy of Medicine; and The New York Academy of Sciences.

Hiro Hirai - Into the Forger’s Library: The Genesis of a Pseudo-Paracelsian Treatise in Publication History (September 2019)

Camille Robcis - Disalienation: Politics, Philosophy, and Radical Psychiatry in France (October 2019)

Alex Wellerstein - The ‘Best-Kept Secret of the War’?: The Successes and Failures of the Manhattan Project’s Secrecy Regime (November 2019)

Andrew Stuhl - The Study of Ignorance and Macroanalysis: Drilling for Arctic Oil in the 1970s (December 2019)

Jonathan Metzl - Dying of Whiteness (January 2020)

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