Climbing Up the Slippery Slope


for Members

Climbing Up the Slippery Slope

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Columbia University

Some people regard genetic testing and screening as aspects of a brave, new and wonderful world; other people regard the new genetics as a reversion to the horrors of the Nazi past. This lecture will use the history of the mandated genetic screening programs for Beta-thalassemia on the island of Cyprus (initiated in the 1980s) as a case study, exploring the possibility that neither the proponents of nor the objectors to genetic testing and screening have got it quite right.


Ruth Schwartz Cowan

University of Pennsylvania

Ruth Schwartz Cowan is an historian of science, technology and medicine, with degrees from Barnard College (BA), the University of California at Berkeley (MA) and The Johns Hopkins University (PhD). She was a member of the History Department of the State University of New York at Stony Brook from 1967 to 2002, attaining the rank of Professor in 1984. Between 1997 and 2002 she was the Chair of the Honors College at SUNY-Stony Brook; she also served as Director of Women's Studies from 1985-1990. She became Professor Emerita at Stony Brook in 2002.

In July, 2002 she became Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Between 2003 and 2008 she was Chair of the Department.

Professor Cowan is the author of five books and numerous articles. Her books are: The Social History of American Technology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); (with Neil M. Cowan) Our Parents' Lives: The Americanization of Eastern European Jews (New York: Basic Books, 1989) [revised second edition published as Our Parent's Lives: Everyday Life and Jewish Assimilation (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996)]; Sir Francis Galton and the Study of Heredity in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Garland Press, 1985); and More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983).

Her new book is, Heredity and Hope: The Case for Genetic Screening (Harvard University Press, 2008). Currently she is working (with Neil M. Cowan) on a history of American women engineers.

Professor Cowan has been a Fulbright Scholar, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Phi Beta Kappa Lecturer and a Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar at the California Institute of Technology. She has had grants in support of her research from the Sloan Foundation, NSF, NEH, NIH (through ELSI) and the ACLS. Currently, she is an affiliated investigator under an ELSI Center of Excellence Grant: Center for the Integration of Genetic Healthcare Technologies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Cowan has been awarded the Leonardo daVinci Medal and the Dexter Prize of the Society for the History of Technology as well as the J.D. Bernal Prize of the Society for the Social Study of Science.

Professor Cowan is active in the Society for the History of Technology (President, 1992-1994). She serves on the editorial board of Social Studies of Science and Science and Culture. She has been a member of the Smithsonian Council, and of the IEEE History Committee; for several years she was the Chair of the US National Committee, International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science, a member of the Visiting Committee for the Humanities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Trustee of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. She is a founding board member of the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science (PACHS) and the Chair of the Community Advisory Board for Genetics, North Shore/LIJ Hospital System on Long Island.