Cambridge HPS Twentieth Century Think Tank, Easter Term 2015

April 30-May 14, 2015, University of Cambridge, University of Sydney

Twentieth Century Think Tank

The Twentieth Century Think Tank (TCTT) offers broad coverage of 20th- and 21st-century topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of science, technology and medicine. The regular programme of papers and discussions takes place on Thursdays over lunch, on alternate weeks with the Twentieth Century Reading Group (which meets this term on 7 and 21 May).

Easter Term 2015

Think Tank meetings are held on Thursdays, 1–2pm in Seminar Room 2, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge, CB2 3RH.

30 April 2015

Dmitriy Myelnikov (HPS, University of Cambridge)

Bypassing the Brave New World: Reporting transgenic mice in the early 1980s

The first transgenic animals – mice modified with foreign DNA at the one-cell embryo stage – were born in the USA in 1980, amid intense debates about genetic engineering and the fledging biotech industry. From the beginning, these mice led an active public life. On the same day their birth was announced at a conference, the readers of the New York Times could learn about the experiment from the front page. Genetic modification of mammals was something most biologists had presented as a distant possibility, but despite the general climate of distrust towards genetic engineering seen in US opinion polls, the new mice were not reported as threatening. Rather, most commentators hailed these animals as a biomedical breakthrough. News from other labs soon followed, as did journal publications, opinion pieces and cover photos. In the process, the identity of transgenic mice as a working experimental tool with great potential benefits was established. How did this tangle of communication, increasingly the default for high-stakes innovation in the 1980s, make transgenic mice a success? How did scientists and universities handle broad audiences, and did they benefit from active communication? And what contemporaneous trends in science journalism allowed these mice to become a largely unproblematic breakthrough?

14 May 2015 (1:00-2:45 pm)

Warwick Anderson (University of Sydney)

Intolerant Bodies: On biological individuality and writing with scientists

In this meeting Warwick Anderson leads an informal discussion of his recent bookIntolerant Bodies:  A Short History of Autoimmunity, co-authored with Ian R. Mackay. Anderson is particularly interested in two issues, how to collaborate with a scientist in writing historical narratives, and the meaning of biological individuality (especially self-tolerance) in the 20th century. For a discussion of the latter, see his feuilleton on tolerance at; the book’s website is at and Hopkins offers a 30% discount with the code: HNAF (we’ve been told to spread the word). Participants should have read the book; chapters are excerpted in Isis 105 (2014) and Journal of the History of Biology 47 (2014).

Posted: April 25, 2015