BIS 393 , Spring 2004
Redesigning Humanity: Science Fiction and the Future of the Body


Topics and Readings

M Mar 29 Science Fiction, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

W Mar 31 Biology and Identity: What's Human, Natural, Normal?
Gregory Stock, "The Last Human" [pdf 239kb]
Lee Silver, Jeremy Rifkin, and Barbara Katz Rothman, "Biotechnology: A New Frontier of Corporate Control" [pdf 316kb]
Leon Kass, "The Wisdom of Repugnance" [pdf 367kb]
John Varley, "The Persistence of Vision" [pdf 623kb]

M Apr 5 Eugenics: The Science of Human Betterment and Discrimination
Diane Paul, "What Is Eugenics? Why Does It Matter?" [pdf 380kb]
Garland Allen, "Genetics, Eugenics and the Medicalization of Social Behavior" [pdf 603kb]

Extra stuff:
"Against Their Will: North Carolina's Eugenic Sterilization Program"
Cold Spring Harbor DNA Archive
Stephen Jay Gould, "Carrie Buck's Daughter"
Paul Lombardo, "Facing Carrie Buck"
"Playing God: Archives detail California group's eugenics plan "
Philip Reilly and Dorothy Wertz, "Eugenics 1883-1970"
Martin Pernick, "The Black Stork"
Nazi Persecution of the Disabled (USHMM)
Mad Science and Criminal Medicine
Baruch Cohen, "The Ethics of Using Medical Data from Nazi Experiments"

W Apr 7 Eugenics in Fiction: A Socialist-Feminist Utopia
all of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915)

M Apr 12 Biology as Perversion
chapters 1-10, Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

W Apr 14 Controlling Nature, Controlling Science: Huxley’s Eugenics and Politics
finish Brave New World
Aldous Huxley, "Science and Civilisation" [pdf 158kb]
Extra stuff:
J.B.S. Haldane, "Daedalus, or Science and the Future"

M Apr 19 The Science, Politics, and Ethics of Making a Baby
Lucy Frith, "Reproductive Technologies" [pdf 227kb]
Robin Marantz Henig, "Pandora's Baby" [pdf 300kb]
Dorothy Wertz, "Twenty-one Arguments Against Human Cloning, And Their Responses" [not working? see other cloning sites below]
"Thou shalt not make scientific progress" (government funding of stem cell research) [pdf 276kb]
Leon Kass, "The Wisdom of Repugnance" [from week 1]

Extra stuff:
Cloning Fact Sheet (Human Genome Project page)
Cloning: How It Works
How Cloning Works (
Genetics & Public Policy Center
"Science Friction: The growing--and dangerous--divide between scientists and the GOP"
Judy Wacjman, "Delivered Into Men's Hands?"
Lee Silver's course website (links on ARTs)
"Men redundant? Now we don't need women either"
"Why Not Artificial Wombs?"
"Lesbian couples could have own baby"
"Heterosexual reproduction is now obsolete"
Clonaid (Raelians)
Human Cloning: Brave New Mistake (Council for Responsible Genetics)
"Top ten myths about human cloning"
"Scientists clone 30 human embryos"
Stem Cell Basics
Stem Cell Tutorial

W Apr 21 Feminist Science Fiction: Patriarchy and the Marginalized Body
Chapters 1-7, Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (1976)

M Apr 26 Fighting Back: Power, Values, and Science
finish Woman on the Edge of Time
Anne Hudson Jones, "Feminist Science Fiction and Medical Ethics" [spoilers, pdf 182kb]
Extra stuff:
Marge Piercy Homepage
Summary of WET [spoilers]
Another summary/review

W Apr 28 Biotech and Nanotech: The Business of Transforming Life
Greg Bear, "Blood Music" [fiction, pdf 388kb]
Biotechnology Industry Statistics [don't print]
"Hasty Decisions in the Race to a Cure? Gene Therapy Study Proceeded Despite Safety, Ethics Concerns"
"Academic-industrial relationships in the life sciences" [pdf 85kb]
"Patenting of genetic material: are the benefits to society being realized?" [pdf 145kb]

Extra stuff:
Human Gene Therapy
Alliance for Human Research Protection
"Battle over gene therapy puts hopes on hold"
"The Gelsinger Story: Aftermath" [not working?]
"Over-the-counter gene testing is set to become big business, but do the tests on offer really tell you anything useful about your future health?" [pdf 18kb]
"Getting into Our Genes: Myriad nails the BRCA-1 and 2 testing market"
"Breast cancer genes: myths and facts"
Myriad: Hereditary Cancer Testing
"Getting it right: industry sponsorship and medical research"
"Patenting Genes--Stifling Research and Jeopardising Healthcare" [pdf]
Rebecca Eisenberg, "How can you patent genes?"
American Journal of Bioethics -- patenting genes
Nanotechnology: the Coming Revolution in Molecular Manufacturing

M May 3 Film: GATTACA (1997): There Is No Gene for the Human Spirit

W May 5 Chance or Choice? Promises and Perils of the New Genetics
David Kirby, "The New Eugenics in Cinema: Genetic Determinism and Gene Therapy in GATTACA"
Lori Andrews, "The Changing Face of Parenthood in the Genetics Era" [pdf 405kb]
David King, "The Persistence of Eugenics" [pdf 344kb]

Extra stuff:
Mitchel Cohen, "Is Violence in Your Genes? The Violence Initiative Project: Coming Soon to an Inner City Near You" [pdf 229kb]
"Does Race Exist?"
"Do genes determine whether we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight?"
"Burlington Northern Case: Workplace Genetic Testing"
Diane Paul, "What is a genetic test, and why does it matter?" [pdf 114kb]
"The Current State of Prenatal Genetic Testing" [pdf 150kb]
Your Genes, Your Health
Human Genome Project website (DOE)
Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man
Genetic Disorder Information (chromosome maps of disease genes)
"Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis"

M May 10 Human Nature and the Alien Other
all of Octavia Butler, Dawn (1987)

W May 12 Made to Order: The Genetic Supermarket for Therapy and Enhancement
Brian Alexander, "The Remastered Race"
Stephen Pinker, "The Designer Baby Myth"
Marcy Darnovsky, "The Case against Designer Babies: The Politics of Genetic Enhancement" [pdf 368kb]

Extra stuff:
"Jack or Jill? The era of consumer-driven eugenics has begun"
"Baby gender selection ruled out" (UK)
"Designer baby ethics fear"
"Genetic muscle therapy causes a stir"
"Newly found gene may be key to high IQ"
"Stupidity should be cured, says DNA discoverer"
The President's Council on Bioethics
"What's Wrong with Enhancement?"
"Yuppie Eugenics: Creating a world with genetic haves and have-nots"

M May 17 Building a Smarter Mouse
all of Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark (2003)
Extra stuff:
Moon's essay on autism
PBS program "Refrigerator Mothers"
Autism Society of America
"Scientists find clue to autism in a gene" (Apr 6)
Center for the Study of Autism
Cure Autism Now Foundation
Extra stuff on human experimentation scandals:
"Plutonium Files: How the U.S. Secretly Fed Radioactivity to Thousands of Americans"
"Human Radiation Experiments: Reflection on the Ethics of Biomedical Research" (US gov advisory committee)
Tuskegee Syphilis Study
Ethical Issues in Research involving Human Participants (Bibliography)

W May 19 What Kinds of People Do We Want in the World? Genetics, Disability, and Rights
Judith Merril, "That Only a Mother" [fiction, pdf 136kb]
Harriet McBryde Johnson, "Unspeakable Conversations" [pdf 390kb]
Susan Wendell, "Who Is Disabled? Defining Disability" [pdf 276kb]
Bill Albert, "Curing what? Curing when? Gene therapy and disabled people" [pdf 132kb]
"Lesbian couple have deaf baby by choice"
Adrienne Asch, "Prenatal Diagnosis and Selective Abortion: A Challenge to Practice and Policy" [pdf 134kb]

M May 24 Nanotechnology: Body Modification and Social Transformation
start Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age (1995), pp. 1-188

Extra stuff (spoilers galore, plot & theme summaries):
A Guide to The Diamond Age
Another guide
DA analysis from Wikipedia
Nanotechnology: the Coming Revolution in Molecular Manufacturing
Nanotechnology (
Nanomedicine FAQ

W May 26 Science, Culture, and Morality
continue The Diamond Age, pp. 188-329
we'll talk about the novel for the first part of class, then I will have essay consultations with individual students. please sign up.

W June 2 Diamond Age
finish The Diamond Age
we'll talk about the novel for the first part of class, then I will have essay consultations with individual students. please sign up.

F June 4 ESSAY #2 DUE
deliver your paper to my office by 5:45pm (UW1-135). if I'm not there, leave it in the box outside the door.

Course Description and Policies

BIS 393 B Special Topics Spring 2004                  Mon. & Wed. 5:45-7:50pm, UW2-031
Joanne Woiak
Office: UW1-135; 425-352-3205
Office hours: M & W 4:30-5:30, and by appointment      

Redesigning Humanity: Science Fiction and the Future of the Body

Course description:
      From Frankenstein to Brave New World to the recent film Gattaca, fictional works have speculated about the artificial creation and manipulation of human life. We will critically read science fiction literature that portrays some historical and futuristic techno-sciences of reproduction, genetics, body modification, and social engineering. These SF texts, interpreted alongside scholarly articles and media reports of current issues, will help us to evaluate various public perceptions and socio-political contexts of biotechnology, as well as to engage in informed discussion about the controversial social and ethical implications. For some writers, the genetic revolution inspires optimism about improving society, enhancing human abilities, and expanding the possibilities for choice and control over quality of life. Others express justifiable uneasiness about altering human identity or social relations, and possibly intensifying discrimination against people deemed abnormal or inferior. Who will have the power to make decisions about how we ought to look or act and what kinds of children we ought to have; who will be most affected by such decisions; and can all the consequences be predicted? We will explore various bioethical perspectives based for instance on religious beliefs, liberal values, and feminist and disability rights critiques. Thoughtful SF has helped to shape public debates about the uses of science, and it forces us to confront difficult questions about how society and science construct such value-laden concepts as human, normal, natural, healthy, enhanced, or perfect.

essay (3-4 pages) due Mon. May 3 30%
essay (5-6 pages) due Fri. June 4 45%
participation, in-class exercises, homework 25%

      There are 6 novels (available at the bookstore and on library reserves), several SF short stories, and for each week secondary sources that provide background information about the fiction, its social context, and the bioethical issues. You are expected to do all the required reading and come to class prepared for discussion; this is principally a discussion course whose direction will be driven by your interests, insights, and queries. You must consult the course website regularly in order to locate the readings (in the form of links and pdf files), consult the suggested supplementary texts, and get updates to the course content.

BIS 393B Course website:

Course objectives:
      1. I do not assume that students are already fans of science fiction (SF) or otherwise have a strong background in literature. But I do hope that you will learn to enjoy and appreciate the techniques and goals of science fiction as a literary genre. SF is ubiquitous in our culture today, and the best examples attempt to explore topics and issues more profound than just ray guns and space travel. The stories we will read use character, plot, and exotic settings to produce emotional impact, comment on familiar social and ethical issues, and examine human nature. The course is obviously geared towards interpreting these texts as commentaries on biotechnology, but you should feel free to bring up other aspects of the texts that seem important to you. I will expect you to acquire only the most basic understanding of the sciences involved.

      2. This course follows the interdisciplinary approach called “science studies,” in which the content and applications of science are evaluated as functions of social and political context. We will combine literary analysis with historical research, scientific information, and bioethical critiques. The SF literature I have chosen should encourage you to think critically about the hopes and anxieties raised by certain modern techno-science developments. The course will provide an opportunity to form and express your own opinions about controversial topics such as eugenics, genetic testing, cloning, cyborgs, and nanotechnology. As informed citizens we need to involve ourselves in public debates over science and technology, and SF scenarios can contribute to our understanding. One good example of a scholarly study of the connections between SF, history of science, and bioethics is Jon Turney, Frankenstein’s Footsteps: Science, Genetics and Popular Culture (1998).

      3. This course is designed to help sharpen your practical skills in critical textual analysis, written and oral communication, and the synthesis of knowledge gained from diverse fields of study. Your participation grade will be based on evidence of preparedness and the quality and consistency of your contributions. Participation includes expressing your own thoughts about the texts, as well as constructively responding to your classmates. Missing class will prevent your involvement and thus affect your grade adversely. You may be required to complete exercises such as small-group work, in-class writing, or short homework questions. This work will count towards no more than ½ of your participation grade, and it cannot be made up if you were absent that day. In your argumentative essays, I expect that you will try to present accurate, complex, and subtle interpretations of the texts. Reading these novels should be fun, but we are also looking for the critical perspectives they may provide on science and society. You will receive feedback aimed at helping you to write strong thesis statements supported consistently by textual evidence and citations. I encourage you to come to office hours or contact me by email to discuss essay ideas or other problems.

      Documenting sources: When writing an essay, all direct quotations, paraphrases, information, interpretations, and opinions taken from another person’s work must be identified. Providing documentation will answer your reader’s questions such as “Where did you get that?” or “Why should this claim be believed?” Use quotation marks and in-text citations (author’s name and page number) whenever you use someone else’s exact words. Citations are also required to indicate that you have borrowed ideas or facts from a particular source, even if you are not quoting from it. Every paper submitted for this course must also have a bibliography listing all sources cited and consulted. For guidelines on MLA documentation style see .
      Academic integrity: All work submitted for evaluation and course credit must be an original effort. Plagiarism means presenting the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own, for example by turning in someone else’s work or failing to document material you have quoted or borrowed. It is a serious offence and punishable under the provisions of the University’s Student Conduct Code. If you are unsure about your use of sources or are having other difficulties with your writing, please come to my office hours or make an appointment with the UWB Writing Center (425-352-5253, UW2-124). Any evidence of plagiarism, whether intentional or accidental, will result in a grade of zero for that assignment. Additional sanctions may also be imposed by the University administration. You are responsible for understanding all aspects of University regulations regarding academic integrity.

      Submitting work: All written assignments will be collected at the start of the class period. Late papers will receive a grade penalty of 5% per day. Requests for extensions must be made well before the due date. Hand in all work directly to me during class or office hours. I will accept NO work via email unless you have obtained written permission from me in advance. Keep copies of all submitted work for your protection. No extra credit or paper re-writes will be permitted. If you want your final essay returned, please provide a large mailing envelope, self-addressed and stamped.
Incompletes: In accordance with University policy, I can give an incomplete only if the student has been attending class and doing all the major assignments until within two weeks of the end of the quarter, and if proof has been provided that the work cannot be completed because of circumstances beyond the student’s control.
      Disabilities: I will do my best to accommodate all documented disabilities. See for information.
      Communication: All requirements and policies of this course are outlined in this syllabus, and handouts will be provided to explain the assignments in greater detail. The schedule and readings may change, and it is your responsibility to get updated information from the course website. The best way to get hold of me reliably is via email. You may also use the course email list for questions and discussion.

Announcements & Assignments

Essay #2 handout
Please read: Documenting your sources
How to cite web sources
Homework due Mon May 17 (2 pts): read Speed of Dark and the discussion/study questions at the end. Write a 2-paragraph response to one of the questions. In your paper you must give citations to passages you use as evidence for your arguments (Moon, p. 134).

Homework due Mon May 10 (2 pts): after reading Dawn and looking at the study questions, compose an essay topic about some aspect of the novel and then compose a good thesis statement that addresses your topic comprehensively and concisely.
Study questions for Butler (not homework)
Study questions for Piercy (not homework)
Homework due Mon Apr 19 (2 pts): write one-paragraph paraphrases of the main arguments presented in 2 articles: Leon Kass, "Wisdom of Repugnance," and any one of the required readings for Apr 19.
Essay #1 handout (due May 3)
Syllabus (Word file)

Biology, Ethics, Politics in the News:
"Monsanto backs off bio-wheat" (May 10)
"Lab creates babies as stem-cell donors" (May 4)
"Stem cell research debate starts anew" (May 6)
new book history of eugenics (60 Minutes, May 2)
review of cloning movie "Godsend"
"Making Women's Issues Go Away" (GOP & science, Salon)
"Are men obsolete?" (virgin-birth mice, Apr 21)
"Scientists seek to clone human cells" (PI, Apr 21)
"Marching for their lives" (Salon, Apr 21, abortion rights)
"This kind of clone is the cat's meow" (Apr 16)
"Think again: misreporting stem cell research"
"Fighting Stem Cells, Not Terror Cells" (Salon, Apr 8)
"Kits Claim to Help Choose Baby's Sex" (PI, Apr 7)
"The Altered Human is Already Here" (NYT, Apr 6)
Nebula Awards in Seattle, Apr 17

Send mail to: jwoiak at
Last modified: 5/18/2004 5:23 pm