Emeritus Faculty Association news April 2014
Friday April 4th, 10.30am Javits Room, 2nd floor library. The speaker will be distinguished professor emeritus Don Ihde.
Abstract: The popular NRA slogan is "Guns don't kill people; People kill people" but isn't it rather, "People with guns kill people"? A year ago a long running discussion ran in the Atlantic Monthly blog concerning an article by Evan Selinger who compared the human-gun analysis of Bruno Latour, a well known science studies figure, and Don Ihde, philosopher of technology. This talk will examine the emergence of a type of analysis of human-technology inter-relations which began to take shape in the 80's and today dominants STS (science and technology studies) and science studies. The shift of these analyses is away from older subject-object analyses to inter-relational analyses. I will give a range of examples of such relations, focusing upon gun use in the US. For example, suicides in the US now total over 38,000 per year, with 19,000+ by firearms; there are over 11,000 homicides and 10,000 children injured by firearm each year. I will try to show how the shift in critical analysis provides a better basis for gun control than older forms.
Bio: Don Ihde received his BA from the University of Kansas, an M Div from Andover Newton Theological School and a Ph.D. from Boston University. He began his academic career at Boston University, Southern Illinois University, and since 1969 at Stony Brook. He is the author of 20 single author books and editor or co-editor of 7 more. Since 1979 his work has been primarily in the philosophy of science and technology. He retired in 2012 after 43 years at Stony Brook.
Angelique Corthals of Pathology spoke on Detecting the Immune System in A 500 year old frozen body.
Mummies and other preserved human remains have long held a popular fascination. After the Crick-Franklin-Watson double helix discovery, Van dePapal became the first to use DNA analysis to examine such remains - for the Neanderthal genome. But analysis of protein molecules can be still more illuminating as it is indicative of the state of the immune system, and because the proteins outlast DNA by thousands to millions of years and are less susceptible to in-lab contamination. This is what Prof Corthals did in a recent study on Inca mummies discovered in 1999. These were found in a shallow grave at the top of the Lullaillaco volcano on the Northern Chile-Argentina border and are currently preserved at the Museum of High Altitude Archeology in Salta, Argentina.
For a thousand years until the Spanish invasion the Inca empire held sway along the Andes corridor from Southern Columbia down to Southern Chile. According to religious custom they would offer sacrifices at the tops of tall mountains because this was where their Gods resided. This particular discovery was one of the best preserved finds of mummies ever, in fact so well preserved that they uncannily appear to have only just died. The preservation was due not only to the frost but the protective effect of volcanic ashes packed into the tomb. These reflected the humidity and fostered the transformation of the subcutaneous fat into soap, thus sealing the integrity of the bodies. The tomb contained the mummies of three small children: a 5-6 year old boy tied up in fetal position; a little girl of similar age who had been subsequently charred from a lightning strike attracted by a metal headrest and then through her body; and finally a 15-16 year old, dubbed the maiden.
To climb this mountain at any time is no mean feat, as Dr Corthals knows since she tried it herself. At almost 7000m it is only about 2000m short of Everest and almost double the elevation of Cusco, the site of the historic capital of the Inca empire and from which the original party came. In fact the little boy was probably dead from the effort before he reached the top which would explain why he was tied up. On the other hand the maiden had her mouth stuffed with coca leaves, which along with alcohol was a food preparation commonly used by the Inca to prepare their subjects for the arduous journey up.
After processing swab samples to separate off the DNA, the proteins were detected using a high-resolution mass spectrometer and comparing collected mass spectra to the human protein database. Since the little girl had been compromised by the lightning, the further analysis concentrated on the maiden, using the Wilcoxon statistical comparison method and the boy as a healthy comparison (healthy at least until he died!). The protein profile was further analyzed by amplifying fragments of its DNA by collaborator Liliana Davalos, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution. This analysis revealed the presence of probable pathogenic bacteria in the genus Mycobacterium, pathogens that cause upper respiratory tract infections and tuberculosis. In addition, computed tomography (CT) scanning, along with visual and radiologic examinations revealed pathologies consistent with a wide range of infectious diseases from leprosy to TB.
The mass spectrometry-based proteomic application is a powerful complement to forensic DNA analyses and other examinations that point to pathogens. Completing each of these analyses and tests helps determine what infectious agent caused disease and the extent of active infection in the host. This study is in fact the first of its kind, since rather than looking for the pathogen which is notoriously difficult to do in historical samples, we are looking at the immune system protein profile which more accurately shows that there was indeed an infection at the time of death. The method has assisted the search for an improved vaccine for present day TB, and opens the door to solving many historical and current biomedical and forensic mysteries, from understanding why the plague of 1918 was so lethal, to finding out which pathogen is responsible for death in cases of multiple infections.
On Concealed Weapons
Once again, whether by design or accident, it turns out that our topic for the next meeting is particularly timely. In the year since the Newtown school massacre there have been over 100 gun bills signed into law in the states, the large majority of which have been to loosen gun restrictions, in the process permitting guns in all sorts of places from schools and libraries to churches (see: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/12/10/us/state-gun-laws-enacted-in-the-year-since-newtown.html). More specific to us, in 19 states legislation was introduced to allow concealed carry on campus, and this very month Idaho became the seventh state to sign that into law (see: http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/guns-on-campus-overview.aspx). Perhaps some of you have relevant personal experiences. In the case of your correspondent, an extremely disturbed student entered my office insisting that I had denied him the grade he deserved. Not receiving satisfaction (he was not in fact enrolled in any of my courses), he then went to my home and burst into the kitchen while my three (then young) children were being fed their lunch. Later when he was apprehended by the campus police, he was found to have a concealed knife strapped to his leg. While legislators around the nation are rather anxious to foster concealed weapons in our workplaces, many seem to have protected their own with magnetometers and x-ray machines. According to the most recent information available (National Conference of State Legislatures newsblog 1-28-14), only 9 states allow open carry and/or concealed carry in their own statehouses.