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Why I teach the door-opener known as STS 1: The Public Life of Science and Technology

John Willinsky, STS Director and STS 1 Instructor

Jul 14 2017

Posted In:

Faculty, In the News, Staff

This is the “gateway” course for the program in Science, Technology and Society. It means that I and two colleagues have the chance to introduce students to this interdisciplinary major that is committed to studying how the sciences and all aspects of technology affect, for better or for worse, the way we have lived and the way we do live, what we make of the world and how we use it. While my two co-instructors teach in their areas of great expertise: bioethics and the history of technology, I teach the ins and outs of intellectual property. All of the students have grown up in a world of copyrighted works and patented technologies, but it is my pleasure, and my sense of duty, that leads me to share the why and wherefore of such a legal system that turns ideas into properties, very valuable properties, very vital properties for life. It is wonderful to see students think through Supreme Court decisions on the patenting of DNA and look-and-feel of phone designs, to have them be the judge on the copying of drugs needed to survive, on the right to scientific knowledge, on freedom of speech. Students are equipped with the arguments to be made about such property and the legal reasoning behind this area of law. They get who can own what form of ideas and for long; they make their own intellectual property for the class (see illustration above). No one leaves the class a lawyer; but then I’m not a lawyer. Together, we’re interested parties in what the law makes of the expression of ideas.