lightning bolt

Exploring the impact and ethics of the Frankenstein phenomena

In conjunction with The Frankenstein Project, is FrankenCon—a three-day conference of scientists, theorists, authors, and artists exploring the Frankenstein legend—on November 21-23.

Highlights of the weekend include a “Science and Ethics” roundtable discussion on Saturday afternoon, moderated by UCSC Theater Arts professor and conference organizer Michael Chemers and features UCSC faculty–including former chancellor and astronomy professor George Blumenthal, Genomics Institute director David Haussler, and Science & Justice Research Center director and Professor of Sociology Jenny Reardon. They will discuss such topics as “What is ‘mad science’ and how do we guard against it? and “What has Frankenstein taught scientists and cultural critics about the dangers of science without conscience?”

Read more in this campus news article.

For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit the FrankenCon website.

Hannah Arendt in St. Peter’s Square

In a newly released bioethics forum essay at The Hastings Center, Medical Ethicist Joseph J. Fins and Professor of Sociology Jenny Reardon discuss the need for building institutions that support the arts of collective judgment in science and medical education: “We must neither be seduced by the logicality of new technologies such as CRISPR nor dissuaded by the misapplication of unreflected-upon regulatory barriers? But how?”

The essay can be found at: 

Additionally, we are collecting responses to Fins and Reardon’s essay here:

  • Steve Phillips, a practicing physician and bioethicist at Taylor University, reviews the importance of Arendt’s insights for present-day bioethics, arguing that a Christian liberal education can be of great use for these bioethical questions, since it can integrate both a liberal education and a Christian ethics that finds its premises in a higher source of moral wisdom.  The Importance of Premises, October 16, 2019. 

Developing Story: Private Utility, Public Safety? On PG&E’s Energy Shutoffs

Early in the week of October 7, 2019, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced that it would likely be shutting off power to large swaths of Northern California in order to help minimize the acute risk of wildfires due to predicted conditions of extreme winds and dry air. Although this process, referred to as de-energization as well as public safety power shutoff (PSPS), is not without precedent (San Diego Gas & Electric has sporadically practiced PSPS since the late 2000s), PG&E’s PSPS promised to be, and did become, by far the largest public power shutoff in California history. By mid-week, starting in the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 9, PG&E began cutting power to thousands of homes and businesses, and continued cutting power in more counties into Thursday evening. Estimates of units that lost power range from 700,000 to well over one million. While most had their power restored by Friday day, some areas still did not have power over the weekend. Even from PG&E’s perspective, the shutoff did not go well. From their website consistently crashing, to being unable to give clear times of energy shutoffs and being unable to indicate when power would be restored in different counties, to setting up just one bare-bones shelter per county during the blackouts, the company appeared ill-prepared for their action taken (see ‘This Did Not Go Well’ from the New York Times).

Upon announcing the PSPS, even before it actually shut down parts of the power grid, public backlash to PG&E’s decision was immediate. PG&E, the largest utility company in California – and, importantly, one that is privately owned by investors and not by the public – had already been embroiled in controversy in recent years for being found at fault for its power lines causing devastating wildfires. In late January 2019, the utility formally filed for bankruptcy protection in response to more than $50 billion in liability claims, including for, most recently, the Camp Fire which burned down the town of Paradise, CA and claimed eighty-six human lives.

While temporarily shutting down the energy grid might be a strategically useful way to prevent wildfires from sparking, we must not lose track of the larger history that got us to this point, and the questions this episode raises. How did PG&E become a private corporation beholden to its investors, rather than to the California public to which it provides gas and electric? Has private gain usurped public safety as the number one priority? See for example this #powerpocalypse twitter thread which has been retweeted over eight-thousand times. Governor Gavin Newsom has also forcefully stated: “This is not, from my perspective, a climate change story as much as a story about greed and mismanagement [by PG&E] over the course of decades.”

In this developing story we will highlight and examine a number of angles surrounding energy use and utility companies in this age of rapid climate change, especially as questions of ethics and justice interlace with thorny issues of privately owned energy, public safety, public health, and public trust.


For an overview, see “Why Is This Happening? Answers to Your Questions on the PG&E Shutdown,” KQED, October 9, 2019.

Also see the anticipation of this PSPS strategy being more frequently used: Wildfire-Driven Power Blackouts: Coming This Year to a Community Near You?, KQED, May 30, 2019.

Public Trust

Concerning the question of public trust and PG&E’s future relationship with state lawmakers, see “After Outages, PG&E Faces Cloudy Future in Sacramento”, San Francisco Chronicle, October 13, 2019.

A KQED piece earlier this year discussed the ways in which newly appointed Governor Newsom could respond to PG&E bankruptcy protection filings. Newsom relayed that he would try and work with PG&E but take a tough stance on them since his interests are beholden to the people of California, not to the utility giant. He was quoted even back then as saying: “PG&E, with respect, has not been a trusted player in the past. They have admitted to knowingly misleading regulators in the past — the very recent past… When it comes to our engagement with PG&E, it’s trust, but dare I say verify. And let me underscore verify.”

Public Takeover

See also news and analysis pieces questioning the reality of a public takeover of PG&E: Could California Take Public Ownership of PG&E?, Pacific Standard Magazine, February 7, 2019.

See also the section, ‘Why Can’t the State Take Over PG&E and Solve This Mess?’ in the recent KQED overview article: “It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, though there’s no real model for a state taking over a publicly traded utility of this size. We also have yet to see the political will for this to occur. One reason is that taxpayers would have to take on the financial responsibility that just bankrupted PG&E — liability for its aging, unsafe electrical grid.”

Locally Sourced Power and Microgrids

Our energy grid is vulnerable. Locally sourced power may be the answer,University of California, News, October 16, 2019.


Some are arguing that it is in the utility giant’s best interest to use this PSPS tactic as an increasingly frequent practice, since the company is only liable for wildfire damage caused by its downed powerlines and generators, and not for other losses such as lost productivity and income during a blackout. State Senator Scott Wiener ( D- San Francisco) recently stated, “Right now, PG&E has a strong financial incentive to go broad with planned blackouts because of financial liability.” Earlier this year, Wiener introduced a state bill to regulate planned shut-offs including compensating customers and local governments for losses incurred during the outages.

Public Health

A number of articles are also covering how the most vulnerable – many elderly, those with chronic conditions, those with specific medical needs – are acutely affected by blackouts, such as when vital medical devices lose power.

For the Most Vulnerable, California Blackouts ‘Can Be Life or Death’, New York Times, Oct 10, 2019.

It’s Not Just the Lights. Outages Shut Off Medical Devices at Home, KQED, October 10, 2019

Book Release! Looking For Marla (2019)


Discover the diversity of sex, gender, and parental care in the underwater world of Looking for Marla. Looking for Marla tells the tale of a curious clownfish in transition as they find their way through fatherhood, and into motherhood! As readers follow along through playful and punny rhymes, they encounter a diverse cast of friendly marine creatures, each with a unique story to tell and a jewel of wisdom. Looking for Marla hopes to inspire readers of all ages on their own journey of gender expression and self-exploration, while they explore the diversity of an underwater world.

This book is for educators, parents, youth, and anyone wanting to learn about sex and gender diversity in nature and gender pronouns in a fun way! A portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz, to support diverse communities in Santa Cruz & Watsonville counties.

More information can be found at:

Find Marla on Instagram at

The book is available from the Looking for Marla team and in a few local shops. For your personal, classroom, or shop copy, contact

Book cover for Looking For Marla (Spanish edition).

Join the bilingual release celebration:

On November 15, 2019, from 7pm to 9pm at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History Looking for Marla will share the BILINGUAL version of the book, there will be performances, face painting, brainstorming on the meaning of parenthood, and activities for all ages! (Details on the launch)


“Looking for Marla takes you on an undersea discovery journey through the surprisingly diverse expressions of gender and sexual identity among marine creatures. I have taught sexuality education classes for ages ranging from kindergarten to senior high school, and this wonderfully imaginative book will be a precious addition to the curriculum. Little kids will marvel at the beautiful illustrations and older youths will appreciate the whimsical rhyming text. For all, the variety of parenting styles and gender expressions depicted in these pages are sure to expand their understanding of the many ways to be human. May they find their own inner Marla.”  –  François Bar | Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education facilitator

“Looking for Marla beautifully illustrates how art can help to communicate scientific information and break down social stereotypes. We at the Norris Center for Natural History are proud to have supported this creative and outstanding book.”  – Karen Holl | Professor of Environmental Studies, UC Santa Cruz | Faculty Director, Norris Center for Natural History.

“Looking for Marla is joyful, beautiful and informative.  If you are curious about: gender identity, the ocean, its inhabitants or parenting then this is the book for you!  This is revelatory reading at its best.” – Beth Rendeiro, M.Ed | Co-founder, More Than Sex Ed. | Trainer, Our Whole Lives, Lifespan Human Sexuality curricula |  Educator, UCLA Lab School

“Looking for Marla speaks for the often overlooked and misunderstood ocean creatures. With gorgeous illustrations and unforgettable facts, this story will warm the hearts of those willing to undertake a new perspective on our underwater world.” – Roxanne Beltran, Ph.D. |  Postdoctoral Researcher, UC Santa Cruz.

About the Looking for Marla Team

Paloma Medina (Visionary) is a scientist and educator currently in a Biomolecular Engineering Ph.D. program at UC Santa Cruz. Paloma is interested in evolutionary genomics, bioinformatics, and creative mediums to explore sex and gender diversity in nature. They are an award recipient of the U.S. Fulbright student research scholarship and the National Institute of Health T32 Training Program. Their creative projects have been supported by the Santa Cruz Arts Council, the UCSC Norris Center for Natural History, and the UCSC Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development. Paloma has fun integrating feminist theory and science to help share queer stories.

Read more about how Paloma contributes to the field of population genetics with a distinctly feminist mindset, in an interview with the SJRC.

Audrey Ford (Writer) is a UC Santa Cruz graduate with a degree in Marine Biology. Her passions surround the combined use of science and art as a vehicle to both explore threats to our environment and animal communities, and to connect the world to these issues through concepts that resonate with each individual personally. She is currently working as a face painter for a local Santa Cruz company, as well as a researcher for a non-profit organization which responds to communities across California being affected by polluted local environments. Audrey is so excited to play a part in creating this beautiful story and she hopes that it’s words will reach everyone in need of reading them!

Jessica Kendall-Bar (Illustrator) is a UC Berkeley graduate in Marine Science. She is a PhD student and NSF Graduate Research Fellow at UC Santa Cruz, where she studies the neurobiology of marine mammals. She has studied a broad range of marine topics, including oceanic geochemistry, cephalopod and arthropod mating behavior, moray eel movement, and marine mammal sleep. Her whimsical illustrations and immersive underwater photography aim to accurately portray science and its invaluable role in preserving the underwater ecosystem. At the interface of science and art, she endeavors not only to make meaningful discoveries, but also to convey those results broadly and creatively to impact diverse populations within and outside academia.

Read more about Jessica’s passion for using art to explain science, in a campus news article.

Karen Ross (Spanish Translator)

Sofia Vermeulen (Designer)

A picture of a blur strawberry

Book Release! Julie Guthman on Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry (UC Press, 2019)

Book Cover for Guthman’s “Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry”.

About the Book

Strawberries are big business in California. They are the sixth-highest-grossing crop in the state, which produces 88 percent of the nation’s favorite berry. Yet the industry is often criticized for its backbreaking labor conditions and dependence on highly toxic soil fumigants used to control fungal pathogens and other soilborne pests. In Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry (UC Press, 2019), Science & Justice Affiliate, UC Santa Cruz Professor of Social Sciences Julie Guthman tells the story of how the strawberry industry came to rely on soil fumigants, and how that reliance reverberated throughout the rest of the fruit’s production system. The particular conditions of plants, soils, chemicals, climate, and laboring bodies that once made strawberry production so lucrative in the Golden State have now changed and become a set of related threats that jeopardize the future of the industry.

Julie Guthman is Professor of Social Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her previous books include Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California and Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism.

Find out more in this campus news article:

Strawberries: The tasty fruit with a tainted environmental legacy and an uncertain future

The Software Arts (2019) by Warren Sack

Are the arts at the center of software’s evolution?

The Software Arts (2019) by Warren Sack

The Software Arts (2019) by Warren Sack

In his new book, The Software Arts (MIT Press 2019), Science & Justice Affiliate, UC Santa Cruz Professor of Film & Digital Media, Warren Sack presents an alternative history of computing that puts the arts at the center of software’s evolution.

Warren Sack is a media theorist, software designer, and artist whose work has been exhibited at SFMoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, and the ZKM Center for Art and Media. Warren is an affiliate of the Science & Justice Research Center, Chair and Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Find out more in the campus news article:

Read also:

Book Release! Warren Sack on The Software Arts (MIT Press, 2019)


Book Release! Jennifer Derr on The Lived Nile Environment, Disease, and Material Colonial Economy in Egypt (Stanford University Press, 2019)

About the Book

Book Cover for Derr’s “The Lived Nile: Environment, Disease, and Material Colonial Economy in Egypt”.

In October 1902, the reservoir of the first Aswan Dam filled, and Egypt’s relationship with the Nile River forever changed. Flooding villages of historical northern Nubia and filling the irrigation canals that flowed from the river, the perennial Nile not only reshaped agriculture and the environment, but also Egypt’s colonial economy and forms of subjectivity.

Science & Justice Affiliate, UC Santa Cruz Professor of History, Jennifer L. Derr, follows the engineers, capitalists, political authorities, and laborers who built a new Nile River through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The river helped to shape the future of technocratic knowledge, and the bodies of those who inhabited rural communities were transformed through the environmental intimacies of their daily lives. At the root of this investigation lies the notion that the Nile is not a singular entity, but a realm of practice and a set of temporally, spatially, and materially specific relations that structured experiences of colonial economy. From the microscopic to the regional, the local to the imperial, The Lived Nile recounts the history and centrality of the environment to questions of politics, knowledge, and the lived experience of the human body itself.

Jennifer L. Derr is an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an affiliate of the Science & Justice Research Center. Derr’s research interests include: Colonial and Post-colonial Middle Eastern history; environmental history; history of science; history of medicine; critical geography.

The book is available at:


2019 SJRC Graduate Student Research Fellowships

The Science & Justice Research Center is pleased to announce we are now accepting applications for:

Summer Fellowships

The award was established to support summer research conducted by graduate students currently working on Center projects or are in the Science & Justice Training Program (SJTP). Graduate students in any UC Santa Cruz department may apply. Preference will be given to applicants who have completed or are going through the Training Program. The award is intended as a stipend to support general living expenses, fieldwork, travel, presentation of work, and/or research. Award amounts will vary based on proposed outcomes; a maximum of $2,200; depending on proposals, up to two awards will be distributed.

Fellowship projects may include: independent and collaborative research.


The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative

Jail Care: Amplifying Santa Cruz Community Voices on Health & Incarceration

Just Biomedicine

Queer Ecologies Research Cluster

The student should:

  • be an enrolled graduate student at UC Santa Cruz (enrollment during summer not required).

  • be currently working on an established Center or SJTP hosted project.

The student will:

  • be compensated up to $2200; distributed half at the beginning of summer, half at the end of summer.

  • adhere to IRB standards for working with human research subjects.

To Apply:

By Monday, June 17, students should email ( expressing interest. Please let us know the following:

  1. your name, major, academic faculty advisors.

  2. name of the current project and any project faculty advisor(s); your role and experiences with the current project as related to items listed in the above outlined workplan (including human subjects research).

  3. why you are interested in the project and how your work/research/career goals would benefit from the fellowship.

  4. propose clear goals and intended outcomes with an outline of work to be completed over summer 2019; the methods of your research project; and briefly outline or describe the expenses to be supported by the award.

Information on SJRC Projects can be found at:

Information on the Science & Justice Training Program can be found at: