An interview I conducted with Jenell Johnson, Ph.D., is featured in the Winter edition of e-lsc, the Department of Life Sciences Communication’s online alumni newsletter. Johnson is a Faculty Associate in the Department of Communication Arts and Associate Director of the Disability Studies Cluster, who recently joined LSC as its first Honorary Associate Fellow.
She discussed the rhetoric of science, turning a “scientific” lens onto science itself, UW-Madison’s Disability Studies Cluster and the “disability studies perspective,” as well as her two forthcoming books: The Neuroscientific Turn: Trandisciplinarity in the Age of the Brain and Medical Marvel: Lobotomy in American Medicine and Culture. Here’s an excerpt:
e-lsc: One thing that really struck me as interesting about your work is contextualizing science. What do you see as the implications of this?
Jenell Johnson: This is directly related to what a lot of people in LSC study, which is how do non-scientists come to understand science and medicine? I appreciate that people have really started to pay attention to engagements with science that take place in venues that we don’t often consider “legitimate” forms of science education, like AAAS public forums or the science and health sections of the New York Times. I think this is a big pay off from the influence cultural studies has had on the academy. We learn about science from things like postage stamps or through film, through fictionalized things, like comic books. What LSC is doing is bridging that gap.
Science communication that engages the imagination and the fictive is a really important conduct through which people engage with science, and I think it isn’t given enough attention. It might seem odd for the NSF to fund someone to study Michael Crichton, for example, but there’s no question that people learn about science from texts like that. The question is what they learn and how; and that’s where an interdisciplinary perspective comes to be very important, and where the perspective of literary critics or film scholars becomes very valuable.