I’m Alice Dreger and I’m honored to host @WetheHumanities this week. In terms of scholarship, I do history and philosophy of anatomy. I earned my Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Indiana University in 1995.
That field captured my love of both the humanities and the sciences, and while I thought when I started grad school that I would become primarily a philosopher, I’ve primarily become an historian. (Much as I like thinking about cognitive and ethical structures, I really like working within the particulars of the real world.) My dissertation work took me in the direction of history and philosophy of medicine and also into patient advocacy around intersex care, and that’s where I’ve stayed for many years now. My work largely centers around feminism, disability studies, and sex positivity.
One thing I love to do as a person working in the humanities is to critically examine and also to translate science and medicine for general audiences. I’ve written about science, medicine, and life for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New Statesman, The Scientist, the L.A. Times, Pacific Standard, and Psychology Today.
My latest book, published by Penguin Press in March 2014, is Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science. I have an e-book coming out soon with Amazon Kindle Singles on how to talk with your children honestly about sex, following my live-tweeting of my son’s sex ed class accidentally going viral, and I’m currently co-editing an anthology called Bioethics in Action, consisting of first-person stories from people who have tried to fix particular ethical problems in medical practice and medical research. Philosopher and bioethicist Françoise Baylis of Dalhousie University is my fellow editor. Cambridge University Press will be publishing that volume.
Those of us working in history and philosophy of science and medicine tend to be more obsessed with data and facts than our humanist colleagues in general, and I’m no exception there. But I also don’t like it when scientists (some of whom, uh, blurb my books) write off the humanities as if our fields have no use. I very much believe in the humanities as critically important to helping people find meaning, morality, and purpose in our current world. That my eighty-year-old mother still reads Greek and Roman philosophy with her breakfast toast, and that my uber-geeky son purposefully reads memoirs, poetry, and novels, suggests to me I’m not wrong.
I’m currently not affiliated with a university. I reluctantly resigned my position from Northwestern University’s Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program in August of 2015 following my dean’s censorship of an article on disability and sexuality that I edited for our medical humanities journal. It was a part-time position because I gave up a tenured position in 2005 to do more of what I wanted in my life. (I’m lucky to be in a romantic partnership through which my spouse provides economic and moral patronage.)
I feel honored to curate the We the Humanities Twitter feed this week. There is so much I’d like to talk with you all about, including how we view/treat “independent scholars” and people who work in the humanities without Ph.D.s, what the medical humanities are all about (and why they are definitely not the same as “bioethics”), how we think about fiction versus non-fiction including when “non-fiction” contains imagined dialogue, and the importance of story-telling to the human experience.
My personal website is alicedreger.com.