Embryos have scientific meanings and various different social meanings.  Sometimes metaphysical assumptions matter most, sometimes epistemological convictions, sometimes the social uses. Maienschein will look at 125 years of embryo research, while pointing to selected examples where science intersects with society. In vitro fertilization made early human embryos visible, ultrasound gave later embryos and fetuses an interpreted look that parents often take a presenting reality. These have shaped social interpretations of what embryos (and fetuses) are. That, in turn, affects law and policy. Maienschein will discuss a recent court case for which she served as an expert witness because of her work in history and philosophy of science, and her role in education of federal judges. Yet, the co-existing divergent meanings of life ensure that scientific knowledge will never dictate public understanding. And that raises questions about the useful role of philosophers and historians of science in society. 


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