History of Medicine Forum: Gil Eyal on “Looping Genomes: Diagnostic Expansion and the Genetic Makeup of the Autism Population”

UCLA History of Medicine and Medical Humanities Research Forum is a series which provides opportunities for faculty, students, staff, and visiting researchers to present recent work or unfinished work-in-progress in an informal, presentation-and-discussion format.

The next program, on Monday, June 2, at 4:00pm, will be a presentation by Gil Eyal (Professor of Sociology, Columbia University) on “Looping Genomes: Diagnostic Expansion and the Genetic Makeup of the Autism Population”:

This paper builds on Hacking’s framework of “dynamic nominalism” to show how knowledge about genetic etiology can interact with the “kinds of people” delineated by diagnostic categories in ways that “loop” or modify both over time. We use historical materials to show how “geneticization” played a crucial role in binding together autism as a biosocial community, and how evidence of genetic etiology later made an important contribution to the diagnostic expansion of autism. In the second part of the paper, moreover, we present quantitative and qualitative analyses of autism rates over time in conditions that are delineated strictly according to genomic anomalies  to demonstrate that changes in diagnostic practice helped to create autism’s enormous genetic heterogeneity. Thus, a looping process, which began with geneticization and involved the social effects of genetics research itself, transformed the genetic makeup of the autism population. In conclusion, we discuss the implications of this finding for genetics researchers, sociologists of science and medicine and stakeholders.

Coffee and light refreshments will be available.  (Please be advised that we require reservations because of university policy; we must submit a list of confirmed attendees when placing our catering order).

Seating is limited; reservations are required. Reservations may be made on or before Wednesday, May 28 at 12:00 noon, by contacting History and Special Collections for the Sciences (voice: 310.825.6940; email: speccoll-medsci@library.ucla.edu).

Attendees may be familiar with Dr. Eyal’s latest book, The Autism Matrix: The Social Origins of the Autism Epidemic (with Brendan Hart, Emine Onculer, Neta Oren and Natasha Rossi. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010). His website at Columbia University explains, the book “provides a sociological explanation for the current autism epidemic, and traces the blurring of boundaries between experts and laypeople that play a role in the dynamics leading to the epidemic” (http://sociology.columbia.edu/node/65, accessed 17 May 2014). The Autism Matrix received the 2012 Robert K. Merton Book Award from the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association.

This UCLA History of Medicine and Medical Humanities Research Forum (this is the 19th meeting) is made possible by the Program in Social Studies in Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA;  the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Program in the UCLA Department of History; and by History & Special Collections for the Sciences, UCLA Library Special Collections.

Upcoming program:

6 June 2014  (Friday, 12:30pm; this is the regular meeting day and time)
Rob Schraff, PhD candidate in History
Making LSD a Psychotomimetic in Los Angeles, 1950s-1960s


Russell Johnson
History & Special Collections for the Sciences
UCLA Library Special Collections

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