Science, art and censorship

How far is too far when it comes to edgy comedy or art?

Knowing the risks, should scientists attempt to recreate in their labs viruses that have killed millions of people? How far should researchers dive into human genes in order to better understand and cure disease?

Prominent minds from disciplines across the University will come together at the fifth annual Founder's Day Symposium this month to hash out questions like these and discuss what—if any—are the limits to responsible artistic and scientific exploration.

The event, “Forbidden Knowledge: Science, Art and Censorship,” is free and open to the Penn community. It will be held on Jan. 15 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the School of Nursing’s Claire M. Fagin Hall, 418 Curie Blvd., in conjunction with the University's celebration of founder Ben Franklin’s birthday.

The annual symposium was started as a way to showcase Penn’s faculty and engage the University community, says Sherrill Adams, a professor of biochemistry in the School of Dental Medicine and past-chair of the Faculty Senate, the event’s sponsor. “We thought [this year’s topic] was of the broadest interest of all the possibilities we came up with,” she adds. “The basic question—the idea of forbidden knowledge—is whether there are limits beyond which science and art shouldn’t go.”

The panel discussion will be moderated by Provost Vincent Price, who is also a professor of communication in the Annenberg School and a professor of political science in the School of Arts and Sciences. He will be joined by several other faculty, including SAS psychology professor Martha Farah, director of Penn’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience; Gino Segre, a professor emeritus of physics and author of the book, “Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics”; Ralph Rosen, professor of classical studies and a scholar of censorship and edgy comedy and satire; Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, associate professor in the Department of the History of Art who studies race, gender, sexuality and class in American art; and Ruth Schwartz Cowan, a professor of the history and sociology of science who has taught and written about some of the ethics issues around genetic testing.

After the discussion, the audience will get a chance to ask questions of the panelists. A reception in the Carol Ware Gates Lobby will follow the symposium.

For more information, contact Sue White at 215-898-6943.

Originally published Jan. 7, 2010

Originally published on January 7, 2010