20 years on since Dolly – how do we feel about the ethics of cloning now?

Today marks 20 years since Dolly the Sheep was unveiled to the world by British scientists, at BBSRC’s Roslin Institute – which this month welcomed the appointment of a new director. Here ESRC-funded academic Sarah Franklin, who authored the book Dolly Mixtures, looks at where we currently stand on the ethics surrounding cloning.

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A designer sheep

On 22 February 1997 the world woke up to a new phenomenon: a cloned Scottish sheep named Dolly. She became a global superstar: famous because she was a completely normal sheep. Dolly embodied a famously misunderstood scientific technique, namely cloning. Continue reading

Genetics, technology, security and justice: the social life of DNA

matthias-wienroth-150Dr Matthias Wienroth is researcher and knowledge broker at the interface of the sociology of science and technology, public and policy engagement, ethics, and governance studies. He is part of the FP7 European Forensic Genetics (EUROFORGEN) Network of Excellence and Research Fellow at Northumbria University; he is also Visiting Researcher at the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences (PEALS) Research Centre, Newcastle University.

Here, in the latest of our biosocial blog series, he discusses the role of DNA and the research discussed in the ESRC-funded seminar series ‘Genetics, technology, security and justice: Crossing, contesting and comparing boundaries’

DNA evidence is often portrayed as vital to criminal investigations and trials. Just over 30 years ago, in 1984, Alec Jeffreys and his team at Leicester University discovered DNA profiling. In its first application it helped to exonerate one suspect and then build the case for the conviction of another. Today, DNA analysis is often perceived to be the ‘gold standard’ for evidence. Continue reading

Transforming what we know about how babies learn

In the latest in our series of biosocial blogs, Dr Victoria Leong, an ESRC Transformative Research Grant holder, and Dr Sam Wass, an ESRC Future Research Leader, talk about their research, which takes a new perspective on understanding how babies learn from their parents.

Dr Victoria Leong

Dr Victoria Leong

Dr Sam Wass

Dr Sam Wass


William James, the founding father of psychology, once declared that “Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalisation, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.”

Since then, the vast majority of researchers have followed his approach of assuming that attention (or concentration, in layman’s terms) is a property of individual minds, to be studied in isolation. Continue reading

How to combine sociology with biology – and why do it?

David Blane is professor emeritus of Imperial College London and professorial research associate of University College London. Former (2008-2012) deputy director of ESRC International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health (ICLS), his interests include health inequalities, social gerontology and life course research.

Here, in the latest of our biosocial blogs, Professor Blane gives his ‘how to’ on combining sociology and biology in research.


Rudolf Virchow was a physician who believed that “Medicine is a social science; and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale”.

Rudolf Virchow

Rudolf Virchow

In 1848 he served on a commission of investigation into an epidemic of typhus in Prussian Upper Silesia. His report identified the social conditions there that made typhus (a louse-borne disease) endemic, and periodically epidemic, and wrote a social prescription to eliminate these circumstances by building roads, schools, democracy and jobs. As well as being one of the founders of public health, Virchow was a medical specialist in pathology, which he saw as the way to understand the link between social conditions and disease. Continue reading

The AB(B)CDE of biosocial research

In the third of our series of blogs on biosocial research, Professor John Hobcraft – who for several years has been a Strategic Advisor to the ESRC on data resources in the longitudinal and biosocial domains – writes about how our behaviours and experiences alter our biology and our biology plays a part in shaping our behaviours

 John Hobcraft

Can we understand choices and behaviours without combining neuroscience and social science? Can we understand employment and social relationships without attention to mental and physical health, and the underlying biological pathways?  Continue reading