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Catawba College First-Year Students Hear Author of "Why Things Bite Back"

November 17, 2005

Category: Academics, Students


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Catawba College's first-year students and their faculty heard from historian turned science editor, author Edward Tenner during his visit to campus Nov. 9 and 10.  Some students also had lunch with him after his speaking engagement and had him sign copies of his books. 

Tenner's "Why Things Bite Back" was Catawba's summer reading selection for first-year students.  The book, published in 1996, examines the unintended (positive and negative) consequences of technology and helped gain Tenner a worldwide cult-following.  In it, he offers profound insights and details about society's commonplace technological advances and their unintended consequences.  Some of these include air bags that were designed to save lives but which have killed infants; the gypsy moth introduced to the U.S. in the 1800s with the expectation that it would found a silk industry, but now requires expensive control methods; or antibiotics introduced in the 1940s and the subsequent evolution of bacteria that are resistant to them. 

Tenner is an independent writer, speaker and consultant on issues of technology and culture.  His most recent book is "Our Own Devices: The Past and Future of Body Technology," while a forthcoming book, "The Importance of Being Unimportant," is nearing completion.

After obtaining an undergraduate degree from Princeton University and a Junior Fellowship of the Harvard Society of Fellows, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.  He held teaching and research positions in Chicago and became science editor of the Princeton University Press, publishing general interest books and launching competitive series in astrophysics, animal behavior, and earth sciences.  While developing programs in the history of science and technology, an intellectually engaged Tenner resumed a writing career he had begun as an undergraduate. 

In 1991, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was appointed a visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study.  There he began a project on unintended consequences of technology that was published as "Why Things Bite Back."  His second book was developed while he was a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 1995-1996.  He has been a visiting researcher in the Princeton departments of Geosciences and English, and at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. 

Tenner is now a senior research associate of the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, and is also affiliated with the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies of the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University.  His essays, reviews and articles have appeared in many leading newspapers and magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom, but he now writes mainly for "U.S. News and World Report," the "Wilson Quarterly," "Technology Review," "Raritan Quarterly Review," "American Heritage of Invention and Technology," and "Designer/Builder."

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