September 21, 2018
Frankenstein Friday: Creator or Creation? Who’s the Real Monster?

Ethicists ask, “Is it wrong for scientists and innovators to work and create in isolation?”

Thanks to a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the creativity of our program partners, nearly 600 Frankenstein programs are taking place across Indiana in 2018. We thought we’d look back to one of the earliest of these for this edition of Frankenstein Friday.

Indiana Humanities partnered with Examining Ethics, a nationally distributed podcast produced at DePauw University’s Prindle Institute for Ethics, to generate an episode exploring one or more of the science ethics questions at the heart of Mary Shelley’s novel. We had previously partnered with Examining Ethics on some episodes related to the Indiana Bicentennial and were excited to bring in the humanities disciplines of ethics and philosophy, as well as to create a piece of media that could spread far beyond the borders of the Hoosier State. The episode made its debut last October; you can listen to it here.

Early on, we weren’t sure what path to pursue; the novel itself encourages us to think about so many! These include:

  • To what extent are scientists responsible for the effects of their creation?
  • What rights do engineered or lab-created beings have?
  • How do we evaluate whether a scientific innovation is good or bad?
  • What values should guide us as we navigate the increasingly porous boundaries between artificial and natural, human and machine and other developments in science and technology?
  • Are there limits to what we, as humans, should pursue in the name of science? If so, what are they?

Producer Christian Wisehart and Prindle Institute director Andy Cullison circled around a few possibilities and ultimately landed on another big ethical question, one that scientists continue to grapple with: “Is it wrong for scientists and innovators to work and create in isolation?”

You’ll love it! Christian and Andy do a close reading of the novel to unpack how Mary Shelley might have answered that question—and what debates about education and scientific research she was responding to in the early 19th century. On the episode you’ll also hear from two of our Frankenstein project scholars, Dr. Monique Morgan of Indiana University Bloomington and Dr. Jason Kelly of IUPUI, who each lend their own expertise on the history of science and how it has been understood and debated over time.

The episode was an immediate hit—it was the first Examining Ethics episode to generate more than 1,000 downloads on the day of its release, and is the most downloaded episode of the show to date! Though it’s tricky to measure podcast audiences, the producers tell us it has had listeners from across the U.S. as well as the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe and Australia.

If you haven’t tuned in, what are you waiting for?! If you like what you hear, we encourage you to subscribe to Examining Ethics for other stimulating yet accessible discussions about ethics, produced right here in Indiana!


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