- Ph.D., History of Science, Harvard University
- B.A., Hampshire College
Mike Fortun is a historian and anthropologist of the life sciences whose research has focused on the contemporary science, culture, and political economy of genomics. His work has covered the policy, scientific, and social history of the Human Genome Project in the U.S.; the growth of commercial genomics and bioinformatics in the speculative economies of the 1990s; and the emergence of transdisciplinary research programs in toxicogenomics, addiction, and environmental health.
His most recent book is Promising Genomics: Iceland and deCODE Genetics in a World of Speculation (University of California Press 2008), an ethnographic account of deCODE Genetics in Iceland. From 2006-2010 he was co-editor (with Kim Fortun) of Cultural Anthropology, the journal of the Society for Cultural Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association.
He is completing a book manuscript titled Care of the Data, examining how genome scientists have developed new protocols for dealing with “Big Data” collections and flows, the challenge of analyzing “geneXenvironment interactions,” and the meaning of genomics research for both public health and basic science. Through interviews, analysis of scientific publications and observation of scientists at work, he has identified four “modes of care” exercised by scientists best attuned to the complexities of data, of genomics, and of the social implications of their research.
He is also currently a leader in an effort to build a digital humanities platform to support collaborative ethnographic research to understand how individuals and organizations are working to address the global air quality crisis and epidemic incidence of asthma. “The Asthma Files” project (theasthmafiles.org) aims to advance understanding of factors that condition societal capacity to deal with complex problems such as environmental public health. He is also a co-chair of the Research Data Alliance’s Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group, developing metadata standards for ethnographic and historical research data and objects.