In May 27, 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to visit the site of the world’s first atomic bombing. In a speech that day at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Obama proclaimed that the “scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.” In this lecture, Dr. Alondra Nelson considers the “politics of ethics” that was a signature of the Obama administration’s approach to science and technology. This politics of ethics endeavored to place temporal distance between scientific research of the past and present, enabling claims about the importance of federal science to national wellbeing, broadly conceived. In particular, she will examine the roll-out of the Precision Medicine Initiative that incorporated plainspoken acknowledgement of prior discrimination in government-backed scientific research as a necessary predicate to the successful enrollment of research subjects—especially those from minority populations—into the program.
Alondra Nelson, President of the Social Science Research Council and Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, is an acclaimed researcher and author, who explores questions of science, technology, and social inequality. Nelson’s books include, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discriminationand The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome. She is coeditor of Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race and History (with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee) and Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life (with Thuy Linh Tu). Nelson serves on the board of directors of the Teagle Foundation and the Data & Society Research Institute. She is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and of the Hastings Center, and is an elected Member of the Sociological Research Association.