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2021-22 Collaborative Research & Projects

Beyond Greenwashing: Rethinking the Role of the Fossil Fuel Industry for a Decarbonized World

Project Lead: Kyle Disselkoen (Chemistry)

Collaborators: Sally Benson (Energy Resources Engineering), Matt Tierney (Energy Resources Engineering), Christopher Chidsey (Chemistry), Adam Zweber (Philosophy), Sarah Holmes (Chemistry), Ken Shotts (Business; Political Science), Melissa Zhang (Business), David Harrison (Business), Josh Payne (Business), Halen Mattison (Mechanical Engineering)

While global efforts to reduce carbon emissions are imperative, the fossil fuel industry has contributed to decades of carbon build-up in the atmosphere and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Therefore, our project will organize and facilitate a summit that brings together leaders across the fossil fuel industry to engage in open and honest dialogue about the future of the industry, create a strategic blueprint, and commit to investments in technology with the potential to not just mitigate carbon emissions, but reverse them. Invited Stanford students will actively participate, preparing them for leadership positions where they will confront questions at the intersection of technology and ethics.

We believe that fossil fuel companies, by introducing carbon to the energy system, have both the ethical obligation and a unique position from which to tackle the challenge of re-capturing carbon at scale. Our project aims to advance not just our understanding of a many-faceted ethical problem, but also provide a meaningful component of the solution to the problem. Combating climate change requires all of us, and we need to bring the fossil fuel industry into the fight.

A Design Approach to the Anticipation and Communication of Ethical Implications of Ubiquitous Computing

Project Leads: Nava Haghighi (Computer Science), Matthew Jörke (Computer Science)
Collaborators: James Landay (Computer Science), Camille Utterback (Art and Art History), Jennifer King (HAI Privacy and Data Policy Fellow)

Machine learning and pervasive sensing have vast potential for social good. However, as increasingly invisible sensors collect increasingly intimate data, analyzed using complex and uninterpretable algorithms, the risk of ethics and privacy violations is growing as rapidly as technological progress. ⁣Anticipation and communication of ethical threats of technology remain a significant challenge for both technologists and legal scholars. 

We believe that threat identification should be anticipatory, involving the imagination of possible futures. We draw on speculative design methodologies (often used in the arts, science fiction, and design) as a framework for imagining possible threats before they arise. We also propose the concept of implication design, whereby products intuitively embed the ethical and privacy threats they contain in their design, instead of solely relying on privacy policies or legislation. 

We will be conducting an interdisciplinary workshop to examine how our proposed methodologies can best be used for anticipating and communicating ethical implications of technology by practitioners. We will use the insights from this workshop to identify design patterns, develop new standards, and offer a set of reusable practices and methodologies as a means for conveying real-world consequences of emerging technology. 

Bio Jam: Growing Community through Art, Culture, and BioMaking

Project Leads: Callie Chappell (Biology), Bryan Brown (Education), Megan Palmer (Bioengineering), Roshni Patel (Genetics), Wing-Sum Law (Mechanical Engineering)

Collaborators:  Rodolfo Dirzo (Biology), Briana Martin-Villa (Bioengineering), Jonathan Hernandez, Caroline Daws (Biology), Kelley Langhans (Biology), Josué Gil-Silva (Mechanical Engineering), Paloma Vazquez Juarez (Human Biology), Pagé Goddard (Genetics), Marco Pizarro (Computer Science)

BioJam is a whole-year academic program that engages high school students from underserved communities in the Bay Area of California in bioengineering and human-centered design. Specifically, we collaborate with teens in the East Bay, San Jose, Salinas, and South Monterey County. The BioJam leadership team integrates Stanford undergraduates, PhD students, and professors with Bay Area educators and community organizations.

Our mission is to engage teens through their own creativity and culture in bioengineering/biomaterial design and create pathways for them to share their learning in their home communities.​ Our vision is to: (1) Nurture teen knowledge, confidence, and curiosity as they grow into science practitioners and educators, (2) provide a research and training opportunity for scientists, and (3) create accessible entry points for community engagement in biotechnology. 

​Our program starts with a 2-week synchronous summer camp and continues with academic year programming where teens develop community engagement activities based on what they learned during camp. Our focus includes grown biomaterials, biomaterial recipes, circuitry components and live mycelium.

Stanford Consensus Conference on the Ethical Use of Social Media to Reduce COVID-19 Vaccine Disinformation

Project Leads: Dr. Michael Gisondi (Medicine) and Rachel Barber

Collaborators: Daniel Chambers, Jeffrey Hancock (communication), Jonathan Berek (medicine), Matthew Strehlow (medicine), Seema Yasmin (medicine), Toussaint Nothias (digital civil society lab)

Social media and other digital platforms are routinely leveraged to misinform the public about a range of social and political issues. In light of the COVID-19 public health crisis, there is an ethical imperative for social media companies to prevent the exploitation of their platforms in ways that further disinformation. We hypothesize that vaccine misinformation, accessed via social media and other digital platforms, will reduce public vaccine acceptance and vaccination rates. Social media platforms may be the most powerful tools we have for educating the public and improving vaccine acceptance. 

We will host a consensus conference on the ethical obligations of social media companies to mitigate COVID-19 vaccine disinformation. The consensus conference will engage experts in the fields of biomedical ethics, public health, and cyber policy with representatives from social media companies, popular blog sites, and the public. We hope to establish (1) an ethical mandate to address vaccine disinformation, (2) best practices for conducting a vaccine safety campaign on social media, (3) improved public confidence in vaccine safety, and (4) a prioritized research agenda to sustain future work on this topic.

Watch full recording here. 

Student-Facilitated Ethics Training for Life Scientists

Project leads: Josh Tycko (Genetics), Rachel Ungar (Genetics), Sedona Murphy (GENETICS), Olivia de Goede (GENETICS), Roshni Patel (GENETICS), Emily Greenwald (GENETICS)

The Genetics Advocacy Committee (TGAC) is a trainee-led organization of students, post-docs, and faculty collaborators that advocates for long-term improvements to our training program and organizes community solidarity actions. TGAC recently surveyed ~100 past and present PhD students in which 85% of trainees responded that there should be more ethics training. The existing offerings, while helpful, are not sufficient to cover the breadth of critical topics relevant to 21st century biosciences trainees.

We will meet the need for more ethics training for life scientists by 1) incorporating ethics into first-year training camp, 2) engaging our entire department in monthly facilitated conversations with experts in bioethics followed by small group breakout discussions, and 3) developing a student-facilitated course on ethics for life scientists. This 3-part approach creates engaging ethics training opportunities for everyone in our community, and will shift our culture towards the integration of life science ethics into the research environment itself. Importantly, the student-led model of TGAC prioritizes the requests of trainees, and is particularly concerned with equity. We will generate curricula, speaker lists, and actionable steps which student advocates in other departments could use to enhance their efforts, multiplying our impact on this common problem across training environments.

Technology and Racial Justice Graduate Fellowship Program

Project Lead: Daniel Murray (Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity)

Collabortors: Lucy Bernholz (Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society), Sharad Goel (Management Science and Engineering), Michele Elam (English), Michael Bernstein (Computer Science), Irene Lo (Management Science and Engineering), Dan Jurafsky (Linguistics), Jennifer Brody (Theater and Performance Studies)

The Technology and Racial Justice Graduate Fellowship Program will catalyze cross-disciplinary research and interventions, while developing a pipeline of scholars engaged in critical issues at the intersection of technology and racial justice. The program will create an interdisciplinary space to workshop graduate student research while supporting public-facing collaborations that expand the understanding of racial justice and technology. This multiracial cohort of graduate fellows will participate in a bi-weekly workshop overseen by faculty from engineering, social sciences, humanities, and other fields.

The impacts of new technologies on racial justice range from system design (bias in datasets and models, the implications of tech workforce diversity) to application (surveillance, affect recognition, smart cities) to policy/politics (local ordinances, electoral politics, and social movements). Avoiding harm and advancing racial justice requires interdisciplinary, cross-sector research and interventions by those engaged in AI system design and those who research the power and politics that shape society.

In addition to shaping graduate student research, the program supports students to develop interventions such as workshops, tools and position papers designed to help academic researchers better understand the racial justice implications of their research, as well as products designed for non-academic audiences and marginalized communities.

The program is led by the Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity, in partnership with Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab, Stanford HAI, and the School of Engineering Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Stanford Public Interest Tech Student Leadership Committee

Project Leads:  Leslie Garvin (Haas Center for Public Service), Daniel Murray (Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity)

Collaborators: Collin Anthony Chen (Center for Ethics in Society), Ashlyn Jaeger (Ethics, Society, and Technology Hub)

This grant will support the coordination and initiatives of the Stanford Public Interest Tech Student Leadership Committee (SLC), which is comprised of the leaders of PIT-related student organizations. Participating organizations have included Code the Change, CS + Social Good, Stanford Social Entrepreneurial Students' Association, the Stanford Society of Black Scientists and Engineers, The PIT Lab, and Women in Computer Science.

The purpose of the SLC is to collaborate to make PIT more visible and accessible to students in various fields of study; to enhance PIT student organization recruitment and member engagement; and, to promote and facilitate PIT research, internship, mentorship, and fellowship and career opportunities. A key deliverable of the SLC will be the completion of the Stanford PIT Guide. The Stanford PIT Guide is a response to growing interest in the general field of Public Interest Technology among Stanford students from all schools and majors, but a simultaneous lack of cohesion and student understanding of how to get involved in PIT. The PIT Guide will feature student organizations and their PIT-related initiatives, PIT research projects in departments and centers, PIT courses, and PIT-related internships and fellowships at Stanford.


Ethical Partnerships among Humans, Nature, and Machines

Project Leads: James Holland Jones (Stanford Earth), Margaret Levi (CASBS; Political Science), Zachary Ugolnik (CASBS)

We are in a crisis of our own design. Our relationship with nature and machines is unsustainable. Greenhouse gas emissions—largely from power generation, transportation, agriculture, and industry—are changing the climate at an alarming rate. We witness these effects daily from melting ice caps to prolonged drought, deforestation, forest fires, plant and animal extinction, rising sea levels, worsening air quality, and an increased rate of emergence of novel infectious diseases. COVID-19, for example, is intensifying economic inequality at the same time as it increases our technological dependence. As automation increases its impact upon more sectors of society, we must ask how jobs—and the lives we build around them—will be transformed. How do we ensure sustainable jobs and how do we optimize our relationship with machines to best serve our values and the planet?  If we are to survive, we need new relationships: an ethical partnership with nature, machines, and each other.

Great work is currently being done on the human-machine relationship and the human-nature relationship. But few efforts combine these sectors. This multi-year project fills that niche. This first phase facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration in the behavioral and social sciences, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence.


Precise AND Accurate - Learning to Support Individual Identity, Autonomy and Justice in Precision Medicine

Project Lead: Christian Rose (Medicine) and Jennifer Newberry (Medicine)

Precision medicine relies on accurate data. In the face of growing hunger for data to feed our clinical models, issues of accessibility immediately permeate our data sets. But how do we think about people and their histories when we attempt to convert their spectrum of experiences and unique traits into quantifiable numbers? This ethical conundrum may have deeper, insidious effects due to how we value each other, implicitly or explicitly, as evidenced by how we record and interpret data. Precise models trained on data skewed by years of limited access to quality care or structural racism may find erroneous correlations or exacerbate disparities instead of mitigating them.

With the support of the EST Hub Seed Grant, we plan to bring together a diverse, interdisciplinary group of scholars and employ a three-step modified Delphi method to identify key ethical challenges in the use of big data for precision medicine in the emergency care setting. After identifying and coming to consensus on the most pressing challenges, we will then host a speaker series to delve further into possible solutions and foster ongoing discussion so that we can continue to provide the best possible patient-centered care in the digital age.