Alondra Nelson (Columbia University) gave the Annual SFI Lecture on March 31, 2015. Entitled “The Social Life of DNA in the Era of Big Data,” the lecture focused on the expansive use of genetic ancestry testing, the 2013 controversy over the decoding of the genome of Henrietta Lacks, the growing phenomenon of familial searching in the criminal justice system, and the unique features of DNA as big data.
Alondra Nelson is Dean of Social Sciences and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University. Her research focuses on the intersections of science, technology, medicine, and inequality. Her books include Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History; Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination; and Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. Her latest book,The Social Life of DNA, will be published next year. She is presently engaged in new ethnographic research that examines grassroots responses to the STEM field crisis. Nelson is the recipient of fellowships from the Ford, Wilson, and Mellon Foundations. She has been a visiting fellow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Medicine, the BIOS Center at the London School of Economics, and the Bavarian American Academy. She sits on the editorial board of Social Studies of Science and serves as an advisor to the Data & Society Research Institute in New York City.