The pandemic taught us a lesson that we needed to learn again, says Alondra Nelson: Science and technology have everything to do with issues of society, inequality, and social life.
After a year in which science became politicized amid a pandemic and a presidential campaign, in January president-elect Joe Biden appointed Nelson deputy director of science and society in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a new position. Nelson will build a science and society division within the OSTP aimed at addressing issues ranging from data and democracy to STEM education. In another first, Biden made his science adviser Eric Lander, who is also director of OSTP, part of his cabinet.
Nelson has spent her career at the intersection of race, tech, and society, writing about topics like how Afrofuturism can make the world better and how the Black Panthers used health care as a form of activism, leading the organization to develop an early interest in genetics. She's the author of several books, including Social Life of DNA, which looks at the rise of the consumer genetics testing industry and how a desire to learn about their lineage led Black and Mormon people to become early users of the technology.
Nelson is a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Before her appointment, she was writing a book about the OSTP and major scientific initiatives of the Obama administration, which included a series of reports on AI and government policy.
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