December 03, 2019 | Forensic Genomics: New Frontiers and New Considerations

Tuesday, December 03


Namaste Lounge

Science & Justice Visiting Scholar and UC Santa Cruz Anthropology Alum, Cris Hughes, unites academics and forensic practitioners to discuss historical and current field training, genomic technological applications in forensic investigations, the problems and limits of interpretation, the resources available, and the incentives practitioners face tied to case resolution.

In addition, the event will focus on the societal and ethical questions raised by novel uses of genetics/genomics in forensics work. Think Golden Gate killer case, in which law enforcement used a publicly available server with genomic information from thousands of individuals who have completed commercial ancestry kits, to find potential leads for the assailant in question, a use not anticipated by many users of this ‘recreational’ service. There are also many difficult questions about whether and how DNA technologies are being used to identify ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity.’ As with any science with a public impact, thinking critically about the balance between ELSI (Ethical, Legal and Social Implications) concerns and the need to solve cases is an essential part of responsible science. For example, looking at police and lay perceptions of race, ancestry, and physical appearance, as well as the caveats with new genetic tools like HIrisPlex and Parabon’s® Snapshot® that are being incorporated into case investigations at an alarming rate.

This event follows the outcomes of the recently launched Forensic Genomics for Investigators course first offered for California investigators through P.O.S.T. November 12, 2019 here in Santa Cruz.

Bridget F.B. Algee-Hewitt is a biological anthropologist at Stanford University who studies skeletal and genetic trait variation in modern humans. Her research combines data analytic and hands-on laboratory approaches to the estimation of the personal identity parameters – like sex, ancestry, stature, and age – that are essential components of the biological profile used in forensic identification of unknown human remains and for the paleodemographic reconstruction of past population histories in bioarchaeology. Concerns for social justice, human rights, and issues of group disparities underlie much of her work. As a practicing forensic anthropologist and geneticist, she provides forensic casework consultation to the medico-legal community.

Ed Green is an Associate Professor of Biomolecular Engineering at UCSC and a principle investigator for the Paleogenomics lab. The Green lab, is interested in genome biology, particularly focused on the problems of assembly and comparative genome analysis. Recent and ongoing projects include genome-scale analysis of archaic human genome sequence, comparative genomics of Crocodilia, and the development of new methods to assemble high quality de novo genomes. The lab is also interested in applying high-throughput sequencing to address questions in molecular biology including the evolution of gene expression, alternative splicing, and population genetics.

Lars Fehren-Schmitz is both a physical anthropology professor at UCSC and principle investigator for the Human Paleogenomics lab. His research focuses on furthering the understanding of South American population history through altitude adaptation and human-environment systems.

Cris Hughes is a forensic anthropologist interested in perceptions of race, and the use of ancestry in both forensic investigations and the practice of forensic anthropology. Cris uses genetic and skeletal data to study estimates of ancestry in present day Latin American populations and is particularly interested in how ancestry as a piece of information drawn from the body, can impact the identification process of that person. As an Assistant Clinical Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cris has lectured at  annual Genomics for™ workshops (e.g. Genomics for™ Teachers, Genomics for™ Judges, Genomics for™ Prosecutors, and Genomics for™ Police) since 2013 as an outreach affiliate for the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the UIUC. Recently, Cris’ work with ancestry is centered around the deaths of migrants along the US-Mexico border. Cris is a visiting scholar with the UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, and UC Santa Cruz Anthropology alum.

Co-Sponsored By: The UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the UC Santa Cruz Institute for Social Transformation, Colleges Nine and Ten, the Anthropology and Sociology Departments, the Human Paleogenomics Lab, the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute, The Humanities Institute, and the Center for Racial Justice.

Rapporteur Report by Dennis Browe

Forensic Genomics: New Frontiers and New Considerations aimed to explore the big-picture issues of recent, rapid advancements in forensic genomics through an ELSI lens (ethical, legal, & social implications) of novel technologies. Jenny Reardon, Founding Director of the Science & Justice Research Center (SJRC), gave introductory remarks highlighting how this topic – the entanglements of race and genomics – has been a long-standing concern and an ongoing line of inquiry within the SJRC. Thus, for Dr. Reardon, hosting this event was a delight as it is part of a constellation of events and working groups. This event also served as a public follow-up to the recently launched Forensic Genomics for Investigators course first offered for investigators through California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) on November 12, 2019 in partnership with SJRC, the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

As the lead course instructor and event’s convener and moderator, Dr. Cris Hughes (Assistant Clinical Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and S&J Visiting Scholar), began with an overview of the current state of genomic technologies, their use in forensic investigations by law enforcement for solving crimes, and the vital ethical and societal issues raised by these technologies that must be attended to. If the main tension raised during this event could be summarized in one thought, it would be: How can the growing use of forensic genomics to serve the needs of law enforcement for solving violent crimes be balanced against concerns about both privacy and malfunctions of justice that many have when it comes to increased surveillance by law enforcement? Or, how are novel forensic genomics tools actually being used, how can they be used, and how should they be used?

Dr. Hughes began by reviewing how DNA is used in forensic investigations by law enforcement. A multi-state DNA-database pilot program was established by the FBI in 1990, which then expanded into a national DNA database after Congress passed the DNA Identification Act in 1994. The database is known as CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). Using the genetic markers in the database for identification of DNA allows investigators to make a 1:1 match – there is such high probability that many think of it as a purely objective decision. However, even during the founding of CODIS, many raised questions about the privacy implications of our government managing DNA from individuals; The government responded by arguing that CODIS was a database, first, for offenders only, and second, that CODIS used genetic markers only from the “junk DNA” region of the genome, meaning that since this is not a protein-coding region there would be no threats to privacy of individuals. Part of the impetus of this event is that the notion of “junk DNA” is turning out to be misleading, as there are more identifiable genetic markers in this “junk” region of the genome than previously assumed.

Dr. Hughes assessed the pros and cons of using CODIS for forensic investigations. The database, being wrapped in bureaucratic regulations, is steady and accurate when it works. It has gone through decades of validation and analysis and there is extensive consistency in the methods used for interacting with CODIS. Also, since CODIS is tied in with a multitude of laws and regulations, change to using the system and database comes very slowly: this allows for time to assess and critique ELSI impacts related to its procedures. However, the nature of CODIS as slow-moving and heavily regulated places limits on the capabilities that investigators have for working with DNA evidence. Since forensic genetic technologies are rapidly evolving, for Dr. Hughes and others it is necessary to question the benefits and drawbacks of CODIS compared to novel methods that could be used by law enforcement for solving crimes. Dr. Hughes stated that we are again at a moment of “new tech, old concerns: privacy and surveillance, bias, policy and regulation, etc.”

Each expert panel member then presented on how they work with forensic genomics either directly or indirectly, also highlighting the tensions of and in their work. Bridget F.B. Algee- Hewitt, a biological anthropologist at Stanford working at the intersections of forensic science, computational biology, and social justice, helps to identify the bodies of migrants who have died crossing the US-Mexico border, highlighting a kind of double-edged sword of forensic technologies. Her work on CODIS STRs (a type of genetic marker, which she then matches to SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) in CODIS) can help migrant families identify their lost loved ones, but these scientific techniques can simultaneously help ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) with its surveillance and targeting of migrants for punitive purposes.

A tension surfaced between the other two panelists’ presentations in a humorous way, which, tellingly, captures the main tension of forensic genomics identified by Dr. Hughes: finding a balance between working with law enforcement to solve crimes and being wary of law enforcement due to its history of perpetuating injustices against communities it has sworn to protect (as evidenced by the long history of the racism of U.S. police as a whole). During his presentation, Lars Fehren-Schmitz (associate professor of physical anthropology at UCSC), quipped that he is hesitant to work with law enforcement (presumably for the reasons just mentioned). Ed Green (associate professor of biomolecular engineering at UCSC) then replied by stating that he “likes working with the police, a lot. If someone gets murdered, they [the perpetrator] should be caught.” Further, in opposition to worries about increased surveillance that may come about through novel forensic genomics technologies, Dr. Green feels that there is a “democratization of genomics and forensics happening. It is more citizen-driven.” Riding this tension in its many dimensions will continue to be a key issue as these technologies develop which threaten the ubiquitous use of the FBI’s CODIS database, especially as law enforcement offices are beginning to look to outside labs for their assumed superior technical capabilities (and their lack of regulations) to conduct forensic DNA investigations.

A fast-paced discussion with the audience then followed, covering a number of topics:

Accreditation standards and best practices: Dr. Hughes questioned whether new forensics labs should be expected to adhere to the same standards of labs using CODIS DNA, since many of these emerging labs lack accreditation standards. The panelists weighed the pros and cons of accreditation – what it can help with and what it might fail to cover. For Dr. Fehren-Schmitz, accreditation gives some semblance of security (if a lab is accredited it is assumed that it will follow best practices and do good science), yet, in his experience, just having these policies and procedures in place does not necessarily guarantee the best results. He gave an example of how relying on being accredited can actually lead to lazy scientific practice. Dr. Hughes then touched

on the question of best practices: making best practices too specific requires a massive amount of labor to continually update guidelines to keep up with quickly emerging forensic technologies, yet if best practices guidelines are too general they won’t actually regulate anything. For example, the use of familial searching of genealogical databases by investigators is highly regulated on a state-by-state basis. Perhaps, offered Dr. Hughes, focusing on policy regulation is more necessary than accreditation itself?

Assisting law enforcement with informed decision-making processes: related to best practices is the question of how to help law enforcement decide what forensic technologies and labs to use or not use. How, for example, can we help law enforcement vet particular high-quality (ideally not-for-profit) labs over other labs? How can forensic geneticists aid law enforcement in making these decisions? Dr. Green mentioned one “obvious thing”: make sure to communicate the technical aspects of what cannot be done with the DNA versus what can be done from the very beginning of responding to requests by law enforcement. For Dr. Hughes, one issue is that law enforcement is expected to be experts in everything, which leads to a lack of specific knowledge in technical aspects of crime solving such as using DNA evidence. She would like to build a network of scientific consultants that aren’t necessarily tied to for-profit forensic labs, to help law enforcement vet which labs to turn to for DNA analysis and technical assistance.

Scientific genetic literacy: For Dr. Fehren-Schmitz, the question of assisting with informed decision-making processes is tied directly to scientific literacy (or lack thereof) concerning genetics of the general population and even law enforcement offices. He stated that “we can make it seem like magic because people don’t have basic information about how genetic information is inherited, what genotypes and phenotypes are.” Thus, the market is open for things like “Soccer DNA,” a company that uses genetic pseudoscience to tell customers if their DNA gives them a natural talent for excelling at soccer. Dr. Algee-Hewitt agreed with this, stating that “nothing makes [her] life more difficult than seeing commercials for direct-to- consumer genetic ancestry testing.” These commercials advance the concept that, say, a value of 7% “Scandinavian” or “East Asian” DNA is an important part of the customer’s identity; yet, as geneticists know, such a small value is often not a meaningful value (if itis within the range of error). For her, a main job for scientists is to relay quality information to the general public and to push back against the dissemination of false information such as that being pushed in these commercials.

National Differences: The issue was raised about national differences in ways that forensic scientists are asked to work with law enforcement. The details matter, and any discussions must be situated within the contexts of national laws, regulations, and accepted best practices. For example, in different countries, forensic experts will have different roles to play in the criminal case: in some countries scientists will be asked to testify in trials as expert witnesses while in other countries experts will never participate in a trial but will provide the scientific legwork for law enforcement to press charges. Here, Dr. Algee-Hewitt stressed a key point: the science must be done well. If the DNA forensics work does not get done right, from the very beginning, nothing in the investigative case will get done properly. For her, concerned as she is with questions of social justice, DNA forensics is never just a number or a case, but is much bigger, with implications that will greatly affect families and communities.

Looking Toward the Future: With the rapid development of technologies for forensic genomics, Dr. Hughes stressed that a key theme of the event was looking toward the future: “What do we do with the potential of these new technologies?” For example, as both Dr. Green and Dr. Algee-Hewitt demonstrated, we now know “there is no real junk DNA.” Whereas CODIS, built in the early 1990s, was premised on the fact that certain genetic markers would help identify and match individuals based on their DNA profiles but tell nothing else, scientists are increasingly showing how related genetic markers can potentially (probabilistically) reveal much more about a person, such as their ancestry and other traits.

Dr. Hughes ended the event by making a case and a plea for the importance of building bridges between scientists, the public, and law enforcement: she and others at SJRC and beyond are continuing to build a table for many to gather around to discuss the growing uses of forensic genomics and how we are able to respond to the need for expanded genetic literacy by offering future iterations of the Forensic Genomics for Investigators course. For Dr. Hughes, we must put front-and-center vital questions about the balance between maximizing the utility of this science and raising concomitant questions of ethics and justice.

November 12, 2019 | Forensic Genomics for Investigators P.O.S.T. Course

8:30am – 5:00pm

Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Community Room

5200 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

Course Description

This 8-hour course is designed to assist understanding and engagement with new genomic technologies that are increasingly common as investigative leads, such as, DNA-predicted physical appearance (hair/eye/skin color, face shape) and ancestry estimations.

This course provides foundational information about the use and limitations of genomic technologies in the context of casework (both criminal and missing persons). Through activities and discussions, course participants will engage some of the common contexts in applying these DNA evidences to casework, such as translating ancestry to race labels, accounting for the accuracy of the genetic prediction in your investigation, and using the genetic results to narrow down your leads.

The course also offers a step-by-step guide to deciding which investigative genetics technology is right for an array of casework contexts (e.g. low quality DNA, DNA mixture, lead or no lead, skeletal DNA, touch DNA, diversity of suspect pool).


No fee


To improve the attendee’s understanding of the uses and limitations of genetic predictors of physical appearance and ancestry in case investigations. To develop a protocol for assessing the most useful genetic test (beyond CODIS), given the quality of the DNA and the case context. To provide a network of genetic researchers and practitioners for consultation.

Prerequisites and Eligibility

Must be currently employed by a Law Enforcement Agency. Participation in this workshop is limited to law enforcement practitioners where having an up-to-date grasp of genomic technological applications is imperative. This workshop is formatted and approved as an accredited continuing education course through the Commission for Peace Officers Standards and Training for California law enforcement.

Special Instructions 

An anonymous survey may be emailed to you prior to the start of the course to better understand the incoming perspectives and interests of the attendees.

To Register

Qualified participants are to enroll through Contact Dr. Cris Hughes at refer to POST Plan: N/A POST Course Number: 3180-11160-19. Participation will be capped at 65 attendees.

For information about the hosting agency, contact Dr. Lauren Zephro;

Course Instructors

Dr. Cris Hughes, Assistant Clinical Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Alison Galloway, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz 

Dr. Chelsey Juarez, Assistant Professor, California State University, Fresno

Dr. Lauren Zephro, Forensic Services Director, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office

Sponsored By

The UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


This course preceded an on-campus panel discussion Forensic Genomics: New Frontiers and New Considerations, hosted by the SJRC, aimed to explore the big-picture issues of recent, rapid advancements in forensic genomics through an ELSI lens (ethical, legal, & social implications) of novel technologies. The description and rapporteur report can be found at: .

Mar 12, 2019 | Safiya Umoja Noble on The Algorithms of Oppression and Theorizing Race After Race

Professionalization Workshop: Career Building with Safiya Umoja Noble

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Time: 11:40 – 1:00pm
Location: Rachel Carson College 301

As part of their Professionalization Workshop Series, the Sociology Department will host a discussion with Safiya Umoja Noble, faculty and graduate students on various aspects of career building, such as: creating public platforms for your work, creating and activating a support network, getting your work seen and heard, relationships with publishers, social media use. Seating will be limited to room size, rsvp to

Theorizing Race After Race with Safiya Umoja Noble

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Time: 5:00 – 6:00pm
Location: Mural Room, Oakes College

Faculty and students of SJRC’s Theorizing Race After Race group, and Jenny Reardon’s graduate seminar Sociology 260: Culture, Knowledge, Power invite you to join a discussion on the overt return to race facilitated and mediated by novel forms of science and technology: genomics; machine learning; algorithmically driven media platforms. Seating will be limited to room size, rsvp to

Safiya Umoja Noble on Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press)

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press)

Time: 7:00pm, reception to follow
Location: Kresge Town Hall

The landscape of information is rapidly shifting as new imperatives and demands push to the fore increasing investment in digital technologies. Yet, critical information scholars continue to demonstrate how digital technology and its narratives are shaped by and infused with values that are not impartial, disembodied, or lacking positionality. Technologies consist of a set of social practices, situated within the dynamics of race, gender, class, and politics, and in the service of something – a position, a profit motive, a means to an end.

In this talk, Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble will discuss her new book, Algorithms of Oppression, and the impact of marginalization and misrepresentation in commercial information platforms like Google search, as well as the implications for public information needs.

Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble is an Associate Professor at UCLA in the Departments of Information Studies and African American Studies, and a visiting faculty member to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor in Department of Media and Cinema Studies and the Institute for Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2019, she will join the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford as a Senior Research Fellow.

She is the author of a best-selling book on racist and sexist algorithmic bias in commercial search engines, entitled Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press).

Safiya is the recipient of a Hellman Fellowship and the UCLA Early Career Award. Her academic research focuses on the design of digital media platforms on the internet and their impact on society. Her work is both sociological and interdisciplinary, marking the ways that digital media impacts and intersects with issues of race, gender, culture, and technology. She is regularly quoted for her expertise by national and international press on issues of algorithmic discrimination and technology bias, including The Guardian, the BBC, CNN International, USA Today, Wired, Time, and The New York Times, to name a few.

Dr. Noble is the co-editor of two edited volumes: The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Culture and Class Online and Emotions, Technology & Design. She currently serves as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies, and is the co-editor of the Commentary & Criticism section of the Journal of Feminist Media Studies. She is a member of several academic journal and advisory boards, including Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education. She holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Library & Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a B.A. in Sociology from California State University, Fresno where she was recently awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for 2018.

Co-Sponsored by the UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, Kresge College’s Media & Society Seminar Series, The Genomics Institute Office of Diversity, The Humanities Institute, the department of Sociology, and the Center for Data, Discovery and Decisions (D3).

March 5, 2018 | Can We Build a Trustworthy and Trusted Press: The Trust Project Challenge

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

7:00pm (reception to follow)

Kresge Town Hall

We all think we can tell the difference between information designed to deceive and journalism designed to inform. But how do we really know? Join Sally Lehrman in a discussion of this critical question in a climate of mistrust and misinformation. Lehrman, an award-winning journalist and Visiting Science & Justice Professor, founded and leads  the The Trust Project, a consortium of top news companies that are developing publicly accessible standards for assessing the quality and credibility of the news you see online.

Read all about The Trust Protocol and The Trust Project and its news partners (the Economist, Globe and Mail, the Independent Journal Review, Mic, Italy’s La Repubblica and La Stampa, Spain’s El País and El Mundo, the Washington Post, and more) at the following links:

The Verge: Facebook adds trust indicators to news articles in an effort to identify real journalism

CNN Tech: Facebook, Google, Twitter to fight fake news with ‘trust indicators’

The Atlantic: What People Really Want From News Organizations

The Trust Project research: Trust Indicators boost readers’ perceptions of news credibility

Sally Lehrman founded and directs the Trust Project, an international consortium of news outlets implementing a transparency standard for journalism to help the public — and news distribution platforms — identify quality news out of the hubbub online. Lehrman was named one of MediaShift’s Top 20 Digital Innovators in 2018 for this work. An award-winning reporter on medicine and science policy with an emphasis on coverage of social diversity, her honors also include a Peabody Award, duPont-Columbia and the John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University, among others. Lehrman’s byline credits include Scientific American, Nature, Health, The Boston Globe, The New York Times,, and The DNA Files, distributed by NPR. Her book, “News in a New America,” argues for an inclusive U.S. news media. Her co-edited volume on covering structural inequality is due out from Routledge in 2019. She is Science and Justice Professor at the UC-Santa Cruz Center for Science and Justice.

Co-Sponsored by the UC Santa Cruz Science and Justice Research Center and Kresge College’s Media & Society Seminar Series.

April 05, 2017 | Post Conflict Battlefield Landscape Recovery – or Not?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017
4:00-6:00 PMLIDAR Digital Elevation Model of Fort Douamont and Surrounding Landscape
Engineering 2, room 599


The multiple forms of disturbances rendered by conflict upon landscapes around the world demonstrate that this anthropogenic agent is an incredible force that is capable of exerting an influence on the environment in a wide variety of ways, yet the bridge between geomorphology and environmental histories of battlefields is rarely made. This research associated with this presentation examines two case study battlefields, and how post-conflict land-use patterns are tied into what we see on the contemporary landscape of today. Also emphasized in the presentation are how various geospatial data collection tools and methods can be utilized with geospatial software to model the changes rendered to landscapes due to conflict, and to link these disturbances with modern land-use patterns.

Joe Hupy (Associate Professor of Geography, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire)
Joseph Hupy earned his PhD in geography from Michigan State University using soils as a proxy indicator for landscape stability following disturbances rendered by explosive munitions in World War One. Out of that research he coined the term ‘bombturbation’, which describes how soils are disturbed from explosive munitions, one of many forms of anthropogeomorphology where humans shape the landscape. The research surrounding World War One bombturbation led towards examination of other battlefields around the world, including research forays on the Viet Nam battlefield of Khe Sanh in 2007 and 2009. Research on all these battlefields relied upon a myriad of geospatial equipment and Geographic Information System modeling techniques. Out of that research and most recently, Joe has begun to use Unmanned Aerial Systems as a tool to gather data, and hopes to revisit other world battlefields in collaboration with other researchers in different disciplines using this technology as a tool.

In discussion with Science & Justice Graduate Fellow Jeff Sherman (Politics).
Co-Sponsored by the Anthropology department and the Center for Creative Ecologies.

April 20, 2017 | Data Under Threat: Rescuing Environmental Data in the Trump Era

Thursday, April 20, Noon-1pm
2nd Floor Instruction & Outreach Alcove
McHenry Library

In recognition of Endangered Data Week, Dr. Lindsey Dillon will discuss her recent experience as a coordinator of a network of academics and non-profits monitoring potential threats to federal environmental and energy policy data at the onset of the Trump administration.

Discussion will follow the presentation. Bring your lunch, questions, observations and experiences. Learn about data rescue efforts such as the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), the End of Term Web Archive, #DataRescue, DataRefuge, DataLumos, and Open Access Week.

Dr. Dillon is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at UCSC where she is affiliated with the Environmental Studies Department and the Science & Justice Research Center. She is also chair of the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), “an international network of academics and non-profits addressing potential threats to federal environmental and energy policy, and to the scientific research infrastructure built to investigate, inform, and enforce.”

Endangered Data Week (April 17-21, 2017) is a new, nationwide effort to raise awareness of threats to publicly available data.


Illustration of the world meltingTuesday, January 24, 2017
4:00-6:00 PM
SJRC Common Room (Oakes 231)


The terms “post-fact”, “post-truth”, and “post-reality” are now being used to label the new era we have entered. We are already seeing the erasure of climate data from servers and websites [1], and purveyors of the truth, including climate scientists, journalists, and academics are being put on warning. (The Climate Scientists witch-hunt [2] and the Professor Watchlist are just two of many indicators). Data refuge efforts are underway [3] amid concerns that the incoming administration will wage a war on scientific expertise [4].

At the same time that it is of upmost importance that facts, truth, and reality be asserted to counter the normalization of lies and fake news used to obscure the truth and manipulate the public, there is a large body of scholarship showing the non-innocent and often times harmful use of these terms in ways that collude with the forces of power, including colonialism, racism, militarism, etc.

We are creating this cluster to help us think through these issues during these extraordinary times.

Convened by Karen Barad, our first meeting is Tuesday Jan 24 4-6pm. This first meeting will focus the question of what these terms (fact, truth, reality) signal to each of us in relationship to our own research. We anticipate that these terms will spark a variety of different associations depending on our fields of study. Please join us.

[1] “DNR purges climate change from web page,” by Lee Bergquist (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dec. 28, 2016)

[2] “Trump Transition Ask Energy Dept. Which Employees Work on Climate Change,” by Christopher Dean Hopkins (NPR, Dec 9, 2016)

[3] Q&A: Michelle Murphy, the U of T professor who’s racing to preserve climate-change data before Donald Trump takes office,” by Steve Kupferman (Toronto Life, Dec 16, 2016)

“Scientists are frantically copying U.S. climate data, fearing it might vanish under Trump,” by Brady Dennis (Washington Post, Dec 13, 2016)

“Scientists prepare to fight for their work during ‘the Trumpocene’” by Sarah Kaplan (Washington Post, Dec. 15, 2016)

[4] “How Trump Could Wage a War on Scientific Expertise,” by Ed Yong (The Atlantic, Dec 2, 2016)


Jan 24 Objectivity Justice Notes

May 18, 2016 | Just Data? Justice, Knowledge and Care in an Age of Precision Medicine

The “Just Data?” meeting at UCSC aims to broaden the public discussion about big data and health from ethical and legal questions about privacy and informed consent to more fundamental questions about the right and just constitution of care, trust, and knowledge in an age of biomedical data. This agenda-setting workshop will gather international leaders in genomics, health and informatics, civil rights, bioethics, indigenous rights, science policy and the social study of health and medicine. The meeting will be broken into two phases: 1) Discussion of critical challenges, problems and promises; 2) Collaborative work to set the science and justice agenda of big biodata and precision medicine.

For full event and registration information, please visit:

Co-Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the NHGRI program of the NIH, the UC North Bioethics Collaboratory, and the UCSC Genomics Institute.

May 18-19 | Alumni Room, University Center, UC Santa Cruz

Apr 20, 2016 | Digital Dreams and Their Discontents: Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 | 4:00 – 5:30PM | SJRC Common Room (Oakes 231)

A conversation with Erin McElroy (PhD Candidate, Feminist Studies, UCSC) and Sara Tocchetti (SJRC Visiting Scholar, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre Alexandre Koyré, Paris, France).

Erin McElroy on the Digital Nomad

With the emergence of Silicon Valley’s “Tech Boom 2.0,” so too has emerged the figure of the “digital nomad”—a type of transient technologic worker tethered to Silicon Valley corporations yet able to embody new mobilities vis-à-vis the globalization of high-speed fiber-optics and sharing economy infrastructure. From San Francisco to new global outposts such as Romania, which boasts the world’s fifth fastest internet speed due to postsocialist technologic economization, the arrival of the digital nomad often incites contexts of gentrification, manifesting as increased rental prices, eviction rates, and forced homelessness/nomadism. Critical of this correlation as well as formative histories of nomadic racial fantasy, I also question what other uses of digital technology, such as that of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, emerge not just to critique technologies of displacement, but also to fight for other futures of the digital?

Erin McElroy is a Doctoral Student in Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz and cofounder/director of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a digital cartography and oral history collective documenting the ecology of “Tech Boom” induced gentrification. McElroy brings a spatial analysis and collective ethos to their research, which studies materializations and histories of dispossessive technologies in Romania, employing ethnography, literary/cultural analysis, and archival work, and utilizing postsocialist analytics and feminist science and technology studies. McElroy holds a MA in Cultural Anthropology from CIIS and a BA in Cultural Studies from Hampshire College, and is an active anti-eviction organizer with Eviction Free San Francisco.

Sara Tocchetti on DIYbio and the Possibility of Critical Life Sciences

Drawing from the analogy with the personal computer and other personalized technologies, DIYbio members envision biology and biotechnology as a creative and personal technology to be made available to everyone. Such ideology of a ‘personal biology’ can be understood as a variation of ‘digital utopianism’ and seems especially attractive for young and/or disenfranchised students and researchers. Working through several case studies of DIYbio initiatives and engaging with a general sense of enthusiasm for such practices expressed in the STS literature, this presentation questions what type of critical space does digital utopianism occupies in the life sciences and STS and what forms of alternative practices we might need to recollect and/or imagine.

Sara Tocchetti recently received her PhD from the London School of Economics working on the DIYbio network, socio-technical utopias, theories of technology driven social change, and her own professional identity. Feeling stuck as an ex-biologist-not-yet turned into a science and technology studies scholar, she has moved on to study the history and present of radical science movements and is currently based at the Centre Alexandre Koyré in Paris on an Early Post-doc Scholarship from the Swiss National Fund. Her recent publications includes Is an FBI Agent a DIY Biologist Like Any Other? A Cultural Analysis of a Biosecurity Risk (Tocchetti and Aguiton, 2015) and Quelles tactiques critiques sur le terrain des promesses scientifiques [Which critical tactics in the field of scientific promises] (Aguiton, Bovet and Tocchetti, 2015).

Mar 03, 2016 | The Quants of Wall Street: Risk and the Ethics of New Financial Technologies

Who wins and who loses as Wall Street transforms from sweaty bodies on the stock exchange floor to quants and physicists designing swift, sleek stealth modes of moving financial data at a distance? What new opacities and inequalities accompany the rise of new financial technologies—such as Bitcoins, roboadvisers, and laser-linked data centers — the new coin and conduits of financial realms? The Science and Justice Research Center in collaboration with the Center for Analytical Finance and the Sociology Department host a discussion with industry, academic and NGO leaders on these critical questions about who benefits and who loses in the high tech worlds of today’s financial markets.

Sherry Paul CFP®, CIMA®, and CRPC®, Senior Vice President, Wealth Advisor, UCSC Alumna

Daniel Friedman, UCSC Distinguished Professor of Economics, Author of Morals and Markets

Anne Price, Program Director of the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative, Insight

Moderated by Joe Klett, Visiting Professor of Sociology, UCSC and Nirvikar Singh, Director of the Center for Analytical Finance, Distinguished Professor of Economics at UCSC.

Co-Sponsored by the Blum Center, Center for Analytical Finance, Center for Labor Studies, Cowell College, Re-Thinking Capitalism, and the Sociology Department.

12:00-1:45 PM | Engineering 2 room 180

"The Quants of Wall Street: Risk and the Ethics of New Financial Technologies"
SJWG Rapporteur Report
3 March 2016
Critical Listener Report by Andy Murray, Sociology

Sherry Paul CFP®, CIMA®, CRPC®, Senior Vice President, Wealth Advisor, UCSC Alumna

Daniel Friedman, UCSC Distinguished Professor of Economics, Author of Morals and Markets

Anne Price, Program Director of the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative, Insight

Moderated by Joe Klett Visiting Professor of Sociology at UCSC and Nirvikar Singh, Director
of the Center for Analytical Finance, Distinguished Professor of Economics at UCSC.

Co-Sponsored by the Blum Center, Center for Analytical Finance, Center for Labor Studies,
Cowell College, Re-Thinking Capitalism, and the Sociology Department.

This Science & Justice Working Group event was a relatively large affair, consisting of three
panelists and two moderators. Its attendees filled the large room, meaning there were too many
folks for the usual Science and Justice Research Center introductions. The participants varied in
their backgrounds. The first, Sherry Paul, is a UCSC alumna and a wealth advisor who works on
Wall Street. The second, Daniel Friedman, is a Distinguished Professor of Economics at UCSC.
The third, Anne Price, works out of Oakland for the Insight Center for Community Economic
Development, where she directs an initiative to address the racial wealth gap. UCSC faculty
members Joe Klett, Visiting Professor of Sociology, and Nirvikar Singh, also a Distinguished
Professor of Economics, served as moderators. The event was put on by a larger-than-usual
number of co-sponsors, showing that the matters of concern—wealth inequality and the winners
and losers of high tech finance—speak to many audiences. Jenny Reardon, Director of the
Science and Justice Research Center, provided some more specific framing questions in her
introduction: are the instruments and intricacies of finance capital too complex to understand? Or
are we simply not looking at them closely enough? If the latter is the case, what could cause us to
start looking, if such a major event the 2007-08 financial crisis wasn’t enough of an impetus?
After all, multiple people in the room had personal stories about home ownership and loss of
value suffered as a result of the crisis.

Sherry Paul opened with a few jokes about her time at UCSC and how she found her way back (a
story that, like the financial crisis, was linked to disaster and misunderstanding) before moving
into the meat of her talk. Paul discussed the democratization of financial access and situated her
role as a financial steward who helps to protect individuals and families from the risks of
markets. Nonetheless, she talked about her move into finance capital as moving “into the belly of
the beast” and to “the dark side.” She spent a lot of time focusing on the “humanity” aspect of
finance, rather than the “math,” noting that the latter is much easier to learn. She compared
Silicon Valley to Wall Street, noting its lack of inclusion of women and people of color, and
suggested that high tech finance, in a sense the marrying of Silicon Valley and Wall Street,
represents a second iteration of the Industrial Revolution. Ultimately, her main points were about
restoring and managing the human element of finance, better managing human behavior around
investment rather than turning to robotic financial advisers. In defense of what amounts to an
improved market rationality, she asserted that “markets tend to revert to the mean no matter what
point they’re at in an industrial revolution.” Nirvikar Singh followed up on Paul succinctly,
affirming that “technology is not a substitute for ethics.”

Daniel Friedman attempted to summarize “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of markets, asking
what they do and don’t do well, and how financial capital instruments change things. First, he
asserted that markets scale up well and that they aggregate their participants’ resources and
information. However, markets can “go bad” when cheating, exclusion, currying favor, and
buying influence occur. Friedman asserted that this can happen very easily, and was in fact
dominant in markets until about 200 years ago. Markets, he argued, are also prone to bubbles and
crashes. “The ugly” is that because of these tendencies, markets must be regulated, but this
impedes both “good” and “bad” finance. He talked about financial instruments that increase the
efficiency and scalability of trading at the expense of personal connections, arguing that such
technologies may increase market instability. He argued that changing the way in which time is
measured—“making time granular in a different format”—could solve some of the issues with
such high-frequency trading. He went through his final bits of advice quickly, advocating “smart
regulation” and proper incentives.

Anne Price began her talk by noting that she was “probably going to be the oddball.” Her
discussion focused on accumulated, structural inequalities. These racial inequalities mean that
simply guaranteeing access to financial markets is insufficient if greater wealth equality is indeed
the goal. She framed the push for racial wealth equality as about “movement building” and
“pulling the curtain back.” She portrayed finance capital as a siphon deliberately designed to take
wealth from people. Metaphors and language were very important to her framing of markets, and
she insisted that language that grants agency to “the economy” obfuscates how “people create
and make deliberate changes to the economy.” She argued against viewing economics as
something that just happens, and instead viewing it as a series of choices, often motivated by
emotion rather than facts. Price received loud applause at the end of her talk, the loudest of the

During the questioning, each of the panelists solidified their positions. In response to a question
from Nirvikar Singh about robotic financial advisers, Sherry Paul argued that she was against
them because they would deepen existing inequalities, allowing people to capitalize on a lack of
trust. She again argued for changing the way people approach markets and advocated having the
“greedy investor [not be] the assumed and presumed definition.” In response to a question from
Joe Klett, Dan similarly reasserted that there needs to be an ethical foundation for finance
capital, or it will not work—though it was not entirely clear what “working” meant in this
instance. Returning to discourse, Anne Price lamented that the housing crisis was a missed
opportunity to talk about the roles of the government and personal responsibility in markets.
The transition to audience questions made it clear that there was a notable tension between a
more favorable, optimistic view of markets—such as that espoused by Sherry Paul and Daniel
Friedman—and those who made the argument that inequality is an inherent feature of a market
system—as Anne Price did. This tension was the most notable of the event, as most of the
audience questions came from sociology graduate students and professors. After noting the
growing inequality in Silicon Valley, a few audience members asked if there was an inherent
logic to markets that means that they require the existence of an underclass, or if the problems
could be fixed through some form of regulation. These questions were greeted with an
acknowledgement of their scope, observations that time was limited, and laughter. This really
exposed the rift in beliefs about markets, made all the more clear when a sociology graduate
student pointed out that in in order for markets to “always recover” as Paul had asserted they do,
they require intervention in the form of taxpayer money. “Is the market becoming a religion?” he
asked, echoing Price’s earlier points about the importance of discourse—in this case about faith
in the ability of the market to “recover”—and about paying attention to the actual economic
decisions that people make.

These themes, of the logic of markets, and the role of individual agency and action versus
economic structure, proved to be the sticking points. These points were reiterated in the brief
closing statements that each panelist made. Price most walked the line between individual
agency and inherent logics, paying a great deal of attention to longstanding structural
inequalities, while also emphasizing the choices that people deliberately make to change the
economy. Paul, on the other hand, argued that there is no inherent logic to markets, that they are
merely “systems being created by people.” Despite this, she also acknowledged that capitalism is
fundamentally selfish, but returned to market optimism by asserting that we need to figure out a
way for “selfishness to allow us to work together.” Friedman seemed to err more on the
structural side, finishing by saying that markets could potentially function well and stay in
recovery for a long time, but that it was the nature of markets that there would be periodic crises.
While we ran out of time on this particular day, these tensions between the agency of individuals
and institutions, structures, and logics—longstanding in the social sciences—can provide plenty
of fodder for future conversations: about how people make markets and how markets make
people, and about what kinds of futures the new technologies of finance capital are helping usher
into existence.