Ben Shepard
Ben Shepard

Science & Society News

Learn what is happening inside the Duke Initiative for Science & Society. Stay up-to-date on our research, events, and student activities.

Tue, Feb 07

Science Policy In The Classroom

Students in the Duke Law School are making it easy for you to follow developments in science policy. When an alternative to writing yet another standard paper was proposed in their Science, Law & Policy class, the majority of the participants jumped at the opportunity.

SciPol focuses on tracking and analyzing developments in science policy. Faculty and students from around campus receive training and hands-on experience analyzing current policy actions in order to contribute to SciPol’s signature Policy Developments. The program launched last year and is now being incorporated into curriculum on campus.


Duke Law student Sarah Williamson studies national security law and policy. She enrolled in the Science, Law & Policy class last fall and opted to contribute to SciPol over writing a mid-term paper.

She recognizes how difficult it is for policymakers to keep up on rapid advancements in science and technology and how scientists struggle to convey their research and its impact in a way that non-scientists can understand. This gap presents an opportunity for Duke students.

“We need leaders,” says Sarah. “We need civically-minded people to think about the challenges of today.” – a tenet shared by the SciPol program.

She became drawn to policy issues surrounding cybersecurity and data privacy early in her education. She currently examines the technology that connects our world and its impact on national security and civil rights.

“I started to see national security as the trunk of the policy tree and every decision we make stems from that.”

Sarah’s focus may already feel somewhat familiar. We live in a society where cybersecurity and data privacy are ubiquitous concerns. Simply owning a smart phone or transacting online makes them inescapable, personally relevant issues.

The 2016 presidential race brought numerous cybersecurity issues to the forefront of public discourse. Leaked emails and allegations that Russia had tampered with the election via state-sponsored cyber activities left many feeling confused, cheated, or helpless during the election process.

From a commercial standpoint the issues take on additional dimension. New emerging technologies encourage consumers to eagerly, and often unknowingly, volunteer their information to a hungry data-driven market.

The rush to bring the next great technological convenience to market often results in woefully unsecure products or ethically questionable functionality. Take for instance the massive Internet outage last year, powered by easily hacked cameras and DVR equipment. Or Cayla, the intrusive doll that spies on your kids, sending voice recordings back to her toymaker’s servers.



Civic-minded leaders face difficult questions.

What is the government’s role in guarding individual data and consumer privacy as new technology is invented and introduced to the market? Should a private company be held accountable for vulnerabilities in their software or hardware that result in personal loss? To what extent should we forsake personal privacy in the name of national security?

Understanding the science and technology behind these questions is necessary for policymakers and the public to come to proper conclusions.

Similar questions exist in all corners of scientific research and the landscape is constantly shifting. The issues aren’t always so familiar and can become difficult to consider without special training or education. Even in the small Science, Law & Policy class a communication gap quickly emerged.

“The fact that we were on different planets was very clear from the beginning,” says Sarah, recalling the variety of student backgrounds in the Science, Law & Policy class. “In the first week we were talking about CRISPR and I’m like what the heck is this?”

CRISPR is a revolutionary genome editing tool with controversial applications.

Only 6 of the 18 other members in Sarah’s class were law students. The rest were a mix of master’s students and PhD’s with various educational backgrounds. Few had any experience in the policymaking process.

Making complicated policy actions and the science behind them more accessible to the public is one step toward cultivating a civically-minded population. Engaging relevant actors at each step of the policymaking process strengthens the conversation and the outcome.

By incorporating science policy analysis in the classroom, Duke University is training its students to consider these issues wherever they end up working.

Buz Waitzkin, JDProfessor Michael “Buz” Waitzkin, JD, teaches the Science, Law & Policy course.

“Whatever career path you take, much of the work you will be doing is going to be governed by statutes that are passed, regulations that are enacted, or court decisions that are issued. If you can’t understand them, I think you’re job effectiveness will really be inhibited.”

The opportunity to participate in SciPol is a fresh and informative experience for his class. Students come away with a better understanding of how science policy is formulated and translated into law or regulations. Understanding how their own research will go on to affect the public helps contextualize their efforts beyond the lab and broadens their impact on society.

In turn, those without formal STEM or policy training are given an approachable resource that informs their own civic activity.

Read Sarah’s SciPol contributions and more at

Wed, Jan 18

New Bass Connections Project Explores Privacy, Consumer EEG Devices, and the Brain

Each year Bass Connections brings together faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to tackle complex societal challenges through a variety of interdisciplinary themes. Science & Society and Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, is excited to announce the acceptance of their 2017-2018 project proposal to study privacy, consumer EEG devices, and the brain.

Students use a consumer EEG device to conduct research

The new project is aimed at exploring the unique concerns surrounding the collection of data generated though wearable tech – like the EMOTIV Insight. It is already possible to track brain activity as it relates to basic emotional and physical states. As this technology becomes more widespread, we can expect a bloom of neural activity data among the ever-increasing wealth already accumulating in our tech and data-driven society.

The project team will explore three specific questions:

  • Do consumers vary in their expectations of privacy and willingness to share brain information with government, corporations, employers, researchers and others?
  • Are there differences between consumer users and nonusers of consumer EEG devices with regard to their perceptions, behaviors and attitudes about brain privacy and EEG devices?
  • Do differences in perceptions and attitudes about brain privacy help to explain differences in use and behavior of consumer EEG devices?

Team members will collaborate with Science & Society’s SLAP Lab on a weekly basis and will be trained in the methodologies used in the research. The team is seeking two postdocs, three graduate/professional students, and four undergraduates. Applications will open on January 24 and run through February 17 at 5:00 p.m.

Learn more about the Privacy, Consumer EEG Devices, and the Brain Project and additional opportunities for students on the Bass Connections website or during the Bass Connections Fair on Tuesday, January 24 2:30-5:30.

Thu, Jan 12

SciPol Adds Robotics & AI to its Science Policy Coverage

SciPol LogoThe rapid advance of technology is bringing robots and artificial intelligence, or AI, closer to us every day, including in factories, hospitals, highways, schools, our offices, and our homes. But the technology is advancing so quickly that it’s outpacing our ability to fully grasp its impact, and for policymakers to resolve the difficult balance that reduces risk to the public without constraining the development of these potentially beneficial technologies.

2016 alone gave us multiple significant policy developments. In June the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released amendments to its regulations to address the operation of unmanned aircraft systems and pilot certification to preserve safety in the National Airspace System. In September, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) released guidance to industry and regulators for safe design, state policy recommendations, and regulatory tools for highly automated vehicles.

In October, the National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology released a report including recommendations to U.S. Federal agencies and other actors to inform future AI policy. We can expect the U.S. government will implement even more robotics and AI-specific regulations to preserve jobs and to address concerns of security, safety, and privacy within the next few years.

This is an exciting and dynamic area with rapidly evolving developments in policy and science. SciPol provides a single resource covering both, including policy updates and explanations of the relevant science on topics like drones, surgical robots, driverless cars and artificial intelligence.

About Michael

Dr. Michael ClamannMichael Clamann oversees the development and publication of SciPol content related to robotics and AI. He is also a Senior Research Scientist in the Humans and Autonomy Lab (HAL) within Duke Robotics and an Associate Director at the Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety.

For his scientific research, he works to better understand the complex interactions between robots and people and how they influence system effectiveness and safety. He presented technical remarks to the Department of Transportation on the current Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, and his research has appeared in major news outlets including NPR and the Atlantic.

He received a PhD and MIE in Industrial and Systems Engineering and a MS in Experimental Psychology from North Carolina State University. He has worked in industry as a Human Factors Engineer since 2002, supporting government and private clients in domains including aerospace, defense and telecommunications. He is also a Certified Human Factors Professional (CHFP).

About HAL

Research in Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Lab (HAL) focuses on the multifaceted interactions of human and computer decision-making in complex sociotechnical systems with embedded autonomy.

An experiment on how autonomous vehicle may interact with pedestriansGiven the explosion of autonomous technology in aviation, medicine, and even in everyday mundane environments like driving, the need for humans as supervisors of and collaborators in complex autonomous control systems has replaced the need for humans in direct manual control.

Instead of relying on humans for well-rehearsed skill execution and rule following that requires significant practice and memorization (and subject to problems such as fatigue and boredom), autonomous systems need humans for their more abstract levels of knowledge synthesis, judgment, and reasoning. Autonomous systems today, and even more so in the future, require coordination and teamwork for mutual support between humans and machines for both improved system safety and performance.

Visit for news, updates, and opportunities to engage in robotics and AI policy developments.

Wed, Nov 30

Two Duke PhD Students Win Grant to Study Science & Technology Policy Fellowship Feasibility in NC

Two Duke University PhD candidates have been awarded a $25,000 grant to study the feasibility of establishing a North Carolina Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Program.

ccst-grant-award-featureThe California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) in partnership with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Simons Foundation is funding multiple grants to support planning processes for creating immersive science and technology policy fellowship programs in state legislature.

Few state legislators have backgrounds in science, engineering, or technology, yet they are routinely called on to make decisions on issues with complicated scientific and technological components. The Fellowship Program would provide the state legislature with non-partisan science PhDs to assist them in grappling with the complex issues of science underlying many legislative initiatives.

Andrew George and Dan Keeley, researchers in the Duke Biology PhD program, won their bid for North Carolina with support from Science & Society, the Sanford School for Public Policy, the Duke Government Affairs Office, and the North Carolina Sea Grant Program.

“We are going to have to work hard to engage public and private universities, business, and non-profits as well as legislators and members of the executive branch throughout the entire process to ensure that we are creating a fellowship that best serves the needs of the fellows and state policy,” says George. “A primary challenge of implementation is the difference in structure of the legislatures.”

Both researchers became active in science policy after a government shutdown froze federal spending on research. During meetings on the hill they were pleasantly surprised by how engaged and interested many of the staffers were in hearing about their research.

The model California fellowship has impacted over 800 bills, hearings, and actions since it began placing PhD-level scientists in the state’s legislature for one-year appointments. Of those fellows placed, 50% were hired by the state legislature or other state agencies at the end of their fellowship.

The CCST seeks to replicate the model in other states. Their vision for the future is a network of state-based science advising programs that better inform state legislatures on science and technology relevant policy issues.

Andrew and Dan will be interested in a variety of perspectives from students, postdocs, and early career faculty regarding what they would want from a fellowship like this. Contact Andrew George, or Dan Keeley, for more information.

At Science & Society we are training the next generation of leaders to be better equipped in this rapidly expanding environment. Our Masters in Bioethics & Science Policy prepares students to identify, analyze, and propose solutions to myriad complex issues at the intersection of science, technology, ethics, and policy.

In addition, Science & Society’s recently launched SciPol program serves as a comprehensive online resource for scientists, policy makers, the public, students, and other stakeholders on developments in science and technology policy.

Fri, Sep 30

Duke Science & Society Launches New Online Science Policy Resource

The Duke Initiative for Science & Society’s SciPol Program is an unbiased public service website providing science policy updates, explanation of the relevant science at issue, and opportunities for engagement in the policy-making process.

The program seeks to make science policy more accessible to the public, students, researchers, journalists, and other organizations that want to stay accurately informed and better equipped to participate in today’s policymaking decisions.

Goals for the program include serving as a pedagogical tool, functioning as a platform for experts at Duke to contribute their expertise, and providing a mode for connecting various stakeholders across diverse sectors.

SciPol launches with two active topics: Genetics/Genomics and Neuroscience. The program will be expanded to include Robotics and Nanotechnology in the near future. Interested faculty and researchers from all scientific fields are encouraged to contact SciPol Director Aubrey Incorvaia to learn more about how to get involved in the program.

Visit the website at

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