An illustration of Barack Obama standing at a crossroads with the words "Needs a Flight Plan: Genetics and Ethics in the Obama Administration. A Public Lecture" written at the top.

Talk: “Even a Moon Shot Needs a Flight Plan: Genetics and Ethics in the Obama Administration” by Alondra Nelson

In May 27, 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to visit the site of the world’s first atomic bombing. In a speech that day at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Obama proclaimed that the “scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.” In this lecture, Dr. Alondra Nelson considers the “politics of ethics” that was a signature of the Obama administration’s approach to science and technology. This politics of ethics endeavored to place temporal distance between scientific research of the past and present, enabling claims about the importance of federal science to national well-being, broadly conceived. In particular, she will examine the roll-out of the Precision Medicine Initiative that incorporated plainspoken acknowledgment of prior discrimination in government-backed scientific research as a necessary predicate to the successful enrollment of research subjects—especially those from minority populations-- into the program.

Alondra Nelson, President of the Social Science Research Council and Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, is an acclaimed researcher and author, who explores questions of science, technology, and social inequality. Nelson’s books include, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination and The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome. She is coeditor of Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race and History (with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee) and Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life (with Thuy Linh Tu). Nelson serves on the board of directors of the Teagle Foundation and the Data & Society Research Institute. She is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and of the Hastings Center, and is an elected Member of the Sociological Research Association.

This event is co-sponsored by the Department of History, the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, and the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) Medical Humanities Research Cluster.

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For further information on this event, contact David Sepkoski at

To request disability-related accommodations for this event, please contact Brian Cudiamat at (217) 244-5586 or cudiamat@illinois.edu (email link).