Conversations in Bioethics features student work, panel discussion on Data Ethics

We willingly share data about ourselves all the time.

Consider the amount of data you share intentionally in the course of one day: on social media, on convenience apps, on ride-hailing services. What happens to all that data? We are coming to understand that it paints a picture of individuals, communities and our world that is permanent, accessible, and can be shared, sold, manipulated, and combined for purposes far beyond the intentions behind our original “disclosures.” Do we care; should we?

We also unwillingly share data every day.

What happens to the record of that shared ride you took? Who is aware of your internet search history? Your purchases? Your income from your part time job? Your recent arrest on a minor charge? What should governments, parents, employers, be able to learn about you? Does your employer read your emails? Should they?

These questions and others were brought to the table at the 2018 Conversations in Bioethics.

Conversations in Bioethics is an annual event that brings together creative student work, distinguished speakers, and the broader campus community to explore a topic in bioethics and inspire leadership for change. This event, hosted by the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, is supported by Georgetown alumna Fran Buckley. Each year a new topic is introduced. This year’s topic was data ethics.

The event, held Feb. 1, began with a reception and gallery featuring student work completed in three Ethics Lab courses: Social Media and Democracy, taught by Maggie Little and Jonathan Healey in Fall 2017, Data Ethics, taught by Elizabeth Edenberg and Jonathan Healey in Fall 2017, and a Spring 2017 Data Ethics course taught by Elizabeth Edenberg and Maggie Little.



Following the reception, guests attended an expert panel conversation on the year’s topic. This year’s panelists included:

Chuck Todd, NBC News Political Director and moderator of “Meet the Press”

Cathy O’Neil, data scientist and mathematician, author of New York Time’s best seller “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”

Rick Smolan, photographer, CEO of Against All Odds Productions, and New York Times best-selling author

Mayra Buvinic, Senior Fellow, Data2X, United Nations Foundation

Kennedy Institute of Ethics Director Maggie Little moderated the panel, which was available via livestream during the event. The conversation covered topics on data security and creation, big data’s role in politics and governance, and discrimination in data usage and research. The event was streamed live and live-tweeted

You can watch the entire panel conversation here.

The panelists’ full bios are included below:

Cathy O’Neil, PH.D.

Cathy O’Neil is a data scientist and author of New York Times best-seller Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Threatens Inequality and Threatens Democracy. The book also was a semifinalist for the National Book Award. She earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard and taught at Barnard College before moving to the private sector, where she worked for the hedge fund D. E. Shaw. She then worked as a data scientist at various start-ups, building models that predict people’s purchases and clicks. O’Neil started the Lede Program in Data Journalism at Columbia and is the author of Doing Data Science. She is currently a columnist for Bloomberg View. O’Neil writes a blog called She describes herself as a “data skeptic” and tries to make people aware that simply because numbers are involved, we cannot assume that the analysis or purposes to which the data is put, are objective.

Chuck Todd

Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and moderator of “Meet the Press,” spearheads the network’s premier political coverage, offering his sharp analysis and translation of Beltway politics across all platforms – zeroing in on what really matters in Washington and why. He is the moderator of the #1 most-watched Sunday public affairs program for the 2016-2017 season. In just his first year as “Meet the Press” moderator, Todd led the network broadcast’s climb to #1 from #3 in the demo most coveted by news advertisers. The success of his reign on Sundays inspired his 5 p.m. weekday show on MSNBC, “MTP Daily”. Both his cable show and his podcast (“1947: The Meet the Press Podcast”) showcase Todd’s provocative interviewing style, expanding “Meet the Press,” the longest-running show in television history, into the modern age.

Mayra Buvinic, PH.D.

Mayra Buvinic, is a Senior Fellow for the Data 2X Project at the United Nations Foundation as well as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development. Buvinic is an internationally recognized expert on gender and development. She works with Data 2X to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment by building partnerships to improve data collection and its use in order to guide policy, better leverage investments, and spur global, economic, and social progress. She argues that to think differently about women’s lives and potential, we have to actively correct gender data gaps that reflect and perpetuate bias. Previously, Buvinic was Director for Gender and Development at the World Bank. She also worked at the Inter-American Development Bank, where she headed the Social Development Division, and was founding member and President of the International Center for Research on Women. She has a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rick Smolan

Rick Smolan, CEO of Against All Odds Productions, is a New York Times best-selling author with more than five million copies of his books in print. A former Time, Life, and National Geographic photographer, Smolan is best known as the co-creator of the Day in the Life book series. His global photography projects, which feature the work of hundreds of the world’s leading photographers and combine creative storytelling with state-of- the-art technology, are regularly featured on the covers of prestigious publications around the world including Fortune, Time, and GEO. His recent project The Human Face of Big Data captures vignettes illustrating  how big data is affecting our human life both through a book and the PBS documentary of the same name. He describes these proliferating data sets as helping to develop a potential nervous system for our planet because of their ubiquitous nature and the vast interconnections being built between them.