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Living A Life In Full

Oct 1, 2020

Bridget Algee-Hewitt, PhD, does amazing things.

She is a Senior Research Scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and a Quantitative Researcher in Facebook’s SBG Data Science Research and Development Division. Bridget is a biological anthropologist who studies how skeletal and genetic traits vary among contemporary peoples, across space and through time.  She develops new computational methods, using machine learning and artificial intelligence, and geographic mapping algorithms, and hands-on DNA and osteology laboratory approaches to improve estimation of the personal identity parameters essential in forensic identification of unknown human remains and for the paleo-demographic reconstruction of past population histories in bio-archaeology. 

As a practicing forensic anthropologist and geneticist, she provides forensic casework consultation to the medico-legal community. She also delivers expert testimony for asylum petitions and advocates for policy change in support of undocumented migrant and refugee rights. Her social justice work focuses on immigration, displacement, poverty, and violence in Latin America, addressing in particular the crisis of migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Bridget received her PhD in Biological Anthropology from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, an MA in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at Bryn Mawr, and a BA in Classics and Art History from Mount Allison University. Bridget is an Advisory Board Member for the Certificate in Critical Consciousness and Anti-Oppressive Praxis in the Stanford School of Medicine and she is the Book & Resource Review Editor for the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Listeners may recall past episodes in which we had guests who are experts in forensics, and in AI, and big data, and genetics, and anthropology, and even an artist who used randomly found public DNA to create sculptures of individuals, but Bridget’s work seems to be an integration of all of these areas and more. We begin with what drew her to biological anthropology and what biological anthropology constitutes.

We then discuss her article in Medium with Casey Miller on US/Mexico border camps, COVID-19 and medical care and humanitarian relief efforts. Next we do a deep dive into her talk at the Stanford Institute for Human Artificial Intelligence conference on AI Ethics, Policy and Governance where she spoke on Race, Rights and Facial Recognition, and we discuss the social justice aspects that she spoke on—in particular how geopolitical situations can change our biology by causing trauma that may play-out in our epigenetics which can be passed on intergenerationally. It is truly fascinating, especially in the context of the Grand Ethical Challenge in this area of work.

Related to this, Bridget was part of a panel on Forensic Genomics: New Frontiers and New Considerations, which focused on the difficult questions about whether and how DNA technologies are being used to identify “race” or “ethnicity” and the balance between ethical, legal and social implications and we learn her perspectives on this and what can be done as safeguards.

We also circle back to her Advisory Board work on the nascent Certificate in Critical Consciousness and Anti-Oppressive Praxis in the Stanford School of Medicine and this program’s work, and her perspective on the “compound technology effect” and better ways to integrate and sort multidisciplinary effects on scientific work and its ramifications.

She also has a new book coming out Remodeling Forensic Skeletal Age: Modern Applications and New Research Directions, which “presents a comprehensive understanding of the analytical frameworks and conceptual approaches salient both to the present chapters on forensic age estimation and to those seeking to grasp the current state of the field more broadly. It also includes a series of recommendations of best practice through the chapter-examples, which offer theory and guidance for data acquisition, technique and/or model development, and the assessment of impact of the adopted approaches, considering the assumptions that underlie of the forensic decision-making process.” Again, fascinating.

Bridget wonderfully combines various disciplines and sciences via the connective thread of social justice and humanitarian intervention which is inspiring for us all and demonstrates how to live a life in full in the service of knowledge and helping others.

“Living a Life in Full” is the conversation you always wanted to have with that person who gave an amazing TED talk, or the author of one your favorite books, or that inspirational Olympian you always wanted to know more about.

This show is for the intellectually curious. You want to not just know more about the interesting and the innovative, but also what makes them tick, and maybe even what makes them laugh. It’s graduate-level conversations with those making a difference in the world and the lives of others.

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