Jonathan Wiener on Interdisciplinary Collaboration

“These projects have been crucial to my engagement with colleagues and students across the university”

Bass Connections team members with Jonathan Wiener.
Photo by Beth Mann: Jonathan Wiener (right) and Christine Hendren (lower right) with Bass Connections students in front of their poster, The Saga of CFCs, Ozone Depletion, and Climate Change

“I came to Duke 25 years ago in order to be part of the multidisciplinary community here,” says Jonathan B. Wiener. “Duke was poised to launch a series of cross-cutting initiatives, and it was my good fortune to be part of creating some of them.”

Jonathan B. Wiener.Wiener is the William R. and Thomas L. Perkins Professor of Law at Duke Law School, Professor of Environmental Policy at the Nicholas School of the Environment, and Professor of Public Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy. He has been involved in numerous research collaborations involving faculty and students from across the university, including Rethinking Regulation at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the new Center on Risk at the Science & Society Initiative, a Collaboratory on Geoengineering, and six Bass Connections projects.

Recently he reflected on some of the impacts of his involvement in collaborative inquiry at Duke. The following are excerpts from our conversation.

Expanding Networks

These collaborative projects have been crucial to my engagement with colleagues and also with students across the university. [Bass Connections has] enabled me to work with teams to investigate complex topics like protecting the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer and climate, how to assess and manage emerging technologies such as automated vehicles, and how to protect drinking water. [They] also enabled us to bring in speakers from outside Duke to enrich our conversations – for example, environmental diplomat Ambassador Jennifer Haverkamp, and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

Bass Connections projects are also useful for connecting with students from different schools with different skills. For me, it was a good opportunity to connect with undergraduate students in particular, because most of my teaching is in the Law School, Sanford School, and Nicholas School. Duke’s undergraduates are so impressive, smart, and energetic. Bass Connections invites them to see how research projects are developed and to participate in a research team.

I’m currently working with several people on the governance of geoengineering, including Mark Borsuk, Christine Hendren, and Tyler Felgenhauer in the Pratt School of Engineering, Billy Pizer in the Sanford School, Drew Shindell in the Nicholas School, and Khara Grieger at RTI. Geoengineering is a strategy to prevent climate change, but it poses its own risks, so there is a key need for governance to avoid unwise or harmful deployment of geoengineering. We have written one paper that we’ve submitted to a journal, and we are going to apply for external funding for further research. For the Society for Risk Analysis annual conference, we organized and held a set of sessions on the governance of geoengineering [see part 1 and part 2] that featured speakers from Duke and other universities. We are also planning a Bass Connections project team on geoengineering for 2019-20.

Photo by Ben Shepard: Participants in the Center on Risk “head to head” discussion of AI: Risks and Responses: Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Philosophy), Vincent Conitzer (Computer Science), and Jonathan Wiener (Law School and Center on Risk).
Photo by Ben Shepard: Center on Risk discussion on AI risks and responses: Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Philosophy), Vincent Conitzer (Computer Science), Jonathan Wiener

We’re starting a new Duke Center on Risk, to be launched in the Science & Society Initiative, which grows out of a Provost’s Office planning grant. In 2018, we held a series of Risk Watering Holes, where more than 25 faculty gave short talks as a way for people to learn about different topics and methodologies. We also asked each speaker to touch on what types of colleagues he or she would like to collaborate with to better address risk. In Fall 2018, we started to hold more in-depth ‘head to head’ talks: so far we’ve held one on risks to Duke’s campus, and one on AI risks and responses. We have also sponsored external speakers and supported some students to go to the Society for Risk Analysis conference. Also, we have begun conversations with a group of undergraduates who want to create a student organization about emerging risks.

Publications from a Team of Researchers

Policy Shock book cover.Bass Connections projects can be very fruitful as funding for a team of researchers. I think it’s most fruitful when students help to design the research and produce a team project report.

Together with Ed Balleisen from the History Department, Lori Bennear from the Nicholas School and Energy Initiative, and Kim Krawiec from the Law School, we recently published a book, Policy Shock, that included a chapter coauthored by student contributors from the Regulatory Disaster Scene Investigation project of Bass Connections. An external grant enabled us to have a series of authors’ workshops with multiple chapter authors. We were able to bring in other colleagues at and outside Duke to broaden our set of case studies – on oil spills, nuclear power accidents, and financial crashes – so we could generate more comparative insights and lessons.

A graduate student in the Law School, Daniel Ribeiro, and I published a paper called “Environmental Regulation Going Retro” as an outgrowth of another Bass Connections project, Reviewing Retrospective Regulatory Review. This paper drew on Daniel’s dissertation research and my earlier work on the same topic.

One of last year’s Bass Connections projects was about adaptive regulation applied to the emerging technology of automated vehicles. Associated with that project, Lori Bennear of the Nicholas School and I are undertaking our own research and writing on the different options for adaptive regulation. We received a grant from the Provost’s Office, and we are writing a paper about how regulations can be designed to be adaptive as we learn more about changing technology, science, and society.

Photo by Braden Welborn: Jonathan Wiener (far left), Lori Bennear (fifth from right), and students on the Bass Connections team on adaptive regulation of emerging technologies host former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx (center).
Photo by Braden Welborn: Jonathan Wiener (far left), Lori Bennear (fifth from right), and students on the Bass Connections team on adaptive regulation of emerging technologies host former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx (center).

Approach to Teaching

I think one challenge has been in orienting everyone, students and faculty, to seeing the Bass Connections projects as collaborative team projects, rather than as conventional courses where faculty teach the students. There is a tendency by everyone to revert to the familiar default model of a professor conveying information to the students, whereas I think Bass Connections projects work best where everyone is a member of the team investigating something interesting, and at the beginning we don’t yet know exactly how we want to proceed.

Another aspect of Bass Connections is that these are team projects with multiple professors, and we faculty have to be able to share the time with each other and to collaborate on designing what the project will cover and what materials we’ll ask people to read. It’s very helpful to have a point person to coordinate that. This person can be a faculty member, a graduate student project manager, or both.

New Collaborative Efforts

Center on Risk logo.We are now launching a new Duke Center on Risk, based in the Science and Society Initiative. This is something I’ve wanted to do for many years, since I was president of the Society for Risk Analysis in 2008. Now is a great time to do this at Duke because it builds on the work that Mark Borsuk, Lori Bennear, I and others have been doing on rethinking regulation, on risk and resilience, and on specific applications and concepts like geoengineering, AI, extreme catastrophic risks, and risk-risk tradeoffs. We are grateful to the Provost for the planning grant and to Nita Farahany and the Science & Society Initiative for giving our center a supportive home.

In addition, we have started planning an event to be held at Duke in November 2020 on the EPA at 50. We have convened a collaborative group to brainstorm how we should organize this, including from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Energy Initiative, Rethinking Regulation, our Center on Risk, and faculty from a number of different schools. We may try to do a Bass Connections and/or a Story+ project to engage students in helping to assess the history of the EPA. This EPA at 50 event will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. EPA in 1970, and it will build on similar events we have held at Duke on EPA at 20, 30, and 40. We’re seeing Duke’s schools, institutes, initiatives, and Bass Connections as all fitting into this collective effort.

See all current initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan, and learn more about these seed funding opportunities:

  • Research Collaboratories (see RFP for projects in Energy and Water Resources; Race, Religion, and Citizenship; and Population Health, due February 15)

Duke Science & Society Presents Leadership Awards to Two Graduate Students

Deniz Ariturk, Cameron Fox

The Duke Initiative for Science & Society announced the 2018 recipients of the Science & Society Leadership Award. Deniz Ariturk and Cameron Fox are incoming students in Duke’s Master of Arts in Bioethics & Science Policy program, which is heading into its fifth year.

Deniz Ariturk

Deniz studied cognitive neuroscience at Washington University. While volunteering in multiple community engagement programs, she shared life alongside incarcerated women and low-income immigrant children while organizing campus-wide events centered around body image and eating disorders.

Deniz quickly recognized the potential for her research in moral psychology to inform policy and alleviate the systemic inequalities effecting these groups, but became frustrated at an inability to connect what she was doing in the lab to a practical application in the world.

In her statement of purpose, Deniz explains, “The discrepancy between the clarity of the conclusions that I reached in my polished university classrooms and laboratories, and the suffering felt by people only miles from campus, prompted me to question the broader impacts I wanted my research to have.”

Unsatisfied with having such an isolated effect, Deniz sought out the Duke Master of Arts in Bioethics & Science policy in order to further explore the unique methods, needs, and limitations of professionals working at each step of law and policy creation. She would like to eventually design research that benefits not merely other researchers, but policy and law makers as well.

Cameron Fox

Cameron studied neuroscience and philosophy at Vanderbilt. While there he served as an intermediary between undergraduates and faculty as a member of the neuroscience executive board, and in 2016 he helped establish the Association of Neuroscience & Law.

As an ardent communicator, his passion to connect disparate audiences is rousing. Where in debate one might seek satisfaction in winning an audience to their point, Cameron finds fulfillment in the “resonance” and resulting “feedback loop” he cultivates in effective dialogue. The feedback loop, he explains, is only possible by first learning how to carefully listen to others in earnest.

While debates are important, he goes on to differentiate his approach: “I’ve always enjoyed eclectic explanations, discovering associates between far-flung disciplines. There’s the initial eureka moment that occurs in my mind, and then there’s the pleasure of watching someone else’s face light up when what I’m saying clicks.”

Uncertain of confining his gregarious nature to pure benchwork and unwilling to abandon his empirical mind for the amorphous discussions in the humanities, he found a path at Duke that allows him to straddle the space between.

“I want to help bring disciplines together and take science to those outside of academia,” he states in an essay, “and show them how important and compelling it can be, and I have found no better path to this goal than Duke’s MA in Bioethics and Science Policy.”

Cameron looks forward to taking advantage of the many resources and programs available in the Duke Initiative for Science & Society, where he can further hone skills that will enable him to bring real change to the world. More specifically, Cameron will deepen his understanding of the ethical, legal, and scientific issues underlying the use of brain scans in the courtroom – a growing trend in criminal defense strategies with uncertain and potentially overstated application.

Excerpted from Announcing the 2018 Science & Society Leadership Award Recipients on the Duke Initiative for Science & Society website

Interdisciplinary Research Teams to Present Results at Bass Connections Showcase

Join the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council for a special year-end showcase event and reception on Thursday, April 20, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Come learn more about Bass Connections and find out what these research teams of faculty, grad students, undergrads and community partners have accomplished this year.


Reception and poster session begin


Students from five project teams will present lightning talks:


Bass Connections leaders will recognize this year’s student award recipients:


Reception and poster session continue


Free parking is available in the Blue Zone accessed from the Towerview Road traffic circle. Please contact us if you require other parking arrangements.


Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology (GCB), Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity (DCORE), Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS), Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, Energy Initiative, Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI), Information Initiative at Duke (iiD), Kenan Institute for Ethics, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Social Science Research Institute (SSRI)


Doctoral Students Receive Grant for Science and Technology Policy


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.

The California Council on Science and Technology, 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, students in the Duke PhD program in Biology, 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.”

To learn more, read the full article on the Duke Science & Society website.

Huang Fellows Design Science Kits for Children


The 2016 cohort of Duke Huang Fellows designed original concepts for simple, engaging and affordable teaching tools aimed at enhancing the science skills of elementary school children.

Today these custom science kits were delivered to the Expedition School in Hillsborough, NC, for its Science Days activities. Special thanks to the Duke TeachHouse for collaborating on the project.

The Huang Fellows Program trains students to understand science in the context of and in service to society. Fellows learn how to integrate ethics, policy and social implications into their scientific research. This highly selective program fosters a community of accomplished undergraduate scholars who will be trained in the sciences and grounded firmly in the liberal arts–and who will be well prepared to serve as leaders in sciences and the biomedical professions. The program is supported by a grant to the Duke Initiative for Science & Society from Dr. Andrew Huang.

View photos by Ben Shepard and learn more about the Huang Fellows.

Science, Law & Policy Lab Is Accepting Applications for 2016-2017

Science, Law & Policy Lab Is Accepting Applications for 2016-2017

Deadline: September 13, 2016

About SLAP Lab

SLAP Lab (Science, Law & Policy Lab) is a vertically-integrated, interdisciplinary laboratory directed by Dr. Nita Farahany (Professor of Law & Philosophy, Director of Duke Initiative for Science & Society). SLAP Lab is designed to bring science to bear on questions of law and policy. Faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergrads work together on shared research projects and publications.

SLAP Lab is built around the broad theme of how science impacts and is impacted by law and policy. Researchers study the role of science in the law and policymaking, with a particular emphasis on the technology and the biosciences (genetics and neuroscience). Empirical research and laboratory research (including the use of consumer technology and devices (e.g. Google Glass, Consumer EEG devices, tDCS)) is undertaken using a collaborative model of research and publications. Lab activities include designing new research studies and engaging in ongoing research, giving presentations of works in progress, discussions of recent relevant literature, developing scholarship, multimedia, and policy for publication and dissemination, and occasional outside speakers.

Lab Activities

Lab members meet once weekly for lab meetings, and on an ongoing basis for their research. Regular activities of the lab include:

  • Designing new research studies
  • Engaging in ongoing research
  • Giving presentations of works in progress
  • Discussing recent relevant literature
  • Developing scholarship, multimedia, and policy for publication
  • Occasional outside speakers

Ongoing Research Projects

  • Testing Neuroscience Devices for Meditation and Focus
  • Use and Public Attitudes Toward Consumer Neuroscience Devices
  • Empirical use of neuroscience in law
  • Privacy and public attitudes about emerging technologies
  • 3D Printing and Intellectual Property Law

Requirements of Lab Members

  • Available for weekly meetings for the 2016-2017 academic year
  • Interested in joining an existing research project or designing a new one
  • Committed to serving as a lead author or co-author on one publication per year
  • Undertaken or available to undertake responsible conduct of research (RCR) requirements
  • Researchers do not receive compensation or credit for their participation, and instead are full collaborators and authors of publications

To apply to join SLAPLAB as a researcher for the 2016-2017 academic year: 

  • Email with subject “2016-2017 SLAP Lab Application” by 5 p.m. on September 13
  • Send cover letter, one paragraph statement of interest, and resume (include GPA and unofficial undergraduate or graduate transcript)
  • Identify existing or new research projects you are interested in undertaking
  • Identify at least one external funding opportunity to build research (identify an organization, RFP, or funding organization that might be interested in furthering the research area you are interested in)
Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Robotics, Autonomous Technology & Policy

Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Robotics, Autonomous Technology & Policy

Deadline: August 31, 2016

Duke Science & Society Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Robotics, Autonomous Technology & Policy

The Duke Initiative for Science & Society invites applications for the 2016-2017 Science & Society Robotics, Autonomous Technology and Policy Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program. This fellowship is intended for individuals with a PhD in robotics or engineering related fields interested in an academic or policy career working on the intersection of robotics and society.

Science & Society

The Duke Initiative for Science & Society (“Science & Society”) examines the wide-ranging and integral role of science in social institutions and culture. Science & Society integrates and fosters innovation in related research, education, and engagement at Duke by adopting an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how science and human endeavors intersect with a specific focus on ethical, legal, and social implications for science. For more info:

Humans and Autonomy Lab (HAL)

Research in the Humans and Autonomy Lab focuses on the multifaceted interactions of human and computer decision-making in complex sociotechnical systems with embedded autonomy. 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. Employing human- systems engineering principles to autonomous system modeling, design, and evaluation, and identifying ways in which humans and computers can leverage the strengths of the other in an autonomous system to achieve superior decisions together is the central focus of HAL. For more info:

The Fellowship

The fellow will lead the Humans and Autonomy Lab section of a vertically-integrated, cutting- edged interdisciplinary project using innovative means to analyze, research, and communicate up-to-date information about new developments in science policy. Fellows engage in research and analysis, author and edit policy-related briefings on science-based laws and regulations, track news, events, and key players in the robotics and autonomous technology fields, and manage a team of undergraduate and graduate level research assistants and editors.

The Science & Society Fellowship is a residential one-year fellowship, with the presumption of renewal. Fellows are housed in the Humans and Autonomy Lab of Missy Cummings, Ph.D., and dedicate one half of their time to supporting the activities of Science & Society Science Policy Project, twenty five percent of their time to seeking and applying for grants to scale the Duke Science Policy project, and twenty-five percent of their time on independent and/or collaborative research projects. Fellows are provided with office space, a competitive stipend, and benefits.

Fellowship Responsibilities:

• Lead a topical team focused on robotics and society as part of the Science Policy Tracking Program, a program designed to provide an informational resource for scientists, policy makers, the public, students, and other stakeholders interested in science and technology policy developments and news.

  • Active participation in identifying funding opportunities and applying for funding for the Science Policy project
  • Participate in relevant conferences, workshops, and seminars
  • Pursue independent and/or collaborative research in robotics and autonomous technology and policy

The Application Process:

Applicants should submit a CV, contact information for three references, a writing sample, and a research proposal (in 2,000 words or less) to Mary Jo Smith ( The subject line of the email application should read “Application 2016 Robotics and Policy Fellowship Program” and must be received no later than 5 p.m. on August 31, 2016. Fellows will be chosen based on demonstrated academic merit, on likelihood of future success in academia or science policy, and on strength of their research proposals.

SciComm Fellows Program

SciComm Fellows Program

Deadline: August 24, 2016

The Duke Initiative for Science and Society hosts the SciComm Fellows Program, which provides an opportunity for faculty and postdocs to develop communication skills and put those skills into action. On three Fridays this fall, 24 Fellows (faculty and postdocs) will:

  • Explore the empirical benefits of communicating science
  • Develop speaking, writing, and storytelling practices for diverse audiences
  • Learn to answer difficult, controversial, and critical questions from the media
  • Tweet, blog, write op-eds, and present their research to engage the lay public
  • Prepare policy briefs
  • Engage with policymakers and funders

Training sessions will include work with experts in science communication, media, narrative, and policy, as well as hands-on spoken and written exercises across multiple platforms. As part of a diverse class, Fellows will develop skills essential to doing meaningful outreach with real impacts, including opportunities to brief policymakers, write op-eds, give public talks to lay audiences, and participate in media interviews.

All regular-rank faculty members and postdoctoral fellows in the STEM disciplines are eligible, but admission is competitive.


Three Fridays this Fall:

  • September 16
  • October 7
  • October 28

The first two sessions will run from 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM and will include continental breakfast and lunch.  The third session will run from 12:00 PM to 5:30 PM, will include lunch and will conclude with a Happy Hour during which participants will have the opportunity to practice the skills they developed over the course of the three workshops.


The workshops will be held at the Duke Initiative for Science & Society’s facility in the Erwin Mill Building (2024 West Main Street, Bay A, Second Floor).  We’re located on 9th and Main Streets (between East and West Campus), with ample visitor parking.

How do I apply?

Faculty members and postdocs can apply here. Senior faculty members are encouraged to nominate promising colleagues and postdocs. Postdoctoral fellows must identify a faculty sponsor. The application deadline is August 24, 2016.

How much does it cost?

Science & Society covers the $750 tuition costs for the program if Fellows participate in all three sessions. However, as is consistent with Duke University policy for professional development activities, Fellows will be charged for the cost of each missed session ($250/session).  All admitted applicants must provide a fund code to which any missed-session costs will be charged.


Email Dr. Jory Weintraub at jory(at)duke(dot)edu.

Sponsored by: Duke Initiative for Science and Society