I study the societal risks and potential of life-science research.
Hi, I'm Daniel. I'm a social scientist by training, and I use a combination of data science, survey research, policy analysis, and qualitative methods to help us understand our collective options for regulating life-science research. I am a Senior Analyst in Biosafety, Biosecurity, and Emerging Technologies at Gryphon Scientific, a DC-based research consultancy, and a 2022 Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity (ELBI) Fellow. My writing has been featured in Time.
Previously, I was a postdoctoral researcher and fellow under Dr. Megan Palmer and Prof. David Relman at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. My work focused on assessing and promoting proactive biorisk management practices among various stakeholders in the life sciences, including funders, publishers, academic institutions, and life scientists themselves. You can learn more about this work below.
Before moving to biosecurity in 2019, I worked in social psychology and applied education research, primarily by completing a Ph.D. in Education at Stanford in 2018 under Prof. Carol Dweck. In my dissertation, I measured and influenced two novel "employment mindsets" that contribute to adults' motivation to seek out job-skill training. At the same time, I worked as a behavioral scientist at the Project for Education Research That Scales, where I co-developed Elevate - a professional development program to help teachers make their classrooms more engaging, supportive, and meaningful for all students. I also contributed to an R library of data-analysis tools called Gymnast.
In my spare time I'm part of the Effective Altruism community, where I explore ways that social science can help address humanity's most pressing problems. I enjoy mentoring undergraduates through the Stanford Existential Risks Initiative, and I'm a co-organizer of a biosecurity discussion group called East Bay Biosecurity. I also occasionally blog on Medium. I live in Santa Cruz, California.
Promoting proactive risk monitoring in the life sciences
Current biosafety and biosecurity rules often can’t effectively constrain life scientists who don’t want to follow them, and new risks are arising faster than rules can be created. How do we motivate life scientists to proactively monitor the risks of their work without the tool of institutional rules?
In collaboration with colleagues at Stanford, I am conducting surveys and interviews to understand and influence the subjective meanings and attitudes that life scientists hold around biorisk mitigation. The results of this research will inform messaging, training, and onboarding programs to contribute to a culture of responsibility in the life sciences.
If dual-use risk management practices in the life sciences were collected and shared more widely, the field as a whole could learn how to assess risk more effectively and adopt stronger collective norms of risk management. How do we encourage influential stakeholders in the life sciences to adopt and share dual-use risk management practices?
In collaboration with colleagues at Stanford and the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative, I interviewed key international stakeholders in the life sciences (funders, researchers, and publishers) about their current dual-use risk assessment practices, collecting case-studies of best practices, and documenting barriers to adoption. The results of this research have been published as a collection of publicly-available resources.
Investigating the security mindset
Many sectors of the economy need a more security-aware workforce, including the life sciences and IT. One core security practice is the habit of identifying security flaws in the systems around you (sometimes called the "security mindset"). But existing discussions of the security mindset often characterize it as mysterious and unteachable (e.g. Schneier, 2008). How do we promote security mindsets at scale?
In collaboration with colleagues at Stanford and the University of Maastricht, I interviewed 21 cybersecurity experts about their beliefs and attitudes regarding a range of security topics. The results of this research can be used to more accurately measure security mindsets in employment settings and to create educational activities to promote security mindsets.
Empirically benchmarking dual-use risk assessment
US government policy requires that institutions receiving federal funding assess some life-science research for dual-use concerns and recommend mitigation strategies as needed. However, there is little empirical research on how much different reviewers agree or disagree in their assessments. If reviewers cannot agree on risk assessments, or if the choice of mitigation strategies does not heavily depend on risk assessments, then the purpose of assessment becomes less clear. To what extent do independent reviewers agree about the potential dual-use risks of a given research project?
In collaboration with colleagues at Stanford and the iGEM Foundation, I recruited 18 experienced dual-use research reviewers and 49 synthetic biology students to complete a modified version of the US government’s Companion Guide for DURC (dual-use research of concern) Assessment. Participants provided detailed assessments of risks, benefits, and recommended risk management strategies for four real-world synthetic biology projects. Our forthcoming results have implications for dual-use reviewer training and risk management.
2022 - present
Senior Analyist - Biosafety, Biosecurity, and Emerging Technologies (BBET)
Supervisors: Mark Kazmierczak and Rocco Casagrande
Center for International Security and Cooperation
2019 - 2022
Postdoctoral Researcher in Biosecurity & Project Fellow
Supervisors: Megan Palmer and David Relman
Project for Education Research That Scales
2013 - 2019
Data Associate and Program Manager
2013 - 2015
Transformative Learning Technologies Lab
2010 - 2012
2010 - 2018
Ph.D. in Education
Minor in Computer Science
Certificate in Computational Social Science
Advisor: Carol Dweck
2006 - 2010
B.A. in Cognitive Science, Honors
Phi Beta Kappa
You can download my CV here.