• About ME

    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. I live in Santa Cruz.

     

    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.

  • Current projects

    What's on my desk right now.

    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 am interviewing 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 will be 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 am interviewing security experts and laypeople about their beliefs and attitudes regarding a range of security topics. I hypothesize that the security mindset can be understood and promoted using concepts and tools from behavioral science. The results of this research will be used to more accurately measure security mindsets in employment settings, and to create educational activities that can 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.

  • Education and work history

    Gryphon Scientific

    2006 - 2010

    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

    Lytics Lab

    2013 - 2015

    Doctoral Researcher

    Transformative Learning Technologies Lab

    2010 - 2012

    Doctoral Researcher

    Stanford University

    2010 - 2018

    Ph.D. in Education

    Minor in Computer Science

    Certificate in Computational Social Science

    Advisor: Carol Dweck

    Rutgers University

    2006 - 2010

    B.A. in Cognitive Science, Honors

    Phi Beta Kappa

  • CV and Selected Publications

    You can download my CV here.

     

    Selected publications:

  • Invited Talks and Other Media

    Invited talks:

    • 2022-05-05: "Motivating Proactive Biorisk Management." ABSA Biosecurity Symposium, Minneapolis, MN.
    • 2022-02-27: “Governing Biological Risks.” Stanford Existential Risk Initiative Conference, remote.
    • 2022-02-26: “Dealing with Dual Use.” Stanford Existential Risk Initiative Conference, remote.
    • 2021-03-21: "Motivating Proactive Risk Monitoring in the Life Sciences." Biosecurity working group, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University, remote.
    • 2020-12-03: Panelist for “Rethinking Safety and Security in Synthetic Biology.” Biosecurity, Biosafety, and Bioethics conference, remote.
    • 2020-12-01: “Engaging Life Scientists About Biological Risks.” Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, Stanford, CA.
    • 2020-11-04: Untitled presentation. Association for Biosafety and Biosecurity, Tempe, AZ.
    • 2020-02-22: "Measuring Cultures of Responsibility in the Life Sciences." Catalyst Biosecurity Summit, San Francisco, CA.
    • 2020-01-28: "Cultures of Responsibility in the Life Sciences." Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA.

     

    Media coverage and popular writing from my earlier work: