Justice in Big Data Biology and Healthcare Analytics

Speaker: Prof. Pilar Ossorio, PhD, JD

Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ethics Scholar-in-Residence at the Morgridge Institute for Research

Justice in Big Data Biology and Healthcare Analytics

Time: 3:30 – 4:30 pm, Wine and Cheese Reception to Follow
Date: Thursday, May 4th, 2017
Location: Seminar Room TRB 120, NYU Translational Research Building 227 E 30th Street New York, NY 10016



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Big biomedical research analyzes high throughput molecular data from thousands or tens of thousands of people, in conjunction with information obtained from electronic health records, geo-tracking, exposure databases, environmental monitoring devices, activity tracking, etc.  The goal of such research is to predict individual’s future health states or to classify people in ways that ultimately lead to more effective and efficient health care.  Machine learning algorithms are integral to this enterprise, but the health-related data on which algorithms learn inevitably incorporates patterns of social stratification.  Some of this stratification will reflect pernicious biases within healthcare systems or research organizations, some will reflect unfairness within the larger society, and some will reflect patterns of culture and practice that would not be deemed unfair by most theories of justice.  Algorithms that learn on biased data may reproduce those biases while obscuring them and diffusing responsibility for unfair health care.  Mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists are grappling with “algorithmic fairness” in non-healthcare contexts, such as the use of algorithms to screen job or school applications.  In this presentation, I will consider how fairness metrics developed in non-healthcare contexts might help us develop useful measures for evaluating the bias risks of biomedical datasets and fairness of machine learning outputs in biomedical research and healthcare.

About the Speaker

Dr. Ossorio is Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), where she is on the faculties of the Law School and the School of Medicine and Public Health (Department of Medical History and Bioethics). Additionally, she teaches in the UW Masters in Biotechnology Studies program. In 2011 she became the inaugural Ethics Scholar-in-Residence at the Morgridge Institute for Research, a private, non-profit institute affiliated with UW. She now leads the Morgridge Ethics Program. She also serves as the co-Director of UW’s Law and Neuroscience Program, Director of UW’s Research Ethics Consultation Service, and lead of the Ethics Core for UW’s Center on Predictive Computational Phenotyping (an NIH-funded BD2K Center). Prior to taking her position at UW, she was Director of the Genetics Section of the Institute for Ethics at the American Medical Association.

Throughout her career Dr. Ossorio has participated in numerous advisory committees and boards that aid governments in setting science policy. She has advised the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the FDA, Genome Canada, and Health Canada. In 2012 she was appointed to a four-year term on the Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Human Research Protections. She served a term on the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research, and is currently a member of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Advisory Council. She has participated in numerous committees and working groups to advise large-scale genome research initiatives, such as the 1000 Genomes Project and the Human Microbiome project. She has also worked with the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the IOM) and the National Research Council on various projects, most recently on the report by the Committee on Industrializing Biology and the International Summit on Human Genome Editing.