Research

Talking cancer moonshots with Vice President Joe Biden

My research explores how formal organizations have shaped the science and policy trajectories of cancer research and innovation from the Cold War to the present day. I advance a theoretical approach to cancer research organization as a social learning process rooted in rigorous mixed-method empirical projects, including comparative analysis of archival and interview data from field sites in the US, Latin America, and India as well as computational analysis of budget data for the National Cancer Institute (NCI). My work contributes to science, technology, and society (STS), pragmatist social theory, sociology of medicine and health care, and public policy.

 

Book Project

I am currently developing a book manuscript from my dissertation, entitled Quartermasters in the War on Cancer: A History of Planning and Innovation at the National Cancer Institute. This book presents a cohesive historical narrative of how successful viral cancer vaccine innovation depended upon National Cancer Institute scientists’ construction of administrative and technological infrastructures that stabilized inquiry according to locally-developed organizational routines and patterns of collaboration. Bookended by the original “cancer moonshot” of the 1960s and Vice President Biden’s “moonshot” of 2016, I show how the NCI’s central role as a federal research agency and funding source profoundly shaped the substance and direction of biomedical research since the mid-twentieth century. Spanning 1958-2016, this narrative will provide an essential academic resource for social scientists and historians studying cancer research policy and a comprehensive longitudinal case study of long-term social learning processes in a federal research organization. The book also sets an ambitious theoretical agenda for STS scholars who analyze the role organizations play in shaping the political economy of biomedical research through local innovations.

 

Transnational HPV Vaccine Development

In August 2016 I launched a mixed-methods study that utilizes qualitative interviews and historical analysis to compare transnational HPV vaccine innovation programs in public and private research organizations in the US, India, and Costa Rica. This study examines how critiques of the market’s capacity to reduce global cervical cancer disparities informed decisions to conduct research in middle-income countries where citizenship debates and the political economy of vaccine innovation vary from the U.S.

 

Organizational Learning and Policy Change

Since September 2016 I have overseen a team of research assistants in the development of a cultural, longitudinal, and network data set using archival sources on congressional appropriations hearings for the National Cancer Institute from 1958-2017. This data set includes quantitative budget figures as well as thick qualitative description of appropriations hearings, congressional budget reports, and annual reports from NCI divisions. I will use these data to develop a robust explanation of the production, organization, and transmission of budgetary information across the bureaucratic hierarchies of the National Cancer Institute and among the NCI, Congress, and the White House throughout the appropriations process. I will analyze how local scientific-managerial practices are performed across the different media of budgetary reports and congressional appropriations testimony to chart in great empirical detail how the routines that sustain the NCI as an organization are insinuated into institutional policy strategies for funding cancer research across multiple iterations of the annual appropriations process. This data set will also allow me to explore how computational models that use Bayesian algorithms with posterior passing to simulate various budget scenarios might give social scientists unique insights into how prior funding in Republican- or Democrat-controlled sessions of the Congress and White House affect the long-term budget trajectories of federal agencies.

 

Collaborative Side Projects

I have conducted theoretical work with Isaac Reed (Virginia, Sociology) that examines the plural processes whereby sociologists deploy mechanistic explanation in sociological inquiry. I have also collaborated with historian of science Robin Scheffler (MIT, Science, Technology and Society) to examine how the National Cancer Institute planned vaccines against human viruses not yet known to exist during the 1960s and 1970s.

I am currently conducting research with Ian Mullins (UC San Diego, Sociology), Vanessa Carels (UC Berkeley, Neuroscience), and Christopher Pappas (Sacramento State, Sociology) that investigates how political scientists use fMRI data to claim a biological basis for political conservatism. We argue that when political scientists adopt fMRI they elide the controversies surrounding the validity or reliability of these technologies in other disciplines. Abstracting from the case of how political scientists deploy fRMI to investigate political ideologies, we discuss the broader processes relating to the disciplinary transfer of technologies and the implications of this process in the receiving discipline when the controversy surrounding these technologies is lost in translation.

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