In this episode of our podcast, we are joined by Dr. Brandon Ogbunu, an evolutionary biologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University. Dr. Ogbunu’s research takes place at the intersection of evolutionary biology, genetics, and epidemiology.
Dr. Ogbunu grew up in New York during the emergence of Hip Hop and the crack epidemic. Despite being a C-average high school student, he was inspired to pursue a career in science and went on to complete his PhD at Yale University in 2010, followed by postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard University and the Broad Institute. He is now considered part of a radically new generation of scientists who are spanning traditional scientific disciplines, such as evolutionary biology and math, to make new discoveries.
In this episode, Dr. Ogbunu discusses his journey from his upbringing to becoming a world-renowned scientist, as well as his thoughts on scientific objectivity and the legacy of Black scientists. He also talks about his recent groundbreaking paper, which discusses the racial impacts of COVID-19 on the criminal legal system. The study shows that during the first year of the pandemic, the number of incarcerated people in the US decreased by at least 17%, the largest decarceration event in United States history, yet incarcerated white people benefited disproportionately and the fraction of incarcerated Black and Latino people sharply increased.
Dr. Ogbunu explains how the carceral state can be understood as a complex adaptive system, where various actors, including the media, cops, and politicians, perpetuate new forms of racist practices and outcomes. He also shares his thoughts on how data science can be used as a weapon by Black and brown communities to uncover and conquer the legacy of racism in American institutions.
The conversation concludes with an exercise in Black Radical Imagination, where Dr. Ogbunu discusses the most promising advancements taking place at the intersection of science and Black communities.
Dr. Ogbunu’s work serves as a reminder that science and advocacy can go hand in hand, and that it’s crucial for scientists to consider the societal implications of their research.
We hope you enjoy this thought-provoking and informative episode.