Back to

Emerging Issues in Science and Society (EISS) Symposium

Emerging Issues in Science and Society (EISS) Symposium

To meet the great challenges of this century we need the best science, but also the best social and humanities research. The answers that science provides are often not enough to make the changes we need to see in the world. Only when researchers work together across disciplinary divides can we be sure we are asking the right questions.

The Emerging Issues in Science and Society (EISS) symposium is supported by the National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science at the Australian Academy of Science. Over two days, scientists will be in conversation with humanities and social scientists to generate new answers and new questions to address some of the biggest challenges of our time.

The theme for this year’s EISS is Unprecedented Science and will feature sessions on modelling COVID-19, the “anthropause,” re-framing biocultural collections, and biometrics and the politics of recognition.


  • Apr 27, 2021 10:15 AM – Session 1: The Anthropause

  • Apr 27, 2021 01:30 PM – Session 2: Biometrics and the politics of recognition

  • Apr 29, 2021 10:30 AM – Session 3: Modelling COVID-19

  • Apr 29, 2021 12:30 PM – Session 4: Re-framing bio-cultural collections

Session descriptions:


The Anthropause is the global and ongoing reduction in human mobility resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This temporary “pause” in mass-travel represents a unique opportunity to examine the relationship between humans and nature, and to examine what changes need to occur for a more sustainable future. In this panel, our speakers explore the implications of this unpredicted lack of human activity in terms of its ecological impacts, the ethics of human-environment interaction and new possibilities for more-than-human cities.

About the presenters:

Wendy Steele is an Associate Professor in Cities and Sustainability at the Centre for Urban Research (CUR) at RMIT University in Melbourne. She is also an expert commentator on urban planning, policy and governance. Her current research focuses on the governance and planning of cities in a climate of change with an emphasis on climate justice/security, critical urban infrastructure and cyborg/smart cities.

Euan Ritchie is a Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Integrative Ecology at Deakin University. Euan’s research is focussed on finding solutions to the challenges of conserving biodiversity in a human-dominated and rapidly changing world. He also invests significant time in science communication and environmental policy.

About the chair:

Will Smith is an Associate Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute at Deakin University. He is an anthropologist and human geographer whose research critically explores environmental governance, indigenous livelihoods and climate change in the Philippines. He is the author of Mountains of Blame: Climate and Culpability in the Philippine Uplands (University of Washington Press, 2020).


Are biometric tools forces of good, heralding a brave new world where systems can be trusted, or an oppressive world of surveillance and governmentality? How good are these technologies, and how can they be used for good? What are the key issues, beyond the binaries of good and evil that often overwhelm the debate? Professor Raj Vasa, an expert in AI and complex software design, and Dr Pawan Singh, social scientist and contemporary historian, discuss the technical and social aspects of facial recognition and other forms of biometrics. Their conversation will be moderated by Dr Shiri Krebs, an expert in AI law and national and international security.

About the presenters:

Rajesh Vasa is an innovator and entrepreneur with over two decades of experience spanning both industry and academia with a specialisation in artificial intelligence and complex software systems design. He leads the translational research at the Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute at Deakin University. His recent and current work spans multiple areas including building intelligent homes, assessing clinical risk from medical data streams, improving patient care in hospitals, analysis of data from complex simulations, conversational agents to work in educational settings, and analysing data streams to improve productivity in various settings

Pawan Singh is a visiting fellow at the Australia India Institute. From 2016-2019, he was a New Generation Network Fellow in contemporary histories at Deakin University. With a PhD in Communication from the University of California San Diego, he has also served as a Hindi-news media language and translation consultant for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a project commissioned by the Gates Foundation. His research examines the right to privacy in India from a legal, technological and cultural perspective, particularly as these relate to questions of social identities, justice and visibility within datafying systems such as Aadhaar, the Indian biometric identity project.

About the chair:

Shiri Krebs is an Associate Professor of Law at Deakin University and Co-lead, Law and Policy Theme, the Australian Government Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CSCRC). She is also an affiliate scholar at Stanford University’s Centre for International Security and cooperation (CISAC). Dr Krebs’ research focuses on predictive technologies in legal decision-making processes, at the intersection of law, science and technology. Her scholarship has been published at leading academic journals (e.g. the Harvard National Security Journal) and granted her several research awards, including the Vice-Chancellor’s Early Career Researcher Award for Career Excellence (Deakin University, 2019) and the American Society of International Law (ASIL) ‘New Voices’ Award (2016). Dr Krebs has taught in a number of law schools, including at Stanford University, where she earned, with Honours, her Doctorate and Master Degrees in the Science of Law.


This session will discuss how mathematical modeling of emerging infection and illness data have been interpreted by social and epidemiological researchers to provide rapid information to inform policy in Victoria and Australia.  We will also discuss how the politicians, health services and the public have responded to this advice and compare to a global context.

About the presenters:

Professor Catherine Bennett was appointed inaugural Chair in Epidemiology at Deakin University in 2009 and prior to that was Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the University of Melbourne. Her undergraduate training was in genetics and microbiology and her PhD in biological anthropology. She completed a Masters in Applied Epidemiology with the ANU in 2000 specialising in communicable disease epidemiology. She worked with the Hunter Public Health Unit, NSW, and was appointed Olympic Public Health Coordinator for Northern Sydney, overseeing incident risk mitigation and response planning, outbreak investigations, and surveillance. For the last 20 years she has led research on community transmission of infectious diseases. In the COVID-19 pandemic, Prof Bennett is researching evidence-based policy, excess COVID-related deaths, and covid-safe work practices. She engaged in the analysis of, and expert commentary on, the pandemic in Australia and globally.

John Matthewson is a philosopher of science with a background in clinical medicine, based at the Albany campus of Massey University. His research interests include: concepts of health and disease, and how these connect to more fundamental biological notions such as evolutionary function; scientific modelling, particularly regarding the limitations and trade-offs faced by modellers, and what features of the modellers’ objectives and subject domain affect those trade-offs; the delineation and investigation of populations in biology, medicine, and the social sciences. The last of these projects is the subject of a current Marsden Fast-Start grant, through the Royal Society Te Apārangi. 

About the chair:

Professor Jeff Craig is a Lecturer in Medical Sciences at School of Medicine at Deakin University, Waurn Ponds, Victoria. Prior to this, he spent twenty years as a researcher at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne. He studies the role of epigenetics in mediating the effects of early life environment on the risk for chronic disease. He is currently developing epigenetic biomarkers from easy-to-collect biosamples.


How can we re-frame and re-centre Indigenous ways of knowing in Western museum collections? What kinds of models for collaboration and participation can we use to produce new histories and restore lost knowledge practices? In this panel, our speakers will discuss the Robert Neill fish collection held in the National Museum of Scotland and how a new project aims to bring together Indigenous and Western scientific practices as a model for cross-cultural and cross-sector collaboration between Menang Nyungar cultural experts, museum partners, historians, and biologists of marine species. 

About the presenters:

Tiffany Shellam is an Associate Professor in History at Deakin University. She works collaboratively with Noongar people and historians, museum curators, archivists and librarians to critique the archives, unearthing hidden and alternative histories generated by encounters between Indigenous people and European explorers and setters in the early nineteenth century

Shino Konishi is Yawuru historian and an Associate Professor in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Australian Catholic University. Her research includes studies on Aboriginal intermediaries who played significant roles in European exploratory expeditions, including wayfinding and natural history collecting. She edited the two collections, Indigenous Intermediaries: New Perspectives on Exploration Archives (2015) and Brokers and Boundaries: Colonial Explorations in Indigenous Territory (2016) with Tiffany Shellam and Maria Nugent and currently leads an ARC project on Indigenous biography.

About the chair:

Emma Kowal is a Professor of Anthropology in the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. She is a cultural and historical anthropologist who previously worked as a medical doctor and public health researcher in Indigenous health. Much of her work is at the intersection of science and technology studies, postcolonial studies and indigenous studies. Her publications include the monograph Trapped in the Gap: Doing Good in Indigenous Australia and the collection (co-edited with Joanna Radin) Cryopolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World. Her current book project is entitled Haunting Biology: Science and Indigeneity in Australia.


Looking to partner with Australia's leading social sciences 
and humanities research institute?

If you are interested in partnering or studying with us – we're keen to hear from you.