My research interests are at the intersection of medicine, technology, standardization and race. Broadly, I investigate how different stakeholders, from government actors and clinicians to patients, respond to a litany of new challenges to health and in healthcare. My current book project uses the case of cosmetic surgery to show how medical knowledge and technologies shape racial categories. In addition, I am part of multiple interdisciplinary collaborations that study the governance and accountability of technical systems ranging from public health infrastructures to artificial intelligence supported software.

Cosmetic surgery

My book project, tentatively titled Crafting Race: Global Cosmetic Surgery and the New Art and Science of Racial Difference, offers a multi-level comparison of how cosmetic surgeons engage with and re-shape race in expert discourse, popular discourse, and everyday practice. The book illuminates how physicians produce and stabilize racial categories and hierarchies. Beginning with an analysis of expert discourse at the global level, it then compares how cosmetic surgeons discuss and enact appropriate appearances for patients in two multiethnic societies: the U.S., a wealthy country with a long history of cosmetic surgery practice and research, and Malaysia, a middle income country with an emergent cosmetic surgery market. Focusing on the role of cosmetic surgeons as gatekeepers to and producers of desired appearances, Crafting Race argues that cosmetic surgeons re-make race—literally, on patients’ body but also at the level of broader culture. In addition to measuring, organizing and reporting racial difference, the craft of cosmetic surgery preserves and elaborates racial difference as a form of art. The book calls for more attention to how forces and events working at different scales (local, national, and global) converge to stabilize the continuing use of racial categories in medicine.

In articles based on this research, I find that ethnic-specific beauty standards have proliferated in the U.S. By contrast, a pan-ethnic “Asian” beauty ideal has emerged in multiethnic, Muslim-majority Malaysia, among other options. Different racial/ethnic identities and formations emerge in interaction between cosmetic surgeons and patients. Yet at international conferences and in the pages of journals, efforts to promote transnational exchange in cosmetic surgery have led to a sedimentation of a few racial types of patients, aesthetics, and techniques. This work suggests that under medical consumerism, race and ethnicity may take on more salience as categories that denote aesthetic preferences as well as perceived bodily differences.

New technologies in medicine

I am also a Principal Investigator of a three-year, National Science Foundation-funded project on Policy Design for Holding AI-Supported Systems Accountable. This research involves collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from computer science, public health, medicine, biomedical engineering as well as sociology. As society is becoming more and more dependent on software systems, questions arise about how such software can be developed responsibly. In the design of software systems, flexibility and innovation must be balanced with safeguarding the public. Regulators who design policy to steward software’s effect on society often have a hard time capturing clear guidance to hold software systems accountable and keeping up with new technologies, such as the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI). To reconcile software and policy design and construct a proactive policy framework for accountable software systems, guidance for qualities such as explainability, safety, and fairness requires more attention.

More specifically, this work draws on case studies from healthcare to investigate how to design software that can be certified to comply with external regulations from bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Using interviews with software developers, regulators, clinicians, and patients/users, as well as historical and technical analysis and experiments, we investigate how stakeholders weigh risks, benefits, and trust with regard to specific AI-supported software systems. The project facilitates interactions between policy makers and software engineers in understanding capabilities and societal expectations toward forming policy goals and connecting policy to specific quality-assurance obligations for regulatory purposes.

Moreover, I have written about how online reviews diminish physician authority despite their largely positive content. In a study of patient attitudes toward the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in skin cancer screening, my collaborators and I found that patients were most receptive to AI-assistance in diagnosis within the context of a physician-patient relationship.

COVID-19

I am part of a collaborative survey research project that examines public attitudes toward COVID-19 mitigation efforts in Southeast Asia, headed by Prof. Sulfikar Amir. Initial results suggest that despite the challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic in 2021, workers in the informal sector in Indonesia show higher social resilience relative to other socioeconomic groups.