Carnegie Mellon University

Jay D. Aronson

Jay D. Aronson

Director, Center for Human Rights Science and Associate Professor, Department of History


Jay Aronson is the founder and director of the Center for Human Rights Science at Carnegie Mellon University.

He is also Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society in the Department of History. Aronson’s research and teaching focus on the interactions of science, technology, law, media, and human rights in a variety of contexts. His current project focuses on the use of digital evidence (especially video) in human rights investigations. The goal of this work is two-fold: first, to facilitate partnerships between computer scientists and human rights practitioners to develop better tools and methods for acquiring, authenticating, analyzing, and archiving human rights media; and, second, to understand the extent to which the democratization of human rights documentation (through the global spread of Internet access, social media, and mobile phones) may lead to an increase in accountability and the prevention of violations. Previously, Aronson spent nearly a decade examining the ethical, political, and social dimensions of post-conflict and post-disaster identification of the missing and disappeared in collaboration with a team of anthropologists, bioethicists, and forensic scientists he assembled. This work built on his doctoral dissertation, a study of the development of forensic DNA profiling within the American criminal justice system. His recent book, Who Owns the Dead? The Science and Politics of Death at Ground Zero (Harvard University Press, 2016), which analyzes the recovery, identification, and memorialization of the victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, is a culmination of this effort. Aronson has also been involved in a variety of projects with colleagues from statistics, political science, and conflict monitoring to improve the quality of civilian casualty recording and estimation in times of conflict. He is currently in the early stages of a new project on the history of forensic and medico-legal investigations of police-involved fatalities, deaths in custody, and use of force by law enforcement officials in the United States. Aronson received his Ph.D. in the History of Science and Technology from the University of Minnesota and was both a pre- and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. His work is funded by generous grants from the MacArthur Foundation, the Oak Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations.


Ph.D.: University of Minnesota, 2004



Edited Books Articles
  • “Computer Vision and Machine Learning for Human Rights Video Analysis: Case Studies, Possibilities, Concerns, and Limitations," Law and Social Inquiry, in press, 2018.
  • Jay D. Aronson, McKenna Cole, Alex Hauptmann, Dan Miller, and Bradley Samuels, "Reconstructing Human Rights Violations Using Large Eyewitness Video Collections: The Case of Euromaidan Protester Deaths," Journal of Human Rights Practice, in press, 2018.
  • Preserving Human Rights Media for Justice, Accountability, and Historical Clarification,” Genocide Studies and Prevention, 2017, 11(1): 82-99.
  • Challenging Impunity with User Generated Content,” International Justice Monitor, June 1, 2015.
  • Barbara Prainsack and Jay D. Aronson, “Forensic DNA Databases: Ethical Issues,” International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2015, 9: 339-345.
  • Alex John London, Lisa S. Parker and Jay D. Aronson, “DNA Identification After Conflict or Disaster,” Science, 2013, 341: 1178-1179.
  • Lisa S. Parker, Alex John London and Jay D. Aronson, “Incidental findings in the use of DNA to identify human remains: An ethical assessment,” Forensic Science International: Genetics, 2013, 7: 221-229.
  • “The Strengths and Limitations of South Africa’s Search for Apartheid-Era Missing Persons,” International Journal for Transitional Justice, 2011, 5(2): 262-281.
  • Jay D. Aronson and Simon A. Cole, “Science and the Death Penalty: DNA, Innocence, and the Debate over Capital Punishment in the United States,” Law and Social Inquiry, 2009, 34(3): 603-633.
  • “Neuroscience and Juvenile Justice,” Akron Law Review, 2009, 42: 917-930.
  • “Creating the Network and the Actors: The FBI’s Role in the Standardization of Forensic DNA Profiling,” Biosocieties, 2008, 3(2): 195-215.
  • “Brain Imaging, Culpability, and the Juvenile Death Penalty,” Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 2007, 13(2): 115-142.

Book Chapters

  • “The Utility of User-Generated Content in Human Rights Investigations,” in Molly K. Land and Jay D. Aronson, New Technologies for Human Rights Law and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 129-148.
  • Taylor B. Seybolt, Jay D. Aronson, and Baruch Fischhoff, “Introduction,” in Taylor B. Seybolt, Jay D. Aronson, and Baruch Fischhoff, Counting Civilian Casualties: An Introduction to Recording and Estimating Nonmilitary Deaths in Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2013). pp. 3-13.
  • “The Politics of Civilian Casualty Counts,” in Taylor B. Seybolt, Jay D. Aronson, and Baruch Fischhoff, Counting Civilian Casualties: An Introduction to Recording and Estimating Nonmilitary Deaths in Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 29-50.
  • Jay D. Aronson, Baruch Fischhoff, and Taylor B. Seybolt, “Moving toward More Accurate Casualty Counts,” in Taylor B. Seybolt, Jay D. Aronson, and Baruch Fischhoff, Counting Civilian Casualties: An Introduction to Recording and Estimating Nonmilitary Deaths in Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 285-298.
  • “Humanitarian DNA Identification in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” in Keith Wailoo, et al. (eds), Genetics and the Unsettled Past (Rutgers University Press, 2012), pp. 295-312.
  • “Certainty v. Finality: Is there a Fundamental Constitutional Right to Post-Conviction DNA Testing?,” in Sheila Jasanoff (ed.) Reframing Rights: Bio-Constitutionalism in the Genetic Age Age (MIT Press, 2011), pp. 125-146.
  • “On Trial! Governing Forensic DNA Technologies in the United States,” in Richard Hindmarsh and Barbara Prainsack (eds.), DNA Profiling and Databasing: Governing the Challenges of New Technologies (Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 24-261.
  • Simon A. Cole and Jay D. Aronson, “Blinded by Science on the Road to Abolition?,” in Austin Sarat and Charles Ogletree (eds.), The Road to Abolition (NYU Press, 2009), pp. 46-71.
Op-Eds and other Commentary

Courses Taught

  • Drone Warfare and Killer Robots: Ethics, Law, Politics, and Strategy
  • Expertise, Public Policy and Governance in the Modern World
  • Global Justice
  • History of Public Policy in the United States
  • History of Surveillance: From the Passport to Edward Snowden
  • Introduction to Science and Technology Studies
  • Mobile Phones & Social Media in Development & Human Rights: A Critical Appraisal