July 03, 2017
Alex John London Receives Clara L. West Professorship in Ethics and Philosophy
By Shilo Rea
Carnegie Mellon University’s Alex John London has been appointed the Clara L. West Professor of Ethics and Philosophy. A prominent ethicist who is frequently called upon to address critical problems nationally and internationally, London researches foundational ethical issues in human-subjects research, issues of social justice, the ethics of autonomous technologies and methodological questions in theoretical and applied ethics.
“Alex is vintage Carnegie Mellon,” said Richard Scheines, dean of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “He works on important societal problems, brings deep disciplinary—philosophical—expertise to bear and collaborates with the best technical and scientific minds to make the work matter to the worlds of policy, medicine and science. He is not only a great teacher and researcher, but he is also one of the funniest guys around. The Philosophy Department lunchroom has enjoyed a lot of laughter over the years, much of it due to Alex. I am personally delighted that Alex will get recognized with this chair."
London joined CMU’s Department of Philosophy in 2000. He is the director of the Center for Ethics and Policy, as well as the faculty advisor for the ethics, history and public policy major. He is an outstanding educator and received the Dietrich College’s top teaching award, the Elliott Dunlap Smith Award for Distinguished Teaching and Educational Service, in 2016.
London has helped to shape national and international policy on the ethics of research involving humans. He was a member of the Working Group on the Revision of CIOMS 2002 International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects and a frequent expert commentator for the revision of the 2013 Declaration of Helsinki. He was recently a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on Clinical Trials During the 2014-15 Ebola Outbreak which explored and analyzed the scientific and ethical issues related to vaccine and therapeutic drug design, trial conduct and reporting in response to the 2014-15 Western African epidemic. In 2016, he was appointed to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability where he advises, consults, and makes policy recommendations related to the safety of blood, blood products, organs and tissues.
In 2011, London was selected to serve on the International Commission on Missing Persons' (ICMP) Steering Committee on Forensic Science Programs. ICMP works to secure the cooperation of governments and other authorities in locating and identifying persons missing as a result of armed conflicts, other hostile situations or violations of human rights.
“Alex London is one of the top ethicists in the world working on problems of national and international importance, as well as an outstanding teacher, advisor and mentor for our students,” said David Danks, the L.L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy and Psychology and head of the Philosophy Department. “He is the best type of professor: one who improves every part of our department.”
London’s latest work focuses on ethical and policy issues related to the development and deployment of autonomous systems, such as self-driving cars. Together with Danks, he recently published an IEEE Intelligent Systems Expert Opinion piece that calls for driverless car regulations to be modeled after the drug approval process.
Among his many honors, London is an elected fellow of the Hastings Center and recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities. He has testified before the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues and has been commissioned to write papers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). He has served as an ethics expert in consultations with numerous national and international organizations, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the World Medical Association and the World Bank.
The Clara L. West Professorship honors the former dean of the Margaret Morrison Carnegie School for Women and its first professor of ethics. Margaret Morrison was eventually incorporated into CMU and the professorship also recognizes the roots of the study of ethics in particular, and the study of the humanities more generally, at Margaret Morrison.
As Eileen McConomy (MM ’56) once said of her education, “Although some of the major disciplines available to us may seem archaic to current students, for our era they were relevant. Our education was rigorous. Our women professors were the forerunners of the feminist movement and inspired us to take charge of our lives, to not be afraid to speak out for what we believed was right and to demand excellence in all that we did.”
London, who will be recognized at a reception this fall, said, “It is a tremendous honor to have a professorship that celebrates the long history of ethics at Carnegie Mellon and its roots in the Margaret Morrison Carnegie School for Women. The values of equality and social justice are at the heart of my work, and this recognition speaks to the importance of those values within Carnegie Mellon and in society more broadly.”
The professorship appointment was effective July 1, 2017.