Meetings & Conferences Outreach

Data – Knowledge – Application – Governance (BioSysBio 2009)

Joyce Tait
ESRC Genomics Network

In her view, genetic engineering is to the 21st century what evolution was to the 20th century. There is a non-linear progression from science to the marketplace. It used to be linear (wait for a product to be ready). Governance and Regulation: presumption of regulation for a novel area of life science: how do gov'ts decide on regulatory approaches? What precedents to they invoke? Will GM crops be the precedent for synbio and where will that lead? Feedback loops: regulation is what makes development expensive; venture capital won't invest without a regulatory system in place.

Upstream engagement promises: promisory agenda from socail scientists; more democratic approach; scientific research will not be adversely affected; citizens will be come more accepting of new tech. Downsides of upstream engagement: most people have better things to do; those who do engage might have an "axe to grind", or may develop concerns that they didn't have before; some research areas will be discouraged; we can't always predict what will come out of basic research happening now – this would be speculation on a very large time scale; even when that information is available we can't predict the products coming from that; most really innovative product developments require combined contributions from more than one area of fundamental science, but we won't know what we are missing; even doing this, you still won't avoid conflict later on or mistakes; can't control what happens privately, so you're only inhibiting public work; we're asking today's citizens to decide for the people in the future; under what circumstances is it legitimate to allow one societal group to foreclose options for others?

These aren't hypothetical situations – it really may block off certain areas of research. Public dialogue – rather than engagement – is an excellent thing. Helps manage expectations. She suggests standards related to public engagement in terms of willingness to listen to alternative vews and not knowlingly presenting biased information to support their views. We need to avoid domination of dialogue by ideological views that are not amenable to negotiation.

Wednesday Session 2

Please note that this post is merely my notes on the presentation. They are not guaranteed to be correct, and unless explicitly stated are not my opinions. They do not reflect the opinions of my employers. Any errors you can happily assume to be mine and no-one else's. I'm happy to correct any errors you may spot – just let me know!

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By Allyson Lister

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