Hastings Center Report
The Social Risks of Science
Abstract: Many instances of scientific research impose risks, not just on participants and scientists but also on third parties. This class of social risks unifies a range of problems previously treated as distinct phenomena, including so-called bystander risks, biosafety concerns arising from gain-of-function research, the misuse of the results of dual-use research, and the harm caused by inductive risks. The standard approach to these problems has been to extend two familiar principles from human subjects research regulations—a favorable risk-benefit ratio and informed consent. We argue, however, that these moral principles will be difficult to satisfy in the context of widely distributed social risks about which affected parties may reasonably disagree. We propose that framing these risks as political rather than moral problems may offer another way. By borrowing lessons from political philosophy, we propose a framework that unifies our discussion of social risks and the possible solutions to them.