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New Hastings Center Project: Public Deliberation for a Democracy in Crisis

Technologies are transforming the planet and its inhabitants, human and nonhuman, calling out for assessment and wise decision-making. Yet trust in science is eroding and polarization deeply threatens our ability to solve collective problems, especially ones emerging in science and health policy — from how best to use our newfound powers to edit our genes to how to build communities, capable of meeting the needs of human beings living longer than ever before.  A new Hastings Center project, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is investigating how to improve public understanding of complex issues in ways particularly suited to problem solving and respectful dialogue at the community level. It aims to develop recommendations for the reform of civic learning for use by leaders in science and health policy, scholars, and community leaders.

The project is assembling some of the nation’s most thoughtful political philosophers, political scientists, sociologists, historians, and civic innovators to reflect on the current causes of polarization and to propose ways for ordinary citizens to engage in respectful listening, mutual exchange, and compromise.

“Part of our exploration will be deeply conceptual, culminating in a series of essays and reflections on how we have so diminished the quality of public discourse,” explains Mildred Z. Solomon, president of The Hastings Center and one of the principal investigators on the project. “Other aspects of the project will use in-depth case studies of existing highly controversial bioethical debates, ranging from vaccination refusal to climate change denial, to help us invent breakthrough approaches that might be deployed to promote democratic deliberation across our polarized society.”

The Work Group’s broad interdisciplinary expertise will be crucial.  As Bruce Jennings, senior adviser to The Hastings Center and a co- principal investigator on the project, puts it: “Polarization and broken dialogue is not just affecting science and health policy, but also most other areas of government and public policy: environmental, economic, education, social services, and civil rights. Knight Foundation has enabled us to assemble a stellar group of thought leaders, capable of sharing lessons from many domains.”

In addition to Solomon and Jennings, another principal investigator is Gregory E. Kaebnick, a Hastings research scholar and editor of the Hastings Center Report. Hastings scholars Michael K. Gusmano and Carolyn P. Neuhaus are co-investigators.

Published on: May 31, 2018
Published in: Bioethics, Science and Society

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