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New Hastings Researcher Tackles Questions About Genetic Research on Human Behavior

Lucas J. Matthews has been named a postdoctoral researcher at The Hastings Center and the Columbia Center for Research on Ethical, Legal & Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic & Behavioral Genetics. In this two-year position, he will take on conceptual, methodological, and ethical issues that underpin recent developments in genetic technologies, such as polygenic risk scores.

After completing a PhD in philosophy of science in 2016 at the University of Utah, Matthews worked as a postdoctoral researcher in behavioral genetics at the University of Virginia. At UVA, he spent three years learning about the latest techniques that scientists use to investigate the genetic influence on complex human behaviors, such as intelligence. At Hastings and Columbia Matthews will explore scientific and ethical questions raised by this area of research.

“These techniques have identified many correlations between DNA and intelligence, yet they have failed to discover underlying biological mechanisms, which I believe are crucial to developing strong scientific evidence for a genetic basis of complex traits,” he says. “In addition, there are ethical questions. What are the potential benefits and harms of polygenic scores for complex behavioral traits, such as intelligence and educational attainment? How can we mitigate potential harms? How can we maximize potential benefits?”

The Hastings Center has never shied away from the toughest ethical challenges faced by society.

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