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Science Policy and Values: Resources

How can we ensure that emerging technologies are used in ways that align with public values? Several projects at The Hastings Center have addressed this question.

Public Deliberation about Gene Editing in the Wild

“Democratic deliberation” refers to a variety of strategies for engaging the public in policy-making. Many commentators have called for democratic deliberation, either with small community groups, larger groups of stakeholders, or broader publics, to help guide policy decisions about gene editing technologies.

A collaborative research project funded by the National Science Foundation examined the use of broad democratic deliberation to inform policy decisions about the possible release of genetically modified organisms into the shared environment. A multi-author special report, Gene Editing in the Wild: Shaping Decisions through Broad Public Deliberation, developed recommendations about the use and design deliberative events. Hastings scholars also developed a curricular material for use in college-level courses on democratic deliberation.

Values in Impact Assessment

The development and use of emerging technologies are often guided in part by cost-benefit analysis, which proponents say provides an objective way of assessing and comparing how potential outcomes advance the public’s values. But CBA is also sometimes criticized as excluding important values and as favoring some interests over others. Critics often call for a “precautionary” methodology instead of CBA.

A Hastings Center project funded by the National Science Foundation examined the role of values in impact assessment, the use of CBA to guide policy decisions, and precautionary approaches. Applications of synthetic biology were used as case studies of impact assessment. The project led to the publication of a multi-author special report, Governance of Emerging Technologies: Aligning Policy Analysis with the Public’s Values, as well as other papers and presentations. Resources from the project are available from the links at the right.

“Civic Learning”

A project funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation studied the social processes by which the public makes civic decisions about scientific and technical policy issues. A multi-author special report, Democracy in Crisis: Civic Learning and the Reconstruction of Common Purpose, offered recommendations for improving those processes: . The report’s conclusion, authored by the Hastings scholars who led the project, argued that civic learning depends first on social policy that protects social welfare sufficiently to create a democratic ethos. The conclusion also offered recommendations for helping citizens understand science policy issues, share information responsibly, and talk about their perspectives respectfully.

Public Engagement on the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of Genetic Research

The Hastings Center is collaborating with scholars at Stanford and Columbia universities to create the Center for ELSI Resources and Analysis, which will collect and share information about the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetics research. The goal is to develop an online hub of information that will enable people grappling with these issues to easily find ethical or policy guidance and published research or connect with experts who can help them.

The project’s products include a discussion series for journalists and will include workshops, congressional briefings and policy briefs, and a special report published in the Hastings Center Report.

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

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