The National Science Foundation has awarded The Hastings Center a grant for a three-year project to explore the role of values in assessing the impact of new technologies and influencing policy.
While risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis are sometimes seen as objective, or “value-free,” they are also sometimes perceived as supporting special interests under the cloak of objectivity–in particular, as favoring science and industry. The project will examine what place, if any, values have in these impact assessment mechanisms, focusing on cases in synthetic biology.
Synthetic biology is frequently described as ushering in a new industrial revolution, in which genetically modified organisms will become the new means of production for medicines, fuels, and other human needs. “It raises profound questions about values, such as fundamental questions about our relationship to the living world,” says Gregory Kaebnick, the co-principal investigator. “The potential benefits and costs are enormous, possibly leading to considerable economic and social restructuring. Should impact assessment try to set values aside? Or should it–must it–incorporate values in some fashion? If so, what are those values?”
The other co-principal investigator is Michael Gusmano and the co-investigator is Karen Maschke; both are Hastings Center research scholars.