Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and the public good
Biotechnologies are significant in many aspects of life, from food and energy production to medicine, industry, and economic development.
Researchers of emerging biotechnologies are subject to many pressures and influences but are themselves influential in shaping the direction of research.
Influences on researchers
A major influence on the direction of research in emerging biotechnologies is pressure from research funders, whether public, commercial or charitable. Other influences include the need to address societal challenges, the ‘impact agenda’ prevalent in university funding systems, visions expressed in technology ‘roadmaps’, and public expectations.
When framing research policy through societal challenges, a ‘public ethics’ approach should be taken to avoid overemphasis on technological rather than social solutions to problems with substantial social dimensions.
Public systems for the allocation of research funding should be designed to avoid encouraging researchers to overstep the bounds of their competence when assessing the impacts of their research in non-research contexts.
Influences of researchers
When communicating the results of their work and hopes about where it may lead, researchers can create expectations that inform the decisions of policy makers and investors. Through peer review, researchers can influence what research is published, where, and how important it is judged to be, as well as what research proposals receive funding. Influence on funding systems may also be possible through involvement in advisory committees that guide strategic directions of funders.
Researchers who take part in public discussion of research should take responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of the information they present, and should also strive to ensure that others represent the issues fully and correctly.
When seeking technical advice, policy makers should make a demonstrable attempt to avoid sole reliance on a limited number of established experts in particular fields [Chapter 6].