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Conbioetica dec 2-2013
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Conbioetica dec 2-2013

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Published in: Education, Spiritual, Technology

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  • 1. Dr. David Koepsell, TPM - Philosophy Science, Bioethics, and the Public Principles and duties
  • 2. Principles and Principals • Science is a public, international, and largely unregulated institution. To proceed properly, requires: • Universalism • Communalism • Disinterestedness • Originality • Organized skepticism (Merton, 1942, et seq.)
  • 3. Principles and Principals • Scientists conduct their work by the good graces of a willing and paying public, for the most part. • To whom are what duties owed, and according to what principles? • One way of looking at it is through a principal- agent model
  • 4. Principles and Principals • What does it mean to be responsible? • Relates to the issue of moral agency (what duties are owed by whom to whom, under what conditions) • Agents are generally responsible to principals, but in economics and game theory, we note the frequent emergence of problems….
  • 5. Principles and Principals • Principal-Agent problem: • Arises where parties have differing interests and asymmetrical information • Difficult to motivate the agent to act in the best interests of the principal rather than in own self- interest. • Often resolved through balancing and combining interests, and more transparency in information
  • 6. An example: The H5N1 controversy A major international bioethical controversy arose recently when a research group led by Ron Fouchier from Erasmus Medical Center engineered through selective breeding a strain of Avian Flu that appeared to be capable of airborne transmission in tests with ferrets. Controversy surrounded the means by which the study was disclosed to the scientific community and the public.
  • 7. An Example: The H5N1 Controversy To whom did Fouchier owe what duty? What interests may conflict, how can they be reconciled, and can informational symmetry help? One solution is to view science through the principal- agent lens
  • 8. An Example: The H5N1 Controversy Because science is largely funded by the public, and the public (through governments) can regulate its various sub-institutions (research institutes, universities, etc.)…. Principal --------------- Agent Public scientists Problem: are agents properly motivated?
  • 9. An Example: The H5N1 Controversy Some potentially conflicting interests and motivations Principal Agent ___________________________________________ Basic science (no conflict) Basic Science Utility/public health (conflict?) Utility (personal) Security (conflict?) Publication
  • 10. An Example: The H5N1 Controversy • Potentially conflicting interests may have exacerbated the effect of Fouchier’s actions • Aligning interests and better communication could have helped resolved them.
  • 11. Communicating Bioethics Better- the dual-use dilemma • The US and Dutch governments succeeded in portraying Fouchier’s publication as a potential security threat, and redactions and initial censorship ensued. • The basic science itself is potentially quite valuable to both the principal and agent, as knowledge about such strains can help fight them in nature if they evolve. • HOWEVER: it looked to many like arrogant (and possibly interested) scientists up against precautionary states.
  • 12. Communicating Bioethics Better – the dual-use dilemma The agent believes he acts in the interests of the principal, but poorly informs the principal so that it (the public) has a poor basis on which to agree The agent has interests that can conflict with the principal’s (personal utility-fame, patents, etc.; need to publish regardless of dual use problems) Interests can align around all of these, but only with better communication
  • 13. Communicating Bioethics Better- the dual-use dilemma Scientists have a duty, especially where basic research and technology poses dual-use problems, to both: 1) focus on the intended good uses for principal 2) be mindful and open about potential risks and take precautionary measures.
  • 14. Communicating Ethics Better- the dual-use dilemma • Symmetrical interests and information can help resolve when we view scientists and the public as involving a principal-agent model. In truth, both principal and agent have the following interests, and both should act in concert for: Basic science General utility Security
  • 15. Thank you References Braun, Dietmar. "Lasting tensions in research policy-making—a delegation problem." Science and Public Policy 30.5 (2003): 309-321. Braun, Dietmar, and David H. Guston. "Principal-agent theory and research policy: an introduction." Science and Public Policy 30.5 (2003): 302-308. Peter M. Sandman, Science versus Spin: How Ron Fouchier and Other Scientists Miscommunicated about the Bioengineered Bird Flu Controversy http://www.psandman.com/articles/Fouchier.htm