iGEM > Paris > Ethics > Ethical Report > Conclusion


I want to end by raising some questions regarding all we have been through, to suggest what can be understand about what is happening in that emerging field, and to make a recommendation.

First, regarding the third part of our analysis, we can see an explosion of actors, something like a scientific chess board, where companies, states, civil society movements and observers, students, DIY movements are all vying to be involved in the governance of the field, and both to answer regulation necessities and to fulfill that aim, they are proposing different ethical inventories and perspectives. This hybrid world of synthetic biology says something about the state of an emerging field in science, and how the scientific field is now -- as it always been -- clearly linked, mixed up with, and related to economic, social, political and cultural stakes.

Given the hybridity of actors and multiplicity of stakes, synthetic biology is like a festival, were the ethical needs can be related to the appreciation of the “public”. This public is at the same time concerned citizens, patients, media, readers, etc. As in a festival, the cartography we elaborated in the third part can lead us to consider something like an In / Out separation in the field. In the “In program” we would find scientist, companies, states and international institutions, universities. In the “Out program”, civil society and DIY movements, activist like Steve Kurtz, etc.

But some elements like decision making processes, visibility or legitimacy to the public don't match up with that In / Out interpretation. Sides and borders are not so rigid. Cases like the DIYIGEM initiative prove that things can be reorganized and redesigned under unforeseen events and we cannot predict who will finally take advantage of the situation. Largely, in the governance question and through scientific, technological and leadership issues, it is also very difficult to predict how and who is about to be the main deciding actor of the field. Let's keep in mind that safety concerns, as proved by the DIYIGEM rejection, will surely smooth out this hybridity, and make an In / Out separation more established.

What kind of statement can we draw from that? I think it could be interesting to question it ethically, in the scope of the youth generation meeting of IGEM 09. We can wonder about what kind of consequences this portrayal will create for future biological engineers. Taking over Merton's expression (Merton 1942) : In what scientific ethos is this generation about to work?

Are there universal norms that can now be shared by all the synthetic biology community? Can the values of communlalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originality and skepticism be shared both by biotechnological companies' scientists and by a DIY engineer?

I personally think that polyphony, explained in our introduction, is creating something like norms and duties. They now look more like a toolbox in order to build an ethical position, rather than scientific community norms base as described by Merton in 1942.

Beside an ethical toolbox which permits both scientist and non scientist to position themselves in all the debates we have been through, something like a critical individualism seems to be operating in the actors' mind. The idea of a critical individualism is that we no longer have the necessity to submit or adapt ourselves to the ethical and moral criteria of a whole community; differences and divergences are accepted and regarded as a possibility of new and innovative ideas. Beside that kind of freedom in positioning, which comes from liberal western culture which promotes the individual as the decider, criticism still matter and organized. Thus, the scientist can join with very different perspectives, as the Craig Venter Institute or the DIYbio local group of his city. This critical individualism seems to be the new scientific ethos in synthetic biology.

To summarize our work, we can remember that the two first parts about the ethical stakes lead us to the governance question. In order to face it pragmatically, we tried to describe the interests and interactions of the different actors of the field. We always try, in this work, to answer two imperatives : observing and questioning what can be a morally and politically good practices in synthetic biology. This statement leads us not to limit ourselves to the risks but to face more global ethical needs such as socioeconomic problems. We have to know how to take advantage of the emerging characteristic of the field as a freedom to challenge :

  • In a daily and local effort : A reflexivity in a ethical reflexion on practices, discourses and social interactions. Elements that are building...
  • … Disciplinary and larger problematic : A responsible position regarding what scientific paradigm, through concepts, perceptions and values, is coming with this field, still under construction but soon established.

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