Dr. Jane Maienschein (Arizona State University): Embryos in the Public Eye: What do Historians, Philosophers, and Science Studies Scholars have to add?
Dr. Jane Maienschein is visiting the Science Studies Colloquium Series. Maienschein is University Professor, Regents’ Professor, President’s Professor, and Director of the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University. She is also a Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where she heads the project funded by the James S. McDonnell Foundation on “Putting History and Philosophy of Science to Work with the Life Sciences.” Maienschein has served as president of the History of Science Society and of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology. Author of Embryos Under the Microscope and Whose View of Life?, she is also (co)editor of a dozen volumes including most recently Visions of Cell Biology and The Ark and Beyond.
Photo: Arizona State University
Ideas for engaging the public about science are not new, but ideas about how and when to carry out that engagement have changed. In the particularly fraught area concerning embryos, including stem cell research and gene editing, the research seems to strike at the heart of what it means to be human. In the United States, discussions quickly intersect with deeply held views about abortion. This is precisely why ethics advisory committees have often recommended public engagement since at least the 1970s, starting with discussions before the science gets done. Recent reports from the US National Academies of Science on stem cell research and gene editing similarly call for public participation in decision making. Leading CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna argues in her book A Crack in Creation that scientists like herself need to take the lead in raising ethical and social questions about science. In contrast, STS leaders Sheila Jasanoff and Benjamin Hurlbut in an essay in Nature (March 21, 2018) called for a “global observatory” on gene editing to promote “conversation.”
Engagement and conversation may be useful and good. With nuclear power, recombinant DNA, and other scientific work, public engagement has served a variety of purposes and has led to talking, listening, and responding in various ways. Historians, philosophers, and other science studies scholars have not yet played prominent roles in such “engagement.” Why not? Should we? And if so, then: who, what, when, where, how, and why?