Scientific discoveries deepen our understanding of nature and ourselves, with the potential to transform our everyday lives, yet can raise ethical concerns or risks for society.
Cutting-edge neuroscience, genetics, and artificial intelligence are a few examples that are driving the need to discuss: Who bears responsibility for broad ethical considerations of scientific discoveries? When is it optimal to consider implications and risks? How can the public be empowered to participate in these discussions?
Two Kavli Centers for Ethics, Science, and the Public – at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Cambridge – are launching to engage the public in identifying and exploring ethical considerations and impacts born from scientific discovery.
The Kavli Foundation’s vision for the centers is a paradigm shift to meet an as-yet unmet need within science: a proactive and sustained effort that is intentional in connecting the public, scientists, ethicists, social scientists, and science communicators early in the process of scientific discoveries to identify and discuss potential impacts on society.
“We’re embarking on a democratization of the way we think, collaborate, and communicate about scientific discoveries and their ethical aspects – and ensuring the public is included,” says The Kavli Foundation President Cynthia Friend. “It’s long past due for this to happen.”
Until now, there hasn’t been a sustained and proactive venture to address ethical implications born from scientific discovery that involves the public early and intentionally in the scientific process. And while there is increasing recognition within the scientific community that the public should be involved, mechanisms and infrastructure to do this are lacking. The public is too often left out of these important discussions, or they are brought in too late.
“With the Kavli Centers for Ethics, Science, and the Public, we are taking necessary action to create the infrastructure that enables early and intentional public engagement in the ethical considerations born from scientific discoveries,” remarks The Kavli Foundation Director of Public Engagement, Brooke Smith.
Two centers were selected for this new venture based on their vision, approach, and experience. While both are multi-faceted and complementary in their approaches working across disciplines in the sciences and humanities, each will have an initial focus that is unique.
The Kavli Center for Ethics, Science, and the Public at UC Berkeley will reimagine how scientists are trained, beginning in the fields of neuroscience, genetics, and artificial intelligence. Leading the center is AI expert, Stuart Russell, along with Nobel-Prize Laureate Saul Perlmutter, who provided some of the first evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating; Nobel and Kavli Prize Laureate Jennifer Doudna, known for her discovery of the gene-editing tool CRISPR; theoretical and moral philosopher, Jay Wallace; bioethicist, Jodi Halpern; neuroscientist, Jack Gallant; and historian and writer, Elena Conis.
“The impetus from The Kavli Foundation has helped to mobilize Berkeley’s unparalleled resources in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering to collaborate on addressing one of humanity's most pressing problems: how to ensure that our rapidly advancing scientific and technological capabilities are directed towards the interests of humanity,” said Stuart Russell, who serves as the inaugural Director of the Kavli Center for Ethics, Science, and the Public at UC Berkeley.
In a unique collaboration with Wellcome Connecting Science, the Kavli Center for Ethics, Science, and the Public at the University of Cambridge will be led by internationally recognized social scientist and genetic counsellor, Anna Middleton; supported by sociologist and bioethicist, Richard Milne; and journalist and broadcaster, Catherine Galloway; with creative industry expertise from broadcaster Vivienne Parry OBE, sociology of education expertise from Susan Robertson and genomics and public engagement expertise from Julian Rayner. Drawing on a network of experts in ethics and public engagement from the UK, China, Russia, India, and Japan, the new center will explore how ethical implications raised by science are tackled in different cultural contexts within the domains of genomics, big data, health research, and emerging technologies.
“From the discovery of DNA’s structure to sequencing 20% of the world’s COVID virus and the development of the first artificial intelligence, Cambridge has been at the cutting edge of science for centuries,” remarked Anna Middleton, director for the Kavli Center for Ethics, Science, and the Public at the University of Cambridge. “Through collaboration with experts in popular culture we will find the evidence base to communicate complex ideas around the ethical issues raised by science so that all of us can share in decision making around the implications of science for society.”
The idea for the Centers was sparked by The Kavli Foundation’s work and observations in science and society, including research at the 20 Kavli Institutes globally, where inspiring and transformative science is being done—ranging from decoding brain activity to fabricating artificial cells.
“This is a long-overdue beginning of an important journey for the scientific community, and we look forward to the impact the Kavli Centers for Ethics, Science, and the Public will have on the future role of science within society,” says Friend.