Newsletter Winter 2012 Biological Futures

Biological Futures in a Globalized World: Research Ethics / Research Integrity that Matters!

What do such disparate fields as synthetic biology, geo-engineering, and genetic enhancement have in common? In their distinct ways, they each represent cutting edge science and emerging technologies that make it possible to manipulate living systems on an unprecedented scale. And in this they pose dramatic new challenges, not just scientifically but also ethically. The University of Washington is a world center for innovative research in all these areas, and it is home to an ambitious new pilot project – Biological Futures in a Globalized World – the aim of which is to foster sophisticated collaborative thinking about the potential impact of these dramatic developments in the life sciences on human affairs.

Biological Futures in a Globalized World (BFGW) is a joint initiative of the Simpson Center for Humanities and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC), supported by funding from the Center for Biological Futures based at FHCRC. The principle investigator for BFGW is Alison Wylie, a Professor of Philosophy; she works closely with Roger Brent, of the FHCRC's Basic Sciences Division, who founded the Center for Biological Futures at the FHCRC in Spring 2011 with support from the Innovation Fund of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The UW-based cluster of projects that make up Biological Futures in a Globalized World includes a summer faculty research consortium, the first of which, hosted in summer 2011, brought together four UW faculty working on biological futures issues. One of them was Philosophy's own Steve Gardiner who has just published A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change, and is engaged in a collaborative project on issues raised by geo-engineering with climate scientists in the College of the Environment. BFGW also sponsors a biweekly colloquium which was a forum, this past Fall, for presenting research developed by participants in this first summer consortium, and began the process of building an expansively interdisciplinary network of colleagues from the sciences as well as the social sciences and humanities who are actively engaged in work on biological futures issues. Several exciting speakers and panels are in prospect for the winter and spring quarters: details follow, and are available on the Biological Futures website.

As these projects have taken shape, the focus of Biological Futures has increasingly centered on a research ethics and integrity initiative. Alison Wylie and the BioFutures post-doc, Brandon Morgan-Olsen, are spearheading an effort to develop an integrated education and training program for biological and non-medical scientists. One catalyst for this is the America Competes Act that now requires research ethics training for all students and faculty funded by the National Science Foundation, but the ultimate goal is not just to meet compliance requirements. It is to cultivate an intellectually robust program of ethics education at UW, integrated into graduate and advanced undergraduate programs in the non-medical sciences and also offered through a coordinated suite of college-wide courses, workshops, and micro-seminars in the College of Arts and Sciences. As a first step toward creating a sustainable program of research and ethics training, Wylie and Morgan-Olsen are developing an inventory of resources for research ethics education in the non-medical sciences, and they will run a series of pilot courses and workshops in the next year.

The research ethics initiative is of necessity an ambitiously interdisciplinary undertaking. To succeed it will require the wisdom and the analytic skills distinctive of philosophical training, as well as sophisticated grounding in the sciences and technologies technology that are rapidly transforming our world. Wylie and Morgan-Olsen welcome advice and input from the Philosophy community!

Don't hesitate to contact the Project Director, Alison Wylie; the BioFutures Postdoc, Brandon Morgan-Olsen; or the Program Coordinator, Suzanne Long (contact information is on the project website). And do please join us for upcoming colloquia:

April 9th at 4 PM at the Simpson Center Title: TBA Professor Hasok Chang, History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge April 23rd at 4 PM at the Simpson Center Intellectual Property and Molecular Biology: Biomedicine, Commerce, and CCR5 Gene Patent Professor Myles Jackson, History and Philosophy of Science, NYU

For more information visit the Biological Futures website at:

People Involved: 
News Category: