3rd DELTA Project Workshop

We had another stimulating discussion on the concept/practice of ELSI in the 3rd workshop of Project DELTA last week. The two guest speakers this time were Assoc. Profs. Satoshi Kodama at Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University and Kenichi Natsume of Humanities and Social Sciences Program at Kanazawa Institute of Technology. They both have expertise in ‘ethics’ concerning science and technology – bioethics and engineering ethics, respectively – and the idea was to explore the scope of ‘ethical (E)’ of ELSI.

Prof. Kodama asked in his talk why the program of the US Human Genome Project was and still is called ‘ELSI’ research program, rather than that of ‘ethics’ or ‘bioethics,’ suggesting the need to understand the political background of its original conception. He further highlighted how it was imported later in other contexts, including nanotechnology, neuroscience, and genomics in Japan. The visionary work of Prof. Hisatake Kato (Kyoto Univ.) in the mid-1990s and that of Prof. Akira Akabayashi (Univ. of Tokyo) in the early 2000s cannot be overlooked in this regard. He also mentioned about struggle of those who involved in ELSI practice and their trouble of being clear about exactly what they were expected to do. Prof. Natsume then talked about the history of engineering ethics in Japan and how it related to the necessity to secure a professional status of university-trained engineers in the country. Education on engineering ethics became compulsory in Japan only when its accreditation system for engineers was established in the late 1990s. Because engineering ethics stresses liability of individual engineers for damage caused by their products, he suggested that it might not be an appropriate framework to deal with issues like dual use, which is more to do with how authorities classify such products.

A common theme of these two kinds of ethics is their emphasis on anticipation. One of the tasks of ELSI research program was to anticipate (often unintended) implications of human genome research and put in place a mechanism to safeguard society from them, even though that could involve banning a specific line of the research. Engineering ethics also demands professional engineers to anticipate both positive and negative consequences of what they make and mitigate the negative ones as much as possible. This makes professional engineers liable for only the damage that could be anticipated in advance. Therefore, engineers’ liability stops where their capability to anticipate ends. The question is whether the same can be said for genomics scientists. A key difference seems that in the case of genomics research, anticipation work is done collectively, instead of individually, often involving elaborated social-science methods. This is so regardless of ELSI researchers themselves feeling that way. Therefore, individual scientists would not have to be liable for the damage that their work causes, while ELSI researchers might be blamed for not whistleblowing in time or failing to anticipate it in advance. From this perspective, having ELSI research program along with the core scientific research could serve as a mechanism to free scientists from concerns that they would have to if they do the same research individually.

In the workshop, we discussed the possibility that this collective protection of scientists actually was one of the vital roles of ELSI research/practice. And if so, ELSI might not be the right tool for the job where ‘the job’ is to invite scientists to work with other non-scientific professionals and make them more socially responsive as well as socially responsible. This relates to another point we discussed, which was the significance of ‘S’ in ELSI. If ‘E’ is sufficiently broad to reflect the existing societal/cultural values, why do we still have to have ‘social’ in it? A suggestion made in line with the role of ELSI research/practice described above was that ELSI was not ‘ethical, legal, and social issues’ but was ‘issues to be examined by ethicists, legal scholars, and social scientists.’ ELSI research program has generated a large stream of research fund for these scholars and built their cluster in the US, and possibly the situation has been similar in Europe. That has at least allowed them to challenge and in some cases modify the role they were assigned. In contrast, the fact that there are only few scholars actively working in the ELSI domain in Japan might be contributing to the problem that we find with its current situation. The intensive discussion in the workshop convinced us (or only me?) that our proposal of ‘Deliberation of Ethical, Legal, and Technical Arrangements (DELTA)’ would have to take a radically different approach to achieve its goal.

ー日本語(Japanese ver.)ー

第3回 「ELSI概念の再構築」研究会開催








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