A paedophile scan to prevent child sexual abuse in child care? A thought experiment to problematize the notion of alignment in Responsible Research and Innovation

Life Sciences, Society and Policy 13 (1):1-25 (2017)
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Responsible Research and Innovation is a science policy concept that gained traction from 2000 onwards in the EU and US, in which alignment on purposes and values between different stakeholders is a key aspect. This thought experiment problematizes this particular notion: ethically acceptable and societally desirable outcomes are not necessarily achieved when alignment is a consequence of early closure. To argue this point, we took the example of the potential development of scanning technology for the detection of paedophilia among job applicants, for which indicators of broad societal support were found in an RRI project on neuroimaging. We analysed this case by looking through several lenses, obtained by structured and non-structured literature searches. We explored how facts and values are masked when a taboo topic is considered. This results in the black boxing of the problem definition, potential solutions and development trajectories. Complex unstructured problems can thus be perceived as manageable structured problems, which can in turn lead to irresponsible policies surrounding technology development. Responsible processes of research and technology development thus require the involvement of a critical reflector who is alert to signs of early closure and who prevents foreclosure of ongoing reflexive deliberation. There is an important role for ethical, legal and societal aspect studies within the framework of RRI. This paper shows that the concepts of “value/fact diversity masking” and “early discursive closure” are new avenues for RRI research.



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