Wrestling with Social and Behavioral Genomics: Risks, Potential Benefits, and Ethical Responsibility

Hastings Center Report 53 (S1):2-49 (2023)
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Abstract

In this consensus report by a diverse group of academics who conduct and/or are concerned about social and behavioral genomics (SBG) research, the authors recount the often‐ugly history of scientific attempts to understand the genetic contributions to human behaviors and social outcomes. They then describe what the current science—including genomewide association studies and polygenic indexes—can and cannot tell us, as well as its risks and potential benefits. They conclude with a discussion of responsible behavior in the context of SBG research. SBG research that compares individuals within a group according to a “sensitive” phenotype requires extra attention to responsible conduct and to responsible communication about the research and its findings. SBG research (1) on sensitive phenotypes that (2) compares two or more groups defined by (a) race, (b) ethnicity, or (c) genetic ancestry (where genetic ancestry could easily be misunderstood as race or ethnicity) requires a compelling justification to be conducted, funded, or published. All authors agree that this justification at least requires a convincing argument that a study's design could yield scientifically valid results; some authors would additionally require the study to have a socially favorable risk‐benefit profile.

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