Misconceptions of Synthetic Biology: Lessons from an Interdisciplinary Summer School

NanoEthics 10 (3):327-336 (2016)
  Copy   BIBTEX

Abstract

In 2014, an international group of scholars from various fields analysed the “societal dimensions” of synthetic biology in an interdisciplinary summer school. Here, we report and discuss the biologists’ observations on the general perception of synthetic biology by non-biologists who took part in this event. Most attendees mainly associated synthetic biology with contributions from the best-known public figures of the field, rarely mentioning other scientists. Media extrapolations of those contributions appeared to have created unrealistic expectations and irrelevant fears that were widely disconnected from the current research in synthetic biology. Another observation was that when debating developments in synthetic biology, semantics strongly mattered: depending on the terms used to present an application of synthetic biology, attendees reacted in radically different ways. For example, using the term “GMOs” rather than the term “genetic engineering” led to very different reactions. Stimulating debates also happened with participants having unanticipated points of view, for instance biocentrist ethicists who argued that engineered microbes should not be used for human purposes. Another communication challenge emerged from the connotations and inaccuracies surrounding the word “life”, which impaired constructive debates, thus leading to misconceptions about the abilities of scientists to engineer or even create living organisms. Finally, it appeared that synthetic biologists tend to overestimate the knowledge of non-biologists, further affecting communication. The motivation and ability of synthetic biologists to communicate their work outside their research field needs to be fostered, notably towards policymakers who need a more accurate and technical understanding of the field to make informed decisions. Interdisciplinary events gathering scholars working in and around synthetic biology are an effective tool in addressing those issues.

Links

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 76,391

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Synthetic Biology: A Challenge to Mechanical Explanations in Biology?Michel Morange - 2012 - Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 55 (4):543-553.
Editors' Introduction to Special Issue.Ute Deichmann, Michel Morange & Anthony S. Travis - 2012 - Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 55 (4):470-472.
Varieties of noise: Analogical reasoning in synthetic biology.Tarja Knuuttila & Andrea Loettgers - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 48:76-88.
Basic science through engineering? Synthetic modeling and the idea of biology-inspired engineering.Tarja Knuuttila & Andrea Loettgers - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):158-169.
Building New Bioethical Practices through Feminist Pedagogies.Sara Giordano - 2016 - International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics 9 (1):81-103.
Discipline-building in synthetic biology.Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):122-129.
The Conception of Life in Synthetic Biology.Anna Deplazes-Zemp - 2012 - Science and Engineering Ethics 18 (4):757-774.
Synthetic Biology and Synthetic Knowledge.Christophe Malaterre - 2013 - Biological Theory (8):346–356.

Analytics

Added to PP
2016-06-11

Downloads
9 (#937,729)

6 months
1 (#451,971)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Citations of this work

Creating life and the media: translations and echoes.Manuel Porcar & Juli Peretó - 2018 - Life Sciences, Society and Policy 14 (1):1-14.

Add more citations

References found in this work

Natural Kinds.W. V. O. Quine - 2011 - In Robert B. Talisse & Scott F. Aikin (eds.), The Pragmatism Reader: From Peirce Through the Present. Princeton University Press. pp. 234-248.
Natural Kinds.W. V. O. Quine - 1969 - In Nicholas Rescher (ed.), Essays in Honor of Carl G. Hempel. Dordrecht: D. Reidel. pp. 5.
Natural Kinds.W. V. O. Quine - 1991 - In Richard Boyd, Philip Gasper & J. D. Trout (eds.), The Philosophy of Science. MIT Press. pp. 159--170.
The concept of intrinsic value and transgenic animals.H. Verhoog - 1992 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 5 (2):147-160.

View all 8 references / Add more references