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Joining Life Sciences

Science Ethics Institute to join in addressing research Grand Challenges

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Academy of Medical Sciences Fellows (L-R) Nik Rose, Veronica van Heyningen, Martin Bobrow and John Harris, pictured with Chair of the ‘Human bodies; animals bodies’ public panel Sarah Chan (centre)

iSEI is to join the Faculty of Life Sciences from the August 2012. iSEI’s move underlines the Faculty’s commitment to conducting high quality research that has broad social and economic relevance and impact, and will help to further develop a new overarching field of academic study in ‘Science Ethics’, which is at the core of the Institute’s work. Distinct from the more traditional subject of Philosophy of Science and the more specific disciplines of Bioethics or Research Ethics, Science Ethics is important today owing to the truly interdisciplinary (and global) nature and impact of scientific research.

Chaired by John Sulston (Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine 2002), who is currently leading the Royal Society’s study on ‘People and the planet’, iSEI is directed by John Harris, a bioethicist and philosopher who regularly appears in the media to discuss current dilemmas associated with the advancement of science. Other members of the group are Deputy Director Sarah Chan, who is already closely involved in developing and delivering teaching and training in science ethics within FLS, researchers Catherine Rhodes, Amel Alghrani and John Coggon, and research manager Catherine Spanswick.

The work of iSEI is conducted within the context of current and future trends in life sciences, and involves ‘bench-scientists’ as much as those with backgrounds in ethics, law, philosophy and governance. An excellent example of this is iSEI’s recent public panel on ‘Human Bodies: Animal Bodies’, an event co-organised with the Academy of Medical Sciences and based on the Academy’s report on Animals Containing Human Materials (see picture). Other examples of projects that offer excellent collaboration opportunities include those in neuroscience, stem cell biology, reproduction, biosecurity and biofuels.

Another major theme of iSEI’s work entitled ‘Who Owns Science?’ is asking fundamental questions about the ownership, control and direction of science and the motivations for doing science and funding science. The Institute has a book series on ‘Science Ethics & Society’ with the open-access publisher Bloomsbury Academic, with titles including International Governance of Biotechnology and Scientific Freedom. The planned alignment of iSEI alongside the Faculty’s Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine will also build the Faculty’s capacity under the broad theme of ‘Medical Humanities’.

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