In the latest monthly poll, Nano2All (www.nano2all.eu) solicits your opinion on pre-testing use of nanodrugs. Respond via twitter or via facebook:
On 19 December 2017, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the lifting of a three-year ban on funding research on potential pandemic pathogens, also known as dual use research of concern, or gain of function research. Proposals that are in principle eligible for NIH-funding must be screened based on the Framework for Guiding Funding Decisions about Proposed Research Involving Enhanced Potential Pandemic Pathogens, issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Info: https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we-are/nih-director/statements/nih-lifts-funding-pause-gain-function-research
I presented a poster on “DIY-ethics of sensor networks” during “the Sense of Contact” on 13 December 2017 at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Increasingly, sensors are integrated in the Internet-of-Things, allowing for the aggregation of big data on the functioning of household electronics including smart meters, fridges, and televisions. Likewise, medical sensors and lifestyle sensors integrated in smart phones contribute to aggregation of health data. These sensors offer benefits to the users, but also raise challenges to privacy, data protection, and security. Three types of solutions are envisaged: technical, legal, and social fixes. I presented a framework for Do-It-Yourself Ethics where stakeholders combine solutions in a common responsibility for ethically sound development of sensor networks in daily life. Info: poster.
Trevor Griffiths presented the statement by Pax Christi International: “Reinforce the Biological Weapons Convention as cornerstone in the global web of prevention of weapons of mass destruction” during the Meeting on States Parties of this convention in Geneva, 4-8 December 2017. I contributed to the drafting of this statement. Info: http://www.paxchristi.net/news/statement-pax-christi-international-meeting-states-parties-biological-and-toxin-weapons#sthash.jDfW0J1p.dpbs
Prof. Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente) and Nico Nijenhuis (CEO of Clear Flight Solutions) led a discussion exploring ethical issues raised by the introduction of drones, for high tech industrialists. The structured questionnaire exploring any possible issue raised by drones was used to foster a brainstorm about the specific questions raised by a case where bird-like drones were developed for assisting park rangers in spotting poachers in wildlife reserves in Africa. This tool will be developed further as an instrument for other high-tech companies. The workshop was organised by the top-sector High Tech Systems and Materials in cooperation with the NWO-programme MVI (Responsible Research and Innovation) on 30 November 2017 in Utrecht, NL. Info: https://clearflightsolutions.com/ and https://www.nwo-mvi.nl/
Industrialists willing to take their responsibility for innovation need suitable key performance indicators for measuring success. These indicators are primarily needed to convince internal investors to support Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), because the return on such investments may not materialise in the short term. This was one outcome of the discussion on RRI in Industry, tabled by the PRISMA project (http://www.rri-prisma.eu/), 20-21 November 2017 in Berlin, Germany. The event featured a meeting of the minds of academics tasked to raise awareness in industry about the six RRI-keys of the European Commission (https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/responsible-research-innovation), and enlightened industrial representatives complaining that their past efforts in responsible innovation had been met with harsh criticism rather than applause in the public domain.
On 9 November 2017, Prof. Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard University) pleaded for integrating training in social science and technology studies (STS) in higher education of natural scientists and engineers, instead of bioethics. STS was more suitable to raise awareness of societal needs and values held by lay citizens, important for the acceptance of the technologies developed by these scientists. She was the special guest speaker on innovation and ethics invited by the Rathenau Institute in The Hague. Jasanoff presented the contents and context of her recent book “The Ethics of Invention”. The book had originally been solicited by Amnesty International, but during the writing process, this NGO lost interest in it. The presence of a representative of this NGO in the audience offered perspectives for rekindling interest in responsible innovation among its members. Info: www.rathenau.nl and http://books.wwnorton.com/books/The-Ethics-of-Invention/.
On 7 November 2017, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management organised a conference “Towards Future Proof Biotechnology Policy”, in NEMO, Amsterdam. This was the latest step in a consultation process, initiated in response to the Trend Analysis Biotechnology 2016, published by three advisory bodies in June 2016: http://www.cogem.net/index.cfm/en/background/trend-analysis. After the Dutch government reaction on 12 December 2016, the Second Chamber of the Parliament had called for public dialogue on biotechnology in a motion adopted on 23 February 2017. The ministry has so far organised several stakeholder sessions since June 2017, and consulted the opinions of 150 lay citizens. NEMO Kennislink launched the new interactive website www.biotechnologie.nl to study which values the Dutch public holds in relation to biotechnology. The ministry will report progress in the discussion on modernisation of biotechnology policy to the parliament by beginning of 2018, and is asking stakeholders to sign a declaration of intentions to enter in continuing dialogue about future proof regulations and policies governing biotechnology.
On 2 November 2017, Bureau Biosecurity of RIVM in the Netherlands launched the new online Biosecurity Vulnerability Scan tool, in Dutch and English. This is designed as a structured instrument supporting biosecurity professionals in qualitative assessment of their organisation’s capability for protecting the biosecurity of their life science activities. The tool is complementary to the existing screening level Biosecurity Self-Assessment Toolkit. Info: https://www.biosecurityvulnerabilityscan.nl/
On 31-10-2017, Pax Christi International, CIDSE and COMECE organised a seminar on “Extractives in Latin America” in Brussels. Martha Ines Romero, Latin America and Caribbean coordinator of Pax Christi discussed how international business including mining was intertwined with violence and infringements on human rights of indigenous people in Latin American countries. She protested the lack of involvement of local communities in public dialogue on mining activities, which tended to be accompanied by corruption, mismanagement and hiring of armed groups. She called on the EU to not just organise dialogue between companies and local communities, but also take initiatives to strengthen the rule of law and protect Human Rights defenders. Pax Christi International has trained local communities in non-violent resistance in 6 Latin American countries.
Mikeas Sanches Gomez of Zodevite in Chiapas, Mexico was the laureate of the Pax Christi International peace prize 2017. She explained the plans of the Mexican government to undertake large scale extractive activities on the territory of the Zoque indigenous community. Many international and Mexican companies were interested in the concessions. Their organisation had developed and translated information materials in the three local languages (Zoque, Spanish and English). They organised a non-violent campaign rejecting the mining activities. They were confronted with intimidation, killing and arrest of community leaders, including Silvia Juarez Juarez who was accused of kidnapping while she was demonstrated not to be in the area where this took place. Zodevite opposed all mining activities which were only serving economic purposes while damaging the environment, health and human rights of the local communities. They wanted to live sustainably in harmony with nature, while they did not believe in ecological mining.
Tove Sovndahl Gant, policy officer indigenous peoples of the EU External Action Service presented international activities to strengthen international treaties protecting human rights of indigenous peoples. She explained the EU’s role in international negotiations on a new binding treaty, and in building capacity in the EU’s partner countries to implement the current UN guiding principles on business and human rights. An EC staff working document issued in October 2016 on the rights of indigenous peoples concluded that the EU has done much good, but that there is room to improve the EU impact and to be much more effective in protecting these rights.
Stefan Reinhold of CIDSE presented the outcome of the open-ended working party meeting on the binding treaty, the week before. While the negotiations were expected to continue in the coming years, he was optimistic about the prospects.
Issues in the discussion were the role of churches in supporting local communities and in offering a platform for dialogue between these communities and mining companies. While such dialogue was not rejected, Martha Ines Romero stressed the need to support local communities, who were in a weaker position and whose rights must be defended unequivocally by churches. Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” and his interventions addressing mining were welcome. Other participants asked what could be done to support the campaign for the binding treaty and about the importance of allowing local communities to express themselves in their native language.
The final conference of the SATORI project on 18-19 September 2017 in Brussels featured heated discussion on the CEN Workshop Agreements on ethics assessment of research and innovation, and on best practices for ethics committees. These CWAs are a form of pre-standard, used by CEN to explore the support for formal standards. The CWAs will be valid for three years. These and other deliverables can be downloaded from the website: www.satoriproject.eu
The Scientific and Technological Options Assessment unit (STOA) of the European Parliament explains how its new foresight methodology was used by Parliamentary Committees in its deliberations on robotics and artificial intelligence. The resulting European Parliament resolution on civil law rules on robotics, was adopted on 16 February 2017. Bill Gates and Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller reacted to the proposals, making suggestions about robot taxes.
The Committee on Strategies for Identifying and Addressing Biodefense Vulnerabilities Posed by Synthetic Biology of the USA National Academies presented its interim report during a webinar on 22 August 2017. The Committee was asked by the US Department of Defence to develop and deploy a framework for assessing biosecurity threats of recent developments in synthetic biology, and to prioritize options for addressing identified vulnerabilities. The webinar was used to collect feedback from experts and stakeholders on the interim report, which will be used to inform the final report, which is expected by 2018. Info: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/projectview.aspx?key=49835
During the Meeting of States Parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in Geneva, 14-18 December, Pax Christi International called for making the treaty sustainable by embedding it in the global Sustainable Development Goals. These were adopted in September 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly. Info: http://paxchristi.net/document/5354 and http://www.unog.ch/bwc/news
Representatives from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and experts participating in security research funded by the European Union met in Berlin 15-16 September to discuss ways to overcome barriers for CSO participation in such research projects. Currently, the agenda for security research tends to focus on the development of products by large industrial companies, without apparent visible contributions to the overall security of European citizens. Most CSOs campaigning for civil security issues lack the expertise and resources to engage with security research. CSOs are not included in most projects and when they are, their role tends to be marginal. The workshop participants discussed existing barriers as well as desired future solutions, ending up with concrete and detailed suggestions for engagement of CSOs in all stages of the EU Security research cycle, from priority and agenda setting, though project execution, to dissemination and impact assessment. The workshop was organised in the SECUREPART project www.securepart.eu