Who is responsible for the implications of GloFish?
So far, we have discussed a few ethical frameworks and communication philosophies you may use when examining GloFish. Guided by those frameworks and philosophies, you can start to determine your opinion on responsibility. For example, who is responsible for determining if GloFish are truly ethical? What role does the government play in this situation? And who is responsible any consequences? The following ideas may be useful when answering such questions.
The precautionary principle of exercising precaution in the face of possible harm. It sounds simple enough, but does not necessarily pair well with scientific pursuit. The precautionary is discussed in great detail in Nancy Myers' article, entitled "The Precautionary Principle Puts Values First."
The precautionary principle is built around the idea of "forecaring for life and the natural world." It proposes that it is the responsibility of scientists to make decisions primarily based on values, with scientific and technological benefits coming second.
But how does this work in reality? We can look to GloFish as an example. A scientist who wants to work on genetically engineering fish should first analyze the potential risks that may be associated with such research. If the development of GloFish is deemed too dangerous, then research should not be pursued. Furthermore, if research is pursued, a scientist should have a plan to address any potential risks.
Makes sense, right? Often times, however, scientists cannot predict the affects of their developments. It is possible that exercising such extreme precaution may stall science and have unforeseen consequences of its own.
Furthermore, while working to limit risks in research is important for scientists, are the consequences of scientific pursuit purely the responsibility of scientists? For example, if the makers of GloFish developed GloFish while exercising precaution, but an unforeseen consequence occurs as a result of GloFish, are their makers exclusively to blame?
Politics of Science
The article "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" by Langdon Winner offers another point of view on science and responsibility. The article argues that technology determines some social foundations and attitudes.
Winner states that technology is inherently political, with some technologies being democratic and others autocratic in nature. As such, regardless of the intent of a technology, there are real social and political consequences.
What social and political consequences do you think GloFish have had?
Before GloFish, there were no genetically engineered pets. GloFish gave the general population a personal connection to genetic modification. The mass production and sale of genetically engineered fish has may have set social and political precedent for things to come.
For example, it is possible that societies values towards the concept of genetic engineering have shifted in response to GloFish. In addition, by altering laws to allow for the sale of GloFish, legal precedent has been set, which may make the sale of additional genetically engineered pets easier in years to come.
Regardless of the intention of their creators, GloFish have implications that reach far beyond just bringing a cute new pet to the market. Sciences and technologies really do have the power to have politics attached to them. Is it then the governments responsibility to regulate such politics? Does responsibility fall squarely on the shoulders of the creator? Or does society have responsibility in the development of politics from artifacts?
Government vs Individual
What responsibilities do you think individuals (or society as a whole) have for science and technology? Is it ones responsibility to be informed? To vote? To communicate ethically?
For example, given all that you have now learned, what do you think your personal responsibilities are surrounding GloFish?
On the other hand, what responsibilities do you think the U.S. government has for science and technology? Should the government seek to protect the interests of science or the values of society - or both?
For example, how do you think the government should respond to GloFish?
Individual and government responsibility are not necessarily independent. In many cases, the general public has the opportunity to share their opinions with government officials and lawmakers. While this opportunity exists, it is often not utilized. The article "Framing Justice" by Besley & McComas discusses the concept of procedural justice, and the impact it has on civic responsiveness.
Procedural justice is the perception of whether or not a process is fair. Research shows that people care just as much about whether the process is fair as they do about getting their actual desired outcome. This illustrates one way example of the relationship communication has to responsibility and the government.
Overall, it is inarguable that the pursuit of scientific inquiry has risks. Who we hold responsible for these risks, and how we handle these risks, are important considerations to address.