What I learned this week…

Ethics at the boundaries of expanding science handled best by democracy and educated citizens

Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege to attend a lecture at the Jackson Lab by their new CEO Edison Liu.

The program was sponsored by Acadia Senior College so, appropriately, Liu deftly presented in detail some of the technical wonder of current genetic research as well as the greater hope and excitement about pending frontiers in better understanding of human disease.

The practical applications of this research are, of course, vitally important.  But Liu also conveyed the marvel and beauty that underpins pure research, comparing moments of scientific insight to those of artistic revelation.

But, this is in fact life science,  revealing both our most fundamental individual flaws and potentially differentiating our prospects for repair, and so the consequences touch upon us as humans in many dimensions.

So I asked Dr. Liu, given the volumetric expansion of our knowledge about who we are and the resulting specific opportunities for tailored medical intervention, how he thought we’d best negotiate the new issues of ethics at these expanding boundaries. I added that I meant it not as a hostile question.

Dr. Liu answered that applied research should not push beyond the boundaries more rapidly than ethics allows.  But he has confidence that more knowledge leads to better understanding and that, in a democracy, educated citizens are capable of making good decisions.

Knowledge and empowerment.  It’s easy to like this guy.