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A Myth of Convenience: The Law Lag and Scientific Progress

Air date: Thursday, February 13, 2020, 3:00:00 PM
Time displayed is Eastern Time, Washington DC Local
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Description: NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series

For the fourteenth year, the National Institute of Mental Health is pleased to invite you to attend the fourth of a series of lectures dedicated to innovation, invention, and scientific discovery.

Sheila Jasanoff is Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is affiliated with the Department of the History of Science and Harvard Law School. Previously, she was Professor of Science Policy and Law at Cornell University and founding chair of Cornell’s Department of Science and Technology Studies. At Harvard, she founded and directs the Kennedy School’s Program on Science, Technology and Society (STS). In 2002, she founded the Science and Democracy Network, an international community of STS scholars dedicated to improving scholarly understanding of the relationships among science, technology, law, and political power.

One of the most persistent stories that have grown up around innovation in science and technology is that law and policy inevitably lag behind advances in knowledge and its applications. By now close to a century old, the notion that society’s moral work inevitably trails, and worse impedes, scientific progress has gained a powerful hold on the cultural imagination. It provides a ready rationale for self-regulation in science. Using examples from genetic engineering and gene patenting to CRISPR, I will argue that the law lag narrative is descriptively inaccurate and normatively unjustifiable. In this era of rapid changes across the life sciences and technologies, we need more sophisticated understandings of the relations between facts and values, or science and law. Those understandings, in turn, should guide future approaches toward deliberation and governance for new biotechnologies.

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Author: Sheila Jasanoff, PhD, JD, Professor, Science and Technology Studies, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Runtime: 1 hour