Risky Research and The Value of Security
Jonathan Herington (Kansas State University)

June 24, 2016, 10:00am - 12:00pm
Philosophy and Bioethics Departments, Monash University

E561, Menzies Building
Monash University
Clayton 3800


Risky Research and The Value of Security

Some scientific research involves a grave risk of harm; either to human subjects or humanity as a whole (e.g. "gain-of-function" research on infectious diseases, geo-engineering field trials, gene drives).  Standardly, it is claimed that a particular experiment ought to occur only if, inter alia, the expected benefits of that experiment outweigh the expected harms. Whilst this principle is widely deployed to both support and undermine the case for risky research, it elides an important consideration: that experiments with the same expected value can offer differing degrees of security. In this paper I discuss three reasons one might believe that security - understood as low variance over the outcomes - is a distinctly important consideration. First, it might fulfil a basic desire amongst members of the affected population to avoid risk. Second, the security of some particular goods might be necessary for individuals to formulate reasonably complex life plans. Finally, security might be distinctly important because it discharges a prioritarian duty to ex ante possible agents. If one (or more) of these justifications prove successful, then discussions of the risks and benefits of research should move beyond mere expectations, and towards considering the variability of outcomes.

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