November 21, 2011

Ethics and Science: Climate Adaptation, Bird Flu, and Vaccines


Next week I'm giving my first lecture to undergraduates on "Sustainable Development: Climate Change and the Ethics of Adaptation." I'm trying to narrow down the three main themes I want to get across, while teaching the students something about the nuances of adaptation, resilience, and vulnerability. I'm going to focus on Bangladesh, gender, and agriculture, since I have a background in these things and they make a great case studies. While I'm working on that, take a look at these three science policy blog posts that I really enjoyed this week:

Adaptation or Development? (via the CGIAR's CCAFS blog). This post surprised me at first, because typically this blog promotes straight-up climate-proofing development and technological fixes. It looks like the guest author is a policy researcher. This reminds me of some of the work of Jessica Ayers, a young scholar who I've been reading a lot of lately.
When we think of climate change adaptation in agriculture the first thing that comes to mind is improved crop varieties. Water harvesting and irrigation schemes may also be high on our list. Perhaps too is crop diversification. But on a recent trip to western Kenya, one agricultural community reminded us that sometimes the interventions that can most improve the adaptive capacities of small-scale farmers may not occur on or even near the farm.
Publish or Perish (by my friend Jessie, a Lyman Briggs graduate and medical researcher). Jessie writes about the ethical conundrum in publishing a scientific report about a more virulent strain of bird flu, and the implications for scientific governance.
One result of a global biomedical research field is that there exists no single regulatory body to dictate publication ethics in cases like these. Instead, there is an amalgam of various institutional, professional, local, state, national and international governmental and regulatory bodies which come together to dictate first ethical laboratory practices, allocation of research monies, and finally what happens with research-driven revelations.
The Vaccine Controversy (by Michael, an ASU colleague/my favorite person). This week we brought my former professor, Mark Largent, to ASU's campus where he met with the graduate students and gave a talk on the vaccine debate. Michael's write up hits the key points of his talk, which is about how the vaccine controversy is a case of scientized politics: a very Pielke/Sarewitz-esque argument.
But parents, looking for absolute safety and certainty for their children, aren’t convinced by scientific studies, simply because it is effectively impossible to prove a negative to their standards. A variety of pro-vaccine advocates, Seth Mnookin and Paul Offit among them, have cast this narrative as the standard science denialism story, with deluded and dangerous parents threatening to return us to the bad old days of polio. This “all-or-nothing” demonization is unhelpful, and serves merely to alienate the parents doctors are trying to reach.
Enjoy and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

1 comment:

  1. Good luck preparing your lecture!! It sounds incredibly interesting.

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