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UC San Diego was founded by leaders who cared deeply about the ethics and social implications of science. For example, Roger Revelle, a pioneer in the science of climate change, culminated his career here as a Professor of Science, Technology and Public Affairs. Similarly, our first chancellor, Herbert York, a physicist with the Manhattan Project, became an arms control expert who was ambassador to the Comprehensive Test Ban negotiations in the late 1970s. The IPE is building upon this institutional history as well as on existing strengths in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. 

Inspired by these examples, IPE aims to be holistic in three ways. 

First, it attends to both the theoretical components of ethical problems and the pragmatic policy-focused aspects. Good pragmatic ethics cannot proceed without deeper reflection. But good theoretical ethics won’t be relevant unless it is grounded in the social and scientific context.

Second, as a consequence of the first, we are based on a partnership amongst social scientists, natural scientists and humanists on campus. Ethics can be fruitfully conducted on an ideal level, but we want our work to be relevant to important topics facing individuals and society. To this end, we desire to include in our analysis the social structures that shape how ethics will actually operate in our society and of course the relevant natural science or technology.

Third, it provides both social and individual analyses. Much of bioethics proceeds on the assumption that ethics only concerns the relationship between individuals (e.g. patient and doctor, fetus and pregnant woman). However, individuals are embedded in society, and society is not simply the average of individual interests. Climate change is not an individual but rather a social problem, for instance. As a public university we include the public’s values or goals in our academic vision.



The mission of the IPE is to develop and promote research on ethical issues facing the public, with special emphasis on fostering deliberation amongst ethicists, scientists, and policy makers. UC San Diego is one of the world’s greatest producers of technology, medical innovations and scientific knowledge. These developments can offer great benefits to humanity, but they often raise urgent ethical questions. The aim of IPE is to engage responsibly these questions. 

It took decades for society to move from the horse to the car, from the vacuum tube to television. Today, by contrast, scientific and technological innovations are occurring at increasing speed and translated into society faster than ever before. Research into stem cells, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, robotics, driverless automobiles, big data and personalized medicine are but a few examples. Some examples of important questions include: 

  • Is it ethical to release into the wild a mosquito genetically modified so that it cannot transmit malaria, even if the modified mosquito is expected to replace the non-modified ones within a short time?
  • What ethical principles should we program into driverless cars? In a possible accident, should the car try to prevent the least overall human suffering or instead treat the occupant of the car differently from others in its calculations?
  • Is it ethical to conduct social science experiments that actually influence the outcomes of the societies, such as experiments on framing candidates’ positions in elections?
  • Since big data comes from society, what are the social obligations of big data analytics?
  • Under what conditions should children be recruited for clinical trials in medicine?
  • What would be the impact on society if people could easily modify the genes of their children for whatever trait they wished?
  • As brain imagining technology improves, should evidence from neuroscience affect our judgements of criminal and moral culpability?
  • Is it ethical to spray reflective particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect some sunlight in an effort to reduce global warming? If so, who should decide? 

IPE will help close the gap between the pace of innovation and our ability to deal with these questions responsibly.

Activities will include high visibility international speakers and conferences on issues of public concern; forming interdisciplinary research groups consisting of existing faculty, PhD students, postdocs and visiting professors; promoting publicly available research, academic publications, interventions in popular media, white papers or policy proposals, or other forms of creative expression, and more.