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From 2020

“Gene Editing and the War Against Malaria” by Ethan Bier and Elliott Sober in American Scientist (Volume 108, Number 3)

Using CRISPR gene drives to breed fitter mosquitoes may prevent a devastating disease. Malaria is a tropical illness that blood-feeding mosquitoes spread from person to person. In 2018, approximately 228 million malaria cases emerged, with an estimated 405,000 deaths recorded in the same period. More than half of those deaths were young children.


Making Science Better: Lessons From the COVID-19 Front” by Craig Callender in Issues in Science and Technology (June 11, 2020).

As the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is ravaging the globe, the global scientific community is responding in an unprecedented way. The virus was quickly understood to be a grave and fast-moving threat that does not respect political or geographical borders. If science is to be effective against coronavirus, it too needs to be fast, global, and focused on the world’s needs. Science-as-normal will not do. So right under our noses, with few noticing, science dramatically transformed.


“The Normative Standard for Future Discounting” by Craig Callender in Australian Philosophical Reviews (forthcoming)


“The Risks and Benefits of COVID Challenge Trials” by Daniel Callies, Athmeya Jayaram and Jacob Sparks (in submission).


“Intentionally Eradicating a Species” by Daniel Callies and Yasha Rohwer in Environmental Ethics (forthcoming).


“Assessing Climate Policies: Catastrophe Avoidance & the Right to Sustainable Development” by Daniel Callies and Darrel Moellendorf in Politics, Philosophy & Economics (forthcoming).


“Bednets or Biotechnology: To Rescue Current Persons or Research for the Future?” by Daniel Callies in Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Aug. 13, 2020).

Malaria is still a significant cause of death and suffering throughout much of the developing world. Fortunately, the global community provides significant (though, not sufficient) resources to combat the disease and the parasite that causes it. How ought we to allocate these resources? One option is to purchase and distribute perhaps the best tool we have to prevent malaria: insecticide-treated nets. Another route would see us invest in research and development of a novel biotechnology that could eradicate the disease in perpetuity. If we choose to spend our money on insecticide-treated nets, we will be rescuing current individuals at risk of being infected with the parasite. Though, we can be almost certain there will be future individuals who will also need rescuing. If we instead invest in the novel biotechnology, we could benefit countless future individuals who never have to experience the threat of malaria. Hence, this would mean that some number of current individuals will die due to the lack of insecticide-treated nets that otherwise could have saved their lives. So, ought we to rescue current, identifiable individuals, or ought we invest in research for the sake of the future? After an exploration of the duty to rescue and cost-effectiveness analysis, I suggest we look towards the literature on intergenerational justice for a justifiable answer to the question of how we ought to allocate our malaria resources.


“Revising, Correcting, and Transferring Genes” by Bryan Cwik in The American Journal of Bioethics (Volume 20, Issue 8).

The distinction between germline and somatic gene editing is fundamental to the ethics of human gene editing. Multiple conferences of scientists, ethicists, and policymakers, and multiple professional bodies, have called for moratoria on germline gene editing, and editing of human germline cells is considered to be an ethical “red line” that either never should be crossed, or should only be crossed with great caution and care. However, as research on germline gene editing has progressed, it has become clear that not all germline interventions are alike, and that these differences make a significant moral difference, when it comes to ethical questions about research, regulation, clinical application, and medical justification. In this paper, I argue that, rather than lumping all germline interventions together, we should distinguish between revising, correcting, and transferring genes, and I assess the consequences of this move for the ethics of gene editing.


“The Human Gene Editing Debate” by John H. Evans published by Oxford University Press (September 2020).

In 2018 the first genetically modified babies were reportedly born in China, made possible by the invention of CRISPR technology in 2012. This controversial advancement overturned the pre-existing moral consensus, which had held for over fifty years before: while gene editing an adult person was morally acceptable, modifying babies, and thus subsequent generations, crossed a significant moral line. If this line is passed over, scientists will be left without an agreed-upon ethical limit. What do we do now?


“Who Doesn’t Trust Fauci? The Public’s Belief in the Expertise and Shared Values of Scientists in the Covid-19 Pandemic” by John H. Evans and Eszter Hargittai in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World (Volume 6).

The primary tension in public discourse about the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been President Trump’s disagreement with scientists. The authors analyze a national survey of 1,593 Americans to examine which social groups agree with scientists’ ability to understand the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and which agree that COVID-19 scientists share their values. Republicans and independents are less trusting than Democrats on both measures, as are African Americans. The authors find conservative Protestants and Catholics to be skeptical of scientists’ knowledge but not their values. Working-class men and those who live outside cities believe in scientists’ knowledge but do not think they share scientists’ values. There is little evidence for a direct effect of President Trump’s criticism of scientists. The authors discuss the pragmatic implications for scientists trying to remain influential in COVID-19 policy.


“Cutting out the Surrogate: Caesarean Sections in the Mexican Surrogacy Industry” by April Hovav in Social Science & Medicine (Volume 256).

Childbirth practices shed light on cultural values, ideologies of gender and motherhood, and social inequalities. Transnational, commercial surrogacy presents a useful lens through which to view the social dynamics that shape childbirth experiences. Surrogacy challenges dominant views on the naturalness and inevitability of maternal-fetal bonds because it involves the separation of gestation from motherhood. What ideologies inform childbirth practices in the consumer-driven context of surrogacy in which the woman giving birth is neither the consumer nor the “mother”? Based on multi-sited ethnographic research between 2014 and 2017 and in-depth interviews with 120 participants in the Mexican surrogacy industry, I argue that doctors draw on normative ideologies of kinship, gender, and maternal-child bonding to justify and normalize the use of Caesarean sections among surrogates. The ideology espoused by these doctors reinforces the notion that maternal-fetal bonding is natural and inevitable, constructs women as irrational and driven by hormones, and presumes that bonding between surrogate mothers and the children they gestate is detrimental to the surrogacy process. Furthermore, the proffered justifications for the Caesarean sections reproduces stereotypes about poor Mexican women as risky patients, contributes to the “disposability” of their labor, and reinforces a hierarchy in which the perceived interests of intended parents and children are elevated above those of surrogate mothers. This article contributes to social science studies of medicine by demonstrating how classist and racist stereotypes, and folk notions of kinship, gender, and maternal-child bonding are biologized in medical practice.


“Empowering Marginalized Communities” by Athmeya Jayaram in The American Journal of Bioethics (Volume 20, Issue 5).

Pratt et al. (2020) rightly argue that, if community engagement aimed to develop solidarity between health researchers and the marginalized communities they work in, it can improve cooperation and even reduce the disparity in power between the two groups. Solidarity certainly plays that role within political communities, so it makes sense to think it can have similar benefits in other types of cooperation. However, it is also important to note the disanalogies between political and research cooperation. These differences point to ways in which solidarity can actually worsen the power disparity between researchers and marginalized communities. If community engagement is to aim at solidarity, we should take care to mitigate any of these perverse effects.


“For the People, By the Viewpoints? Realism and Idealism in Public Reason” by Athmeya Jayaram in Journal of Moral Philosophy (Aug. 8, 2020).

Since John Rawls, public reason theorists have attempted to show how liberal political norms could be acceptable to people with diverse religious and ethical viewpoints. However, these theories overlook the importance of the distinction between acceptability to realistic people and acceptability to viewpoints, which matters because public reason theories are committed to the former, but only deliver the latter, thereby failing to justify liberal norms. Public reason theories therefore face a dilemma: abandon realistic people and lose normative appeal, or retain realism and find a new way to justify liberalism.


“Climate and Coronavirus: the Science is not the Same” by Eric Schliesser and Eric Winsberg in New Statesman (March 23, 2020).

Comparing scientific research into climate change with new findings about coronavirus is a false equivalence. When we look at Covid-19, we need transparency and critical discussion in order to “trust the science,” say Eric Schliesser and Eric Winsberg.


“When Extinction is Warranted: Invasive Species, Suppression-Drives, and the Worst-Case Scenario” by Ann Thresher in Ethics, Policy & Environment (forthcoming).

2019 Publications

“The Ethical Landscape of Gene Drive Research” by Daniel Callies in Bioethics (Volume 33, issue 9).

Gene drive technology has immense potential. The ability to bypass the laws of Mendelian inheritance and almost ensure the transmission of specific genetic material to future generations creates boundless possibilities. But alongside these boundless possibilities are major social and ethical issues. This article aims to introduce gene drive technology, some of its potential applications, and some of the social and ethical issues that arise during research into the technology. For example, is investigation into gene drives hubristic? Would applications of gene drives count as technological fixes? Or does research into such a technology sit on a slippery slope or lock us in to its full‐scale use? Are there perverse effects of engaging in research, and, most importantly, who ought to be included in the decision‐making process regarding research and field trials? Understanding the basic ethical landscape of this technology will prove invaluable to the public, scientists, and policy‐makers as research moves forward.


“The Slippery Slope Argument against Geoengineering Research” by Daniel Callies in Journal of Applied Philosophy (Volume 36, Issue 4).

With the lack of progress there has been so far on climate change, some have begun researching the potential of geoengineering to allay future climatic harms. However, others contend that such research should be abandoned. One of the most‐cited reasons as to why research into geoengineering should be abandoned is the idea that such research sits at the top of slippery slope. The Slippery Slope Argument warns that even mere research into geoengineering will create institutional momentum, ultimately leading to the deployment of a technology that is untested and perhaps morally objectionable. This article clearly lays out the Slippery Slope Argument against geoengineering research and analyses its premises. I claim that both the empirical premise – that research will inevitably lead to deployment – and the normative premise – that we have decisive moral reasons to avoid deployment – are questionable. The main conclusion of the article is that while we should be cognizant of the potential for research to lead to undesirable deployment scenarios, engaging in research need not necessarily lead inexorably to deployment. While insufficient to ground a moratorium on research, the Slippery Slope Argument points to the need for regulation and oversight in order to prevent undesirable deployment.


“Climate Engineering: A Normative Perspective” by Daniel Callies, published by Lexington Books (2019).

“Climate Engineering: A Normative Perspective” takes as its subject a prospective policy response to the urgent problem of climate change, one previously considered taboo. Climate engineering, the “deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment in order to counteract anthropogenic climate change,” encapsulates a wide array of technological proposals. Daniel Edward Callies here focuses on one proposal currently being researched — stratospheric aerosol injection — which would spray aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere to thus reflect a small portion of incoming sunlight and slightly cool the globe.


“Producing Moral Palatability in the Mexican Surrogacy Industry” by April Hovav in Gender & Society (Volume 33, Issue 2)

Scholars have long debated the relationship between morality and the market. Some argue that morality tempers market interests, while others argue that the market has its own moral order. Meanwhile, feminist scholars have argued that a false binary between altruism, family, and intimacy on the one hand, and the cold calculus of the market on the other, is based in gender ideologies. Norms around motherhood, in particular, emphasize self-sacrifice, love, and altruism in opposition to self-interested market logics. Commercial surrogacy blurs the line between family and commerce and is therefore an ideal setting for studying tensions between altruism and profit. Drawing on ethnographic research and interviews with 114 actors in the Mexican surrogacy industry, I demonstrate that treating altruism and commercialism as dichotomous can further market interests by preserving the moral palatability and profitability of the industry while perpetuating power asymmetries rooted in gender, race, class, and nationality between surrogate mothers and intended parents.


“Science, Values, and Science Communication: Competencies for Pushing Beyond the Deficit Model” by Sherry Seethaler, John H. Evans, Cathy Gere and Ramya M. Rajagopalan in Science Communication (Volume 41, Issue 3).

The deficit (knowledge transmission) model of science communication is widespread and resistant to change, highlighting the limited influence of science communication research on practice. We argue that scholar–practitioner partnerships are key to operationalizing science communication scholarship. To demonstrate, we present a transformative product of one such partnership: a set of ethics and values competencies to foster effective communication with diverse audiences about scientific research and its implications. The 10 competencies, focused on acknowledging values, understanding complexities of decision making, strategies to deal with uncertainty, and diversifying expertise and authority, provide a guiding framework for re-envisioning science communication professional development.


“You Give Love A Bad Name” by Jacob Sparks in Business Ethics Journal Review (Volume 7, Issue 2)

Brennan and Jaworski (2018) accuse [Sparks] of misunderstanding their thesis and failing to produce a counterexample to it. In this Response, [Sparks] clarifies [his] central argument in “Can’t Buy Me Love,” explains why [he] used prostitution as an example, and works to advance the debate.


“Islands as Laboratories: Indigenous Knowledge and Gene Drives in the Pacific” by Riley Taitingfong in Human Biology (Volume 91, Issue 3).

This article argues that the genetic engineering technology known as gene drive must be evaluated in the context of the historic and ongoing impacts of settler colonialism and military experimentation on indigenous lands and peoples. After defining gene drive and previewing some of the key ethical issues related to its use, the author compares the language used to justify Cold War-era nuclear testing in the Pacific with contemporary scholarship framing islands as ideal test sites for gene drive-modified organisms. In both cases, perceptions of islands as remote and isolated are mobilized to warrant their treatment as sites of experimentation for emerging technologies. Though gene drive may offer valuable interventions into issues affecting island communities (e.g., vector-borne disease and invasive species management), proposals to conduct the first open trials of gene drive on islands are complicit in a long history of injustice that has treated islands (and their residents) as dispensable to the risks and unintended consequences associated with experimentation. This article contends that ethical gene drive research cannot be achieved without the inclusion of indigenous peoples as key stakeholders and provides three recommendations to guide community engagement involving indigenous communities: centering indigenous self-determination, replacing the deficit model of engagement with a truly participatory model, and integrating indigenous knowledge and values in the research and decision-making processes related to gene drive.


“Therapeutic citizens and clients: Diverging practices in Malawi’s healthcare facilities” by Amy Zhou in Sociology of Health & Illness (Volume 41, Issue 4).

This article examines how HIV policies and the funding priorities of global institutions affect practices in prenatal clinics and the quality of healthcare women receive. Data consist of observations at health centres in Lilongwe, Malawi and interviews with providers (N = 37). I argue that neoliberal ideology, which structures the global health field, produces a fragmented healthcare system on the ground. Findings show two kinds of healthcare practices within the same clinic: donor‐funded NGOs took on HIV services while government providers focused on prenatal care. NGO practices were defined by surveillance, where providers targeted pregnant HIV‐positive women and intensively monitored their adherence to drug treatment. In contrast, state‐led practices were defined by rationing. Government providers worked with all pregnant women, but with staff and resource shortages, they limited time and services for each patient in order to serve everyone. This paper builds on concepts of therapeutic citizenship and clientship by exploring how global health priorities produce different conditions, practices and outcomes of NGO and state‐led care.

2018 Publications

“Institutional Legitimacy and Geoengineering Governance” by Daniel Callies in Ethics, Policy & Environment (Volume 21, issue 3).

There is general agreement amongst those involved in the normative discussion about geoengineering that if we are to move forward with significant research, development, and certainly any future deployment, legitimate governance is a must. However, while we agree that the abstract concept of legitimacy ought to guide geoengineering governance, agreement surrounding the appropriate conception of legitimacy has yet to emerge. Relying upon Allen Buchanan’s metacoordination view of institutional legitimacy, this paper puts forward a conception of legitimacy appropriate for geoengineering governance, outlining five normative criteria an institution ought to fulfill if it is to justifiably coordinate our action around geoengineering.


“Solar Geoengineering and Democracy” by Joshua Horton, Jesse Reynolds, Holly Jean Buck and Daniel Callies in Global Environmental Politics (Volume 18, number 3).

Some scientists suggest that it might be possible to reflect a portion of incoming sunlight back into space to reduce climate change and its impacts. Others argue that such solar radiation management (SRM) geoengineering is inherently incompatible with democracy. In this article, we reject this incompatibility argument. First, we counter-argue that technologies such as SRM lack innate political characteristics and predetermined social effects, and that democracy need not be deliberative to serve as a standard for governance. We then rebut each of the argument’s core claims, countering that (1) democratic institutions are sufficiently resilient to manage SRM, (2) opting out of governance decisions is not a fundamental democratic right, (3) SRM may not require an undue degree of technocracy, and (4) its implementation may not concentrate power and promote authoritarianism. Although we reject the incompatibility argument, we do not argue that SRM is necessarily, or even likely to be, democratic in practice.


“The Potential for Climate Engineering with Stratospheric Sulfate Aerosol Injections to Reduce Climate Injustice” by Toby Svoboda, Peter Irvine, Daniel Callies and Masa Sugiyama in the Journal of Global Ethics (Volume 14, issue 3).

Climate engineering with stratospheric sulfate aerosol injections (SSAI) has the potential to reduce risks of injustice related to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Relying on evidence from modeling studies, this paper makes the case that SSAI could have the potential to reduce many of the key physical risks of climate change identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Such risks carry potential injustice because they are often imposed on low-emitters who do not benefit from climate change. Because SSAI has the potential to reduce those risks, it thereby has the potential to reduce the injustice associated with anthropogenic emissions. While acknowledging important caveats, including uncertainty in modeling studies and the potential for SSAI to carry its own risks of injustice, the paper argues that there is a strong case for continued research into SSAI, especially if attention is paid to how it might be used to reduce emissions-driven injustice.

Major Research Themes

The Ethics and Social Implications of Active Genetics

The Ethics and Social Implications of Data Science

The Ethics and Social Implications of the Environment

Page updated October 2020