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Research and Activities



Science and Democracy

As this topic is more important than ever, the Science and Democracy project at the Institute for Practical Ethics will bring scholars together to research both how science is done, and how it ought to be done, in a democracy. Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Freedom of inquiry and its limits,
  • Justifications for the public funding of science,
  • Ethics of science and technology policy,
  • Institutions for citizen participation,
  • Public trust in science and 
  • Misinformation about science.

Two faculty affiliated with the institute are leaders in this discussion: Zeynep Pamuk, a new assistant professor in the UC San Diego Department of Political Science who won the Brian Barry Prize in Political Science for her essay “Justifying Public Funding for Science,” and S. Andrew Schroeder, an associate professor in philosophy at Claremont McKenna College. He works on science and democracy, a topic for which he won a prestigious ACLS grant to serve as an Institute for Practical Ethics Visiting Scholar for the 2020 – 2021 academic year.

The Ethics and Social Implications of Active Genetics

Recent breakthroughs in gene editing — including gene drive technology — make it clear there are both powerful opportunities to alter genes for the common good and substantial ethical considerations that must be addressed. As gene drives graduate from experimentation to practical application, the expertise developed both at UC San Diego and beyond will be crucial in considering the opportunities and risks of transformational impact on a local, and well as global, scale.

In collaboration with the UC San Diego Tata Institute for Genetics and Society, the Institute for Practical Ethics supports a research program on the ethics of active genetics. This program includes the formation of the Ethics of Active Genetics Working Group, workshops on the ethics of active genetics, and the training of scientists.

The inaugural Ethics and Social Implications of Gene Drive Conference was held May 9-10, 2019.

The Ethics and Social Implications of Data Science

Information on all members of society now exists in various databases, and the ability to analyze enormous amounts of data is reshaping how governments, businesses and other entities made decisions. However, ethical standards for data designed for a pre-computer age are of limited utility, and the use of “big data” raises a host of social and ethical questions.

In conjunction with the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute and School of Social Sciences, the Institute for Practical Ethics sponsors a workshop addressing the rise of big data: the combination of the production and retrieval of large amounts of digital information with powerful algorithms on a hardware platform of ever-increasing capacity. It gathers social and computer scientists, activists and practitioners interested in the ethics and policy implications of this technological revolution.

The industry leaders survey the achievements, promises and technical challenges of big data, its effects on social inequalities and democracy, the cultural shift it is generating in the way we value knowledge, create art and conduct science, and the ways we may control it and influence its progress.

The inaugural workshop was held Feb.15-16, 2019.

The Ethics and Social Implications of the Environment

Climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and more all raise many ethical, philosophical and social questions. What does justice demand in the face of climate change? What do we value in biodiversity? How can we better achieve environmental justice?

New technology and knowledge allow novel possibilities for dealing with some of these problems, from geoengineering the climate to using genetic engineering in conservation. The Institute for Practical Ethics is committed to supporting work tackling these problems. Examples include talks by Andrew Light on climate policy (PDF) and Emma Marris on the future of conservation.

Additionally, affiliated researchers are also actively pursuing work in these areas, including postdoctoral scholar Daniel Callies’ book “Climate Engineering: A Normative Perspective.”