Policy Lates is a new discussion series from the Society of Biology's policy team, held at our HQ at Charles Darwin House. We bring a panel of experts together for an informal debate on a contemporary science policy topic, with lots of time for audience questions and convivial discussions over refreshments. If you have an idea for a Policy Late discussion, please get in touch, via email@example.com
The precautionary principle is often described as a “better safe than sorry” approach when an action is suspected of being harmful to humans or the environment, and the scientific evidence for safety is uncertain.
It makes sense not to take a risk when we don’t have sufficient information, or when the action is not needed or potentially beneficial in other ways, but how do we decide when this is the case? We face tough decisions over issues such as disease control and food security, and sound science is needed to inform decision-making.
Striking a balance between protecting people and the planet while maximising scientific and economic output isn’t easy, nor is communicating these issues. The precautionary principle is supposed to help – how can we ensure that it does?
Professor Jim Dunwell (Chair), the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading
Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science
Professor Joe Perry, University of Greenwich
See our Storify for a summary of the event.
The Society of Biology partnered with the Royal Society of Chemistry for our latest Policy Lates on the future of Algal Biofuels. Microalgae grown in waste water or macroalgae grown at sea could be potential biofuel crops of the future, but there are numerous technological hurdles to overcome. For instance, can processes be scaled up to provide the vast amount of energy we need, and can input costs be sufficiently reduced to make algal biofuels a viable alternative to petroleum oil? Our discussion has been summarised in this article, and in Storify.
Dr Michele Stanley FSB (Chair), director of the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group. Dr Stanley is a principal investigator in microalgal molecular phycology at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).
Oliver Chadwick is the head of biofuels regulation at the Low Carbon Fuels department of the Department for Transport. He will be discussing the current UK and EU policy situation and the Government's work to move to more sustainable biofuels.
Duncan Eggar is the BBSRC’s Bioenergy Champion, who develops and coordinates the work of BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, as well as forging new links with national and international policymakers and other funders of sustainable bioenergy research. Mr Eggar has had a long career with BP involving extensive overseas experience. For his last eight years at BP he worked on business sustainability issues and their strategic implications; this included a two-year secondment to the UK Sustainable Development Commission.
Professor Rod Scott is a Professor of Plant Molecular Biology at the University of Bath. His lab researches both the molecular genetics of higher plant reproduction, particularly seed development, and algal biotechnology.
Dr Andrew Spicer is the Scientific Director of Algenuity, which builds foundational technologies to support the emerging algal biotechnology industry. Andrew is a is an acknowledged expert in gene characterisation, expression, manipulation and function in eukaryotes.
Talks from the panel are now available as videos on our labtube channel.
There has been a proliferation of bioscience research that seeks to use genetic engineering and modification for beneficial purposes. Research such as bioengineering cells for beneficial use, or genetically modifying dangerous pathogens to better understand them can lead to breakthroughs with the potential to improve our lives.
The push for open access publication, open source data, and more people doing bioscience in more settings, including through citizen science projects, further increases the potential for innovation and discovery. However in the wrong hands, the methods and results from this research have a potential dual-use as tools to deliberately cause harm.
During this Policy Lates events, the panel and audience will discuss how concerned we should be by dual-use bioscience being conducted by professional scientists and citizen science groups, and how we can minimise the risks of misuse whilst maximising access, participation and discovery.
Professor Malcolm Dando FSB (Chair) Professor of International Security, Division of Peace Studies, School of Social and International Studies, University of Bradford.
Professor Wendy Barclay Chair in Influenza Virology, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London.
Daniel Grushkin Freelance journalist; vice-president and co-founder of Genspace community biology laboratory, New York.
Dr Catherine Jefferson Freelance consultant on bioweapons policy; researcher at the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, King’s College London.
Dr Piers Millet MSB Deputy Head of the UN Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit, United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, Geneva.
Society of Biology blogs:
The role of codes of conduct in the amateur biology community by Dr Catherine Jefferson
Sorry James, this is not my cup of tea by Dr James Revill
For better or worse: the dual use of biology by Dr Piers Millet
The misuse of research – join the debate by Professor Malcolm Dando
Not by good intentions alone by Tatyana Novossiolova
Articles and Guidelines:
Making avian influenza aerosol-transmissible in mammals. An overview of the research into the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 to enable aerosol transmission in mammals.
Pandemic Influenza Viruses — Hoping for the Road Not Taken. Perspective article on H7N9; a novel avian flu virus that has emerged in China.
U.S. Bioterror Detection Program Comes Under Scrutiny. A national air sampling system tasked with picking up terrorist biological attacks faces scrutiny. Article from Scientific American.
Follow the #policylates biosecurity debate on Twitter and see our Storify for a summary.
Chair: Chi Onwurah MP, engineer and Shadow Minster for Innovation & Science
Panel: Dr Evan Harris (former Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, writer on science policy), Dr Phillip Lee MP (Conservative MP for Bracknell, member of Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Environment Group), Dr Jennifer Rohn (Cell biologist, novelist and founder and Chair of Science is Vital), Dr Jack Stilgoe (Lecturer in Social Studies of Science, science and technology policy expert and blogger)
Many thanks to Haralambos Dayantis for his work putting together this event.
For a review of the debate, see our Twitter, Storify, Blogs and Podcasts:
Do we need more scientists in Parliament? Haralambos Dayantis blogs about the Society of Biology's upcoming debate on 'do we need more scientists in Parliament?
Podcast: views after the #policylates debate
Jack Stilgoes blog - Should there be more scientists in Parliament?
British Ecology Society blog - Do we need more scientists in policy? An initial resounding 'yes' becomes a more complex debate