160579 Diogenes' lamp: Performatives, stem-cell politics, and ethics in the public representation of science

Tuesday, November 6, 2007: 5:30 PM

Kirk C. Allison, PhD, MS , Program in Human Rights and Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Accurate information is a public good in a democratic society and a public health good. In market theory, imperfect information leads to economic inefficiencies. In the political realm, imperfect or misinformation leads to policy inefficiencies. Asymmetries in knowledge and uncertainty in technical development are routine but significant impediments to informed public policy. A characteristic of stem cell ethics and policy debates has been that lines of dispute in public discourse involve not only judgments of value, but also operational definitions of technical terminology. Authoritative mediators of technical discourse and informers of public perception include disciplinary scientists, ethicists, and to lesser degree patient interest groups. Initially a technical artifact, I argue that the duration of information asymmetries is, in part, an ethical artifact: greater translation is possible, but is not always a perceived interest where asymmetry increases authority or autonomy. An old story with new scientific subdisciplines vying for limited resources is the gap between claim and falsifiability. Modest claims rarely receive maximal capital; inflated claims may misallocate hope, trust and treasure. In ethically charged areas a significant threat to the cultural authority of science and informed public policy, I argue, is less from societally informed limits than from scientists or other professionals transgressing the canons of probity in the public representation of science. Discourse illustrations draw on California Proposition 71, performative statutory definitions of key terms, academicians, and media. As partial reparative, I offer a taxonomy of commitments incumbent upon scientists and other professionals articulating public representations of science.

Learning Objectives:
1. Recognize information as a public health good 2. Articulate the relationship between information asymmetries and policy inefficiencies 3. Analyze information asymmetries as functions of disciplinary-structural, technical and ethical factors 4. Recognize and assess information asymmetries in stem cell policy/politics public discourse (examples) 5. Identify responsibilities of authoritative mediators of information 6. Apply a taxonomy of ethical commitments in the public representation of science and in policy development

Keywords: Ethics, Communication Effects

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No
Any institutionally-contracted trials related to this submission?

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.