Bioethics Blogs

On Asilomars

The very long post I put up yesterday about the call for a moratorium on germline genome modification in humans made me think about Asilomar and its parallels. I know that STS (Science, Technology, and Society or Science and Technology Studies) scholars have long debated the value of the “first” Asilomar, the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA held in February 1975, and its lessons for other efforts. I have not looked into any of that research for this post, but instead am putting up my very lightly researched thoughts. I conclude that, at this point, there have been at least two “Asilomars” with several other contenders for the label and two other topics possibly ripe for one.

 Asilomars Past

If we consider “Asilomar” to be a process in which scientists call for a moratorium in their research pending a meeting to try to sort out the issues, I thought, when starting this post, that I knew of only the one Asilomar – the 1975 Recombinant DNA Conference.

The second issue is geo-engineering, specifically through modifying the Earth’s albedo (reflectivity). In February 2015 the National Research Council released a two-volume report on geo-engineering, which covered both of its two common meanings: carbon capture and albedo modification.  As the committee chair, Science editor-in-chief Marcia McNutt, wrote in an editorial in Science, the group recommended careful research on albedo modification while strongly discouraging its use.

This seemed to be another example of a semi-Asilomar ­– a call for continued safety research with a moratorium on use – but then I looked farther and saw that it actually was part of another, literal, Asilomar process.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.