Dirk Stemerding, senior researcher in technology assessment at the Dutch Rathenau Instituut, sat down with Xinhua for an interview on scientific discovery and innovation as they relate to ethics.
Having presented research on behalf of the Rathenau Instituut at a Council of Europe (CoE) sponsored conference on emerging technologies and human rights in Strasbourg on May 4 and 5, Stemerding is also co-editor of “Science and Technology Governance and Ethics: A Global Perspective from Europe, India and China” (Springer International Publishing, Switzerland, 2015).
With the book, he and his co-editors from China, India, and Britain, aimed to make a comparative study of the ethical discourses around science and technology as they were expressed between different countries.
Stemerding stressed, however, that the results of the study could only offer “snapshots” of certain ethics debates represented in the societies examined.
“China and India are strong contenders for the production of science and technology,” the book’s introduction states, going on to note that between them, the two countries account for half of the global population and a quarter of the world’s economic output.
“Europe, India and China are at different stages of economic and social development, but all face similar challenges with regard to ethics issues in science and technology,” the book continues.
Despite the similar challenges, however, the responses between the two countries and Europe vary, and Stemerding and his colleagues found marked differences in approach and reception.
“In Europe, ethics debates focus on the potential consequences–’impacts’–of science and technology for social values and fundamental rights, and these debates are strongly developed and institutionalized as part of a dominant ‘risk’ discourse,” he said.
In China and India, he sees a more societal approach.
“In China and India, ethics debates first of all relate to the policy agendas–’aims’–driving science and technology for the sake of societal progress,” he explained.
These differences in discourse implicate sets of cultural values, “like affluence and harmony in China,” as well as “access and inclusion in India.”
In both China and India, the study found that debates around innovation were more likely to ask who a technology was meant to serve, and what societal problems it could hope to address.
“In Europe, we have this notion of science and technological progress as something you should not steer because you can never know what it will lead to,” Stemerding said.
For China, the study found there is also a question of autonomy and the prosperity that stands to accompany it following fruitful science and technology policy.
He also saw a growing level of public participation in Chinese ethics debates around science and technology, adding that “a strong and increasingly educated and assertive civil society are changing the rules of policy debates.”
For Stemerding, what is most clear though, is the need for more global exchange between the nations, in order to help each other establish a better balance between science and technology discourses, where “risk” concern doesn’t overpower the drive for “innovation,” and vice versa.
“I think there is a need for mutual learning here between all three regions,” Stemerding said.