Media releases

Filmmaker becomes co-author on paper published in top international journal, ‘Science’

Written and issued by Genepool

In an unusual turn of events, Melbourne based filmmaker Sonya Pemberton has become a co-author on a paper that has just been published in the top international journal Science.

The paper, ‘Global citizen deliberation on genome editing’ is calling for the creation of a global “citizens’ assembly”, made up of ordinary people who are tasked with considering the ethical and social impacts of this emerging science, in humans, animals and plants. The idea was born out of a film-research trip Sonya undertook almost two years ago.

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SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL – Why plumbers and teachers should have a say on designer babies and genetically enhanced potatoes

Extended quotes from selected authors

John Dryzek, Centenary Professor at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis 

“A global citizens’ assembly will be a major step forward as the architecture of global governance of genome editing gets constructed. It will bring to bear the considered views of citizens of the world, who will be able to think about the content of public values and principles for regulation of the technology that could receive reflective acceptance in all parts of the world. 

“The is a big difference between what would be ideal and what is affordable. 100 would be good, 150 would be better, 200 better still. But note the participants are not there to represent countries, so we don’t actually need people from every country. They are there to represent the diversity of perspectives of the world’s peoples.

“This is not the United Nations General Assembly, where every country gets a vote no matter how big or small. For any realistic level of funding, we are going to have to do the best we can to maximise diversity of participants. It would be nice to undertake a global random selection process, but in practice we are going to have to compromise.

“For example, we can only handle about six languages in simultaneous translation before costs start getting prohibitive. If those six were (say) English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Hindi, that would cover over half the population of the world, and so still enable us to do a pretty good job in capturing diversity. 

“There is now vast experience with citizens’ assemblies and related processes in many countries, and none has ever yielded anything remotely like the madness of the mob. The fact that they are made up of citizens with no history of activism on an issue means they are good at reflecting upon the relative weight of different values and principles (think of how we trust juries in court cases to reach good judgements). Deliberation is a particularly good way (perhaps the very best way) to harness the wisdom of crowds, as it enables participants to piece together the different bits of information that they hold in constructive and considered fashion.

“We hope the GCA will get the attention of relevant international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation. But equally important is the contribution it will make to a more informed global conversation on genome editing, which will take effect via media coverage, social media, and the documentary series being produced in connection with the GCA.”

Dianne Nicol, distinguished professor of law at the University of Tasmania in Australia and director of the Centre for Law and Genetics.

“In the context of this project, my interest is in deeply analysing the ELSI of genome editing and examining how our our regulatory and governance arrangements need to be shaped to accommodate these ELSI. Community consultation is a crucial component of this. Given the global nature of modern genomic science, we clearly need to examine the ELSI from a global perspective. But we also need to recognise that there are particular local contexts.

I think that it is too simplistic to suggest that the purpose of the global assembly is to assist in building global consensus on acceptable uses of genome editing. This is complex technology, raising a host of ELSI. The issues to be discussed in this assembly are different from the types of issues examined in other forums of this nature (for example, whether same sex marriage should be legalised). I don’t think the goal of the citizens’ assembly should be to answer such questions as whether or not germline genome editing should be prohibited globally. Rather, it should be about better understanding community concerns and expectations regarding genome editing, understanding the norms and principles that underly these concerns and expectations, understanding what governance and regulatory arrangements are needed to address these concerns and expectations, understanding the factors that build and destroy community trust in the research, the researchers, the institutions and the regulators, understanding how to build trustworthy governance and regulatory arrangements, and so on.

The assembly is not intended to be representative of the global community. That would be impossible. Rather, the goal is for the assembly to attempt to reflect some of the diversity of the global population. It is not about hearing national voices but hearing community voices.

As noted above, the assembly is not intended to be representative, and any idea of this should be quashed, I think. It needs to be made clear that this is about diversity not representativeness. We will need to go through a very detailed recruitment process to ensure that we have as diverse a group as possible. But we will need to be very careful to avoid being seen as tokenistic – for example, we absolutely should not draw up a list of 100 desirable traits at the start and recruit to those traits.

“John and Simon have spent many years developing recruitment strategies for citizens’ deliberations to avoid the traps of representativeness and tokenism. Although this is their most ambitious project to date, I feel comfortable that they have the tools to bring together a group of 100 people who genuinely reflect some of the diversity of voices within the global population on genome editing.

The aim of the global assembly is not to provide an authoritative account of ‘this is what the world thinks about genome editing’. Rather, the global assembly will provide one account of community views on genome editing. The authoritativeness of this account lies in the robustness of the methodology – providing a form of public participation that has legitimacy, connectedness and reflexivity (as noted in the Science paper).

Pretty much every inquiry into genome editing calls for community consultation, but few if any provide concrete guidance on how this should be done. As noted in the Science paper, it is time to move beyond the rhetoric. The proposal for a global citizens’ assembly is a modest (?) step along the road to answering these calls. The outcomes from the citizens’ assembly will be disseminated broadly in a variety of formats.

“We will engage with relevant bodies during the course of the project and disseminate findings in ways that are meaningful and useful to them. It is hoped that they will make use of those findings because they have confidence in the robustness of the methodology and the features of legitimacy, connectedness and reflexivity.

“I’m not sure I have answered these questions in quite the way you need for the purpose of the press release. However, I don’t think we should oversimplify the challenges, nor oversell what the global assembly can achieve. I look forward to discussing these issues further on Thursday.”

Michael Burgess, philosopher in applied ethics at the University of British Columbia, Canada. 

“I think any focus on a consensus is a mistake. We are not trying to discover what it right or true, but how to live together, in the sense of a justified policy, when there is diversity of perspective and the issues are controversial. A global citizens’ assembly will consider the diversity of perspectives and the extent to which any decision affects the global population.

“Its validity and credibility will depend on the extent to which the full diversity of views has been introduced to the global assembly, and whether the deliberation gives careful attention and engages those perspectives as it considers policy options. The outcome will not be a policy with which everyone agrees, but one about which we can claim that the process to arrive at the recommendations was fair, inclusive and transparent.

“A deliberation requires participants to listen to each other, and the expert and stakeholder views presented to them as background for the deliberation. There is always a need to balance size with quality of deliberation. Too many, and there will be many participants who are not active participants. Too few and the full diversity of perspectives might not be considered.

“Having background materials and presentation from stakeholders introduces perspectives that might not be reflected by the participants. Participants sometimes bring up perspectives with which they are familiar, but that are not their own. The deliberation will need to be assessed for the inclusiveness, not only of the range of participants, but also for the active consideration of diverse perspectives. Also, if there are participants who do not actively engage, then that is a limitation as well. So while there is no magic about 100, it is an ambitious size for good quality deliberation while being likely to capture many of the diverse perspectives, particularly when supplemented by background materials and presentations.

“The weighting in deliberation is not the same a representative democracy. In any society, there are dominant voices, assumed ideologies and marginalized perspectives. Within a country or globally, it is crucial that deliberation does not merely reinforce the dominant and assumed perspectives, which are often mobilized by those with power, money and strong vested interests. The selection of participants in a deliberative forum like a citizens’ assembly needs to consider how to ensure that there is sufficient numbers of people with marginalized and non-dominant perspectives.

“In this sense, the selection of participants is intentionally corrective to a representative sample. Ideally, national deliberations would identify unique perspectives and then the global citizens’ assembly would attempt to be inclusive of those perspectives, regardless of home country.

“There are two common criticisms of deliberative engagement. One is that it is not a version of representative democracy and another is that the participants are not experts.

“The size of the deliberating group has been discussed above. A large number of participants who could not hear from each other or engage with the reasons provided in support of particular views is not much better than a survey that collects and aggregates uninformed and self-interested opinions. The point of introducing a public deliberative engagement process is to supplement the representation of the public by elected and appointed officials with what an informed public believes is in the public interests, having considered the diversity of public interests.

“The participants in a deliberation have expertise as members of public. We all do. This is the ability to consider benefits and risks and costs in particular decisions, and to make a decision. Experts develop an ability to provide estimates of the probability and magnitude of benefits and risks, often narrowly construed within their disciplinary field, or field of application. But when they tell policy makers and publics which of the benefits, risks or costs are most important, they are not acting out of their professional or disciplinary expertise.

“What is most important is not determined by a scientific or other expertise. People who believe that no risk to the global environment is tolerable are not so much rejecting the evidence of risk mitigation and benefits, but placing a high weight on the protection of the global environment. Citizens, often set up to think in binaries by media reporting, tend to decide who they identify with rather than consider the arguments. In a deliberation, participants are supported to individually and collectively consider both the advice of experts and the perspectives of people who assign importance differently for specific policies.

“These deliberations provide the basis and legitimacy for the citizens’ assembly’s recommendations, and it is up to the public and the policy makers to decide whether the process confers legitimacy and how to use that advice.

The global citizens; assembly, like all deliberative public engagements, provide advice. The only exceptions are when they are formed by legitimate authorities specifically to make a decision that will be implements, as in some forms of participatory budgeting.

“If the global citizens’ assembly is successful, that is if it is widely understood to be well informed, inclusive and civic minded in its recommendations, then it will stand independently as a set of recommendations that must be considered, and reasons given for deciding to form policy in ways that are contrary. More directly, if the citizens’ assembly’s recommendations are taken up by governments, NGOs and social movements, then they can utilize the credibility of the citizens’ assembly to motivate support for public policy that is responsive to the diverse interests of a global public.”

Baogang He, is Chair of International Studies at Australia’s Deakin University.

“A global citizen assembly will help to develop a moral and political regulation on genome editing experiment, and to develop and formulate a fairer distribution principle. Moreover, it will be a part of global civil society against ill use of genome editing for the interest of a few.

“100 is the rough figure, the number that is manageable in terms of logistic and operation. It can be increased a bit if all funding is secured. Ideally the more the better. However, the design a global citizen assembly is more about discourse presentation (on which John Dryzek wrote an important article) rather than country representation. It aims to represent a wide of opinions concerning moral and political principles regarding genome editing. The number of all countries to be represented is not an issue in the original design as the whole project is to develop global citizens’ perspective. 

“Related to the above, 100 participants are likely to represent major continents and major civilisations, in particular the sectors or stages of global genome editing process, like these countries who host experiments of genome and use the product of genome editing.

“Before global citizen deliberation, there will be more than 20 national deliberations in selected country, for example, in Shenzhen, China, where the first genome editing was experimented without governmental approval.

“The participants in each national deliberation will be randomly selected. I guess that there will be a further random selection process from these who participated in national deliberation. Through this double random selection process, the selected participants of about 100 citizens are to some extend representing global citizen perspectives. Moreover, there will be a deliberative process whereby the participants will engage with experts, international organisation regulators, business elites, and fellow citizens, and they will undertake opinion changes.

“These changed opinions after deliberation can be seem as authoritative and considered public opinion which can overcome the “wisdom of the crowd” or “madness of the mob”.

“The conclusion is a representation of global citizen’s perspective and their policy recommendation, that should be a part of global decision-process. Moreover, through national and global deliberation, it hopes that such an exercise can raise global citizen’s awareness of the life-matter issue facing mankind, and ultimately form a part of civil society’s monitoring force and mechanism against the abuse of genome editing.”

Sonya Pemberton, creative director of Genepool Productions, Melbourne, Australia.

“This is an experiment. It’s designed to allow lay people, non-experts from across the world, people off the street to consider the technology and its applications and then have a say in what they feel should happen next. It’s not about building consensus, it’s about listening and learning from the reactions, hopes and fears of a diverse group of people and seeing if, after deliberation, they can agree on a set of shared values, shared principles, that could underpin decisions around using this vital technology. 

“Up until now there has been no mechanism for people, across national and cultural borders, to engage in considering this complex issue, together. The great appeal of this project is that we will come to see how diverse the views may be, and we will discover if and how people can find common ground.

“The evidence from previous deliberative events is clear; when ordinary citizens are given the chance to gain credible information, the opportunity to exchange their ideas with a diverse group of people, and the time reflect on their views, citizens are willing and able to come up with recommendations to shared problems.  

“This is an opportunity to observe a remarkable process of public reasoning that may lead to shared practical outcomes.

“The end result is not to generate an authoritative position, rather it’s to see if it’s possible to determine a set of shared values and principles from which weighty decisions may be made.

“The important thing here is this is not a platform for exposing or arguing ones views; the scientists select for people that demonstrate genuine ability to engage with the issues and who commit to mutually respectful interaction. There is a shared commitment right at the start to the rules of engagement, and the focus of the event. The entire event is facilitated by experts in the deliberative process who will ensure all voices are heard, and that loud voices do not dominate.  It is about engendering trust and respect among participants, with shared purpose.

 “This is not about providing a speakers’ platform, rather a thinkers’ pool.”

Herve Chneiweiss, Director of UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee and member of the WHO Expert Advisory Committee on the Governance of Human Genome Editing

Science and its applications, particularly in the field of emerging technology, must reconnect with the lay public and we absolutely need to fight against a divide between science and society. The simple existence of a debate organise with and for citizen should participate of this project and open debate with open citizen will allow to raise “commons” that will be translated into consensus.

Too many people would make a real deliberation impossible, not enough should make it inefficient. Our goal should be to be representative, thus it is not a Senate where each state would get one vote, whatever the number of its population. The “100” should represent the diversity of cultures and origins.

Our goal is to listen to musics poorly heard today. The diversity and the inclusivness of having people from around the world will make the sound of this original group so peculiar that it will be carefully listened.

“Such a global assembly will be so new and so representative that it will not be possible to take any decision without at least considering it. This does not mean that this jury will decide for every aspect of GE anywhere in the world. Local juridiction and international organisations are there to do so. But this jury will be so special that it will be difficult not to take its recommendations into consideration.”

Why plumbers and teachers should have a say on designer babies and genetically enhanced potatoes


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Extended quotes from selected authors as supplementary content,
Genepool release – Filmmaker becomes co-author on paper published in top international journal, ‘Science’,
Paper details
– Media release below

Ethical and social implications of powerful DNA-altering technology are too important to be left to scientists and politicians, researchers find.

Illustration by Alice Mollon

Designer babies, mutant mozzies and frankenfoods: these are the images that often spring to mind when people think of genome editing.

The practice – which alters an organism’s DNA in ways that could be inherited by subsequent generations – is both more complex and less dramatic than the popular tropes suggest.

However, its implications are so profound that a growing group of experts believe it is too important a matter to be left only to scientists, doctors and politicians.

Writing in the journal Science, 25 leading researchers from across the globe call for the creation of national and global “citizens’ assemblies”, made up of lay-people, tasked with considering the ethical and social impacts of this emerging science.

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Elements of surprise: neutron stars contribute little, but something’s making gold, research finds

Colliding neutron stars were touted as the main source of some of the heaviest elements in the Periodic Table. Now, not so much

Neutron star collisions do not create the quantity of chemical elements previously assumed, a new analysis of galaxy evolution finds.

The research also reveals that current models can’t explain the amount of gold in the cosmos – creating an astronomical mystery.

The work has produced a new-look Periodic Table, showing the stellar origins of naturally occurring elements from carbon to uranium.

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Thousands pledge to tackle global warming through individual actions

National Carbon Counter project proves a hit as individuals, families and schools pledge to lower emissions.

Media release: 25 August, 2020

Media contacts: Andrew Masterson, andrew@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0488 777 179; Ben Keirnan, ben@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0408 184 858.

More than 11,000 people have signed up to Carbon Counter, the countrywide challenge produced by the ABC Science Unit for National Science Week.

The challenge shows families, individuals and schools how to reduce their contributions to global warming by making simple and easy changes to everyday routines.

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Fossil fight, wildlife under fire, and the astro-origins of your smartphone

Sunday 23 August 2020

Highlights from the FINAL DAY of National Science Week

62 events, 202 competitions and online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

Researchers, experts, and other interesting people available for interview around the country.

  • National: Lifehacks to cut your carbon and your fuel bills
  • National: Discover new species, map wildlife, track the effects of climate change
  • ACT: Find out what robot makers, illustrators and Indigenous storytellers have in common
  • SA: Giant wombats versus ichthyosaurs: which would win? Adelaide palaeontologists fight over which is the best fossil
  • SA: Forget the Telstra shop. Your smartphone came from the stars. Find out how.
  • VIC: 76 women in science at sea: catch up with Ili Baré’s compelling documentary, The Leadership
  • VIC: Possible Impossibles: what’s next for the human species?
  • WA: Sign me up!—four scientists and an Auslan interpreter in Bunbury
  • Read on for more on these, including event contact details.

Also today:

National Science Week 2020 runs from 15 to 23 August. Media kit at www.scienceinpublic.com.au. Or visit the National Science Week website for more events and activities: www.scienceweek.net.au.

For general Science Week media enquiries:

Tanya Ha: tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0404 083 863
Niall Byrne: niall@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0417 131 977

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Dancing with stick insects, healing nature, and what’s in your sourdough?

Saturday 22 August 2020

Highlights from day eight of National Science Week

115 events, 235 competitions and online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

Researchers, experts, and other interesting people available for interview around the country.

  • National: Discover storms on Jupiter in a virtual reality tour of the solar system
  • National: Discover new species, map wildlife, track the effects of climate change
  • NSW: Fit or fat? How your postcode affects your health
  • NSW: ID a frog and meet a radioecologist on the Sydney Science Trail
  • VIC: How is nature good for your health and wellbeing?
  • VIC: Phasmid of the opera: performances featuring music, dance and a stick insect
  • TAS: What microbes are growing in your sourdough?
  • TAS: Make a canoe and hear about local Aboriginal engineering and navigation

Read on for more on these, including event contact details.

Also today:

Coming up:

Fossil fight, wildlife under fire, and the astro-origins of your smartphone – see a preview of Sunday’s highlights.

National Science Week 2020 runs from 15 to 23 August. Media kit at www.scienceinpublic.com.au. Or visit the National Science Week website for more events and activities: www.scienceweek.net.au.

For general Science Week media enquiries:

Tanya Ha: tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0404 083 863
Niall Byrne: niall@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0417 131 977

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Storms on Jupiter, swim with sea dragons, and Australia’s first scientists

Friday 21 August 2020

Highlights from day seven of National Science Week

171 events, 325 competitions and online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

Researchers, experts, and other interesting people available for interview around the country.

  • National: Take a virtual reality trip around the solar system
  • VIC: Taste tomorrow: want to try some fake meat, sautéed spider and lobster lollies?
  • VIC: What will beer taste like in the future?
  • ACT: Who are the Indigenous STEM leaders, from maths to medicine?
  • NSW: Stones, bones, irrigation, and eel farming: hear about Australia’s first engineers
  • SA: What can you learn about gravitational wave detection via Minecraft?
  • NT: STEMfit: Can sport kick off a love for science and technology?
  • WA: Shrink your plastic footprint with a sea shepherdess

Read on for more on these, including event contact details.

Also today:

Coming up:

Dancing with stick insects, healing nature, and what’s in your sourdough? – see a preview of Saturday’s highlights

National Science Week 2020 runs from 15 to 23 August. Media kit at www.scienceinpublic.com.au. Or visit the National Science Week website for more events and activities: www.scienceweek.net.au.

For general Science Week media enquiries:

Tanya Ha: tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0404 083 863
Niall Byrne: niall@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0417 131 977

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Herding caterpillars, good science, and bad behaviour in space

Thursday 20 August 2020

Highlights from day six of National Science Week

209 events, 401 competitions and online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

Researchers, experts, and other interesting people available for interview around the country.

  • NSW: When artificial light becomes pollution
  • NSW: How do you take climate change action that works?
  • NSW: What do algae have to do with beer making?
  • QLD: Finding Nemo—and checking the water quality of his home
  • QLD: Cover coming eco-anxiety to survive and thrive: Generation Z to the rescue
  • SA: What’s good and bad behaviour in space?
  • SA: How can you tell good science from bad? Ask the experts (if you trust them!)
  • SA: Discover the love-hate relationship between butterflies and ants
  • TAS: Beauty from the ashes: recovery after bushfires
  • WA: A visit to the (ancient) beach – Kalgoorlie-Boulder style
  • NT: Water, desalination and sugary drinks—water is life in Arnhem Land
  • National: Lifehacks to cut your carbon and your fuel bills

Read on for more on these, including event contact details.

Also today:

Coming up:

Storms on Jupiter, swim with sea dragons, and Australia’s first scientists – see a preview of Friday’s highlights

National Science Week 2020 runs from 15 to 23 August. Media kit at www.scienceinpublic.com.au. Or visit the National Science Week website for more events and activities: www.scienceweek.net.au.

For general Science Week media enquiries:

Tanya Ha: tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0404 083 863
Niall Byrne: niall@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0417 131 977

[continue reading…]

Beer, bandicoots, bat-poop, black holes, and science in the courtroom

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Highlights from day five of National Science Week

342 events, 588 competitions and online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

Researchers, experts, and other interesting people available for interview around the country.

  • ACT:  In court, is scientific evidence the same as legal proof?
  • NSW: Holy bat-poop! What bugs are spread by flying faeces?
  • NSW: Talking climate change like your life depends on it, with Tim Flannery and Rebecca Huntley
  • NSW: From supermassive black holes to Australia’s Women in STEM Ambassador—meet Lisa Harvey-Smith
  • QLD: Pandemic proofing the future
  • QLD: Humpback whales—the biggest tourists regularly visiting the Gold Coast
  • SA: Help SA’s endangered bandicoots find prickly new homes
  • TAS: What can four different brews teach you about the science of beer?
  • WA: Tiny food for huge whale sharks
  • WA: How much sunlight is good for your health?
  • WA: Can big data help save the quokka, koala and wallaby?
  • WA: Curtin University Big Watermelon Experiment
  • WA: Oceans vs space: the battle of the final frontiers
  • VIC: Science and technology saving lives in natural disasters

Read on for more on these, including event contact details.

Coming up:

Herding caterpillars, good science, and bad behaviour in space – see a preview of Thursday’s highlights.

National Science Week 2020 runs from 15 to 23 August. Media kit at www.scienceinpublic.com.au. Or visit the National Science Week website for more events and activities: www.scienceweek.net.au.

For general Science Week media enquiries:

Tanya Ha: tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0404 083 863
Niall Byrne: niall@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0417 131 977

[continue reading…]