Biological Futures in a Globalized World Presents Flu Forum, Lecture

Gaymon Bennett and Matt Sparke -

Each year as flu season approaches we're alerted to the threat posed by new strains of influenza—evolving in the wild, in laboratories, and in society. In September 2011, flu hit the headlines when researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam announced that they had successfully engineered a transmissible mutant H5N1 virus, generating intense debate about the ethics and politics of biomedical research: Is there research scientists should not undertake? How should such research with dangerous organisms be regulated, and what responsibilities do scientists have to assess and to communicate its risks?


This winter, Biological Futures in a Globalized World sponsors a forum to explore the ethics and politics of H5N1 research in the context of the global political and economic inequalities that condition devastating pandemics, as well as to determine how we respond to these threats. Moderated by Matt Sparke (Geography), it takes place on Friday, Feb. 8, at 2:30 pm, in Communications 202. Presenters include Celia Lowe (Anthropology and International Studies), Rob Wallace (Institute for Global Studies, University of Minnesota), Jesse Bloom (Basic Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center), and Gaymon Bennett (Center for Biological Futures, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center).


The discussion continues on Monday, Feb. 11, as Wallace delivers a lecture on the importance of engaging in an intellectual discussion and analysis of the flu virus across disciplinary boundaries. An evolutionary biologist, he has published on the evolution and spread of pathogens, such as influenza, in many publications. His talk, “Are We Researching Our Way into a Deadly Pandemic?,” takes place at 12:00 pm in Communications 202.


Both the forum and lecture are free and open to the public. The lecture on Feb. 11 will include lunch for attendees who RSVP by Feb. 7. To RVSP, email Suzanne Long at


Biological Futures in a Globalized World is a two-year initiative funded by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and hosted by the Simpson Center. Led by Roger Brent (Center for Biological Futures, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) and Alison Wylie (Philosophy and Anthropology), it unites scholars in the social sciences and humanities with scientists to address the challenges posed by the impact of biotechnology research.


The centerpiece of Biological Futures is a research ethics initiative to develop the foundation for an integrated program of ethics education in the non-medical sciences.  Wylie aims to design a curriculum that not only meets increasingly rigorous standards for responsible conduct of research but extends beyond compliance, cultivating a deep appreciation of the human dimensions and impacts of scientific research.


Together with many others at the UW, she is developing a graduate certificate program in science, technology, & society studies that integrates ethics and policy issues.


Courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are being offered this year in conjunction with the work of Biological Futures. To coincide with the Flu Forum, Lowe is facilitating a microseminar this quarter for graduate students in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. In addition to preparing students to engage with the Forum, students will be encouraged to think through issues of global health, international studies, and science and technology studies all in relation to their own research.


This fall, Celia Lowe and Gaymon Bennett co-faciliated a graduate microseminar on synthetic biology and its rise to prominence. The course coincided with “Synthetic Biology in Question,” a Biological Futures-sponsored workshop held in November. Scholars from North America, Europe, and Australia convened at the Simpson Center to explore the participation of humanists and social scientists in synthetic biology’s formation.


A course for undergraduate students—“Ethics in Science”—is meeting this quarter as well. Led by Laura Harkewicz (Programs on Values in Society), it introduces students the basics of responsible conduct of research, and asks students to consider broader impacts of research and the role of values and interests in science. This course marks the second offered this year to undergraduates and follows “Research Ethics Exposed!,” which met this fall and was also facilitated by Harkewicz. It featured UW faculty from a variety of campus units—Philosophy, Atmospheric Sciences, Astronomy, Bioethics and Humanities, and UW Bothell’s Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, to name a few—on ethics issues in their fields of research.


Learn more about Biological Futures in a Globalized World


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