Individual or Institutional? Responsibility and Ethics in Innovation

Saturday, 15 February 2014
Columbus IJ (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Go Yoshizawa , Osaka University, Osaka, Japan
Since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the consequent tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, many scientific and engineering communities in Japan faced the issue of their social responsibility. The Seismological Society of Japan acknowledged their inability to forecast such a massive earthquake in advance and spoke words of soul-searching. The Meteorological Society of Japan was accused of throttling members and avoiding their social responsibility when the president officially requested the members not to exchange uncertain information on nuclear disaster prevention. The Atomic Energy Society of Japan set up their own investigation committee on the Fukushima nuclear disaster and owned up to their responsibility as an expert community. In any way most communities are satisfied to enhance their expert accountability. However, the issue of social responsibility in Japanese academia becomes more serious on another front as an increasing number of cases of alleged scientific misconduct by Japanese scientists have been reported for the last couple of years. Just a few of these have been confirmed by an ad hoc university investigation committee, but most are likely to be missed by both universities and funding agencies. Traditionally Japanese are based on a situated ethics as local and specific to particular practice in contrast with universalized ethics. This may increase responsiveness to rapidly changing context-specific issues as appreciated in recent social science studies, but the principles and processes of how individual agencies take social responsibility become ill-defined. Against this backdrop, taking cases from nuclear engineering, synthetic biology and human genome research, I would like to discuss that responsible innovation and integrated ethics are now required not only to align scientists with other stakeholders for anticipatory governance, but also to apportion responsibilities between the engaged individuals and their affiliations to avoid organized irresponsibility. For this, intermediaries between the both parties such as scientific communities, funding agencies, institutional review boards, and university research offices are expected to play a more active role.