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Genomics Forum · Research

Philosophy, Law and Social Sciences in Genomics Policy Making

Almut Caspary

Start date



Almut Caspary - since left the Genomics Forum

Please contact: forum@genomicsnetwork.ac.uk


The latest developments in the life sciences, genomics in particular, are taken to transform the understanding of human nature and the relationships between humans as well as between humans and the natural environment. Since the early 1990s this lead to the funding of a host of interdisciplinary research projects, commonly summarised as ELSI/ ELSA projects. These projects reflect on the impact of new developments in the life sciences; a good majority of them is asked to deliver research that informs and shapes public policy-making. Yet philosophy/ ethics, the social sciences and law are umbrella terms for multifaceted disciplines, each with their own methods, concepts, and language. They inhabit their own relatively autonomous worlds, with their own discursive conventions, their own values and attitudes, their own customs and practices. Their encounters cannot always be easily successful, especially, where the distinctions between them and their respective importance for policy making are often unclear to policy makers.

Against this background, this work stream invites academics of the disciplines to reflect on the nature of their specific contributions to policy making, hence, on the kind of advice which they might offer to policy making communities. For it is the case that alongside the general acknowledgement of the disciplines’ relevance there is no general understanding of the precise nature of the disciplines or of the intersections and relationships between them. Yet where the nature of their contributions as well as the ways in which they challenge, question and complement each other is not always appreciated, such lack of clarity may prevent the disciplines from gaining a proper hearing in the public and policy arena.


This work stream invites academics to reflect on the distinct nature of their disciplines’ contributions to genomics policy making in the context of ‘ELSI’ or ‘ELSA’ research.

  • What kind of contributions and advice can policy-makers expect from philosophers, social scientists and lawyers working in the area of genomics research?
  • Where do the disciplines intersect, how do they relate to each other?
  • What would be an interdisciplinary framework that allows for substantive involvement of the social sciences, philosophy and law in genomics policy making?

This work programme addresses the key theme of ‘Economics, Ethics and Social Sciences in the Making of Public Policy’.


Philosophy, Social Sciences and Law in Public Policy Making in Genomics ESRC Genomics Forum, Edinburgh, by Stuart Blackman.