As with many other areas of emerging controversy about the conduct of scientific research, the enhanced attention to dual use issues in recent years poses considerable challenges: challenges for life scientists in thinking about the implications of their work and challenges for social analysts in thinking about how to undertake their work. Both those sets of challenges relate to the same basic question: what do we want from research?
In response, this paper elaborated a research design that provided a flexible and responsive means for data collection and educational engagement with scientists. The venue of university department seminar series provided a pragmatic one for discussion. The ‘deliberative seminars’ employed a modified form of the focus group method. As maintained, this overall method had the advantages of enabling participants significant latitude in their responses, facilitating dialogue between scientific peers, and reducing the oppositional dynamics associated with other forms of social research. However, this paper also contended that many of the advantages claimed for focus groups – such as their potential to let individuals express themselves in their own terms – often rely on inadequately substantiated claims. In contrast, the seminars discussed here took as a central concern the matter of what kind of questioning was required. The basic orientation adopted within individuals seminars and in the transition between seminars was not to merely seek to elicit responses but instead to make explicit the data, assumptions, and inferences underlying responses and to publicly challenge those in aid of learning.
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1 Though with the continuing interest in dual use issues, this is changing
, see for instance, McLeish and Nightingale (2005) as well as McFadden (2005).
2 Brian Rappert and Malcolm Dando. Economic and Social Research Council Award ‘Accountability and the Governance of Expertise: Anticipating Genetic Bioweapons’ Project Ref: L144250029
3 To explain this choice, in relation to muscarinic acetylcholine receptors
, nerve agents developed in the early 20th
century such as tabun, sarin and VX functioned by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase. Acetylcholine is normally broken down in the synaptic cleft by an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. Past nerve agents acted by inhibiting the function of acetylcholinesterase. Since acetylcholine has a significant role in both the central and peripheral nervous systems, the net result is total disruption of their functioning. In the search for treatments to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, major attempts have been made in recent decades to specify the functioning of acetylcholine and its receptors
, such as muscarinic receptors. The latter have been found to be involved in motor control, temperature regulation, cardiovascular regulation and memory. Recently the use of ‘knock-out’ mice and other techniques has enabled a greater understanding of the behavioural effects of eliminating the genes for individual muscarinic receptor sub-types. In relation to bioweapons
, such developments may enable both the more effective targeting of acetylcholine and the ability to achieve specific effects (e.g., incapacitation).
4 For a more detailed, though interim, analysis of these seminar themes see Dando and Rappert (2005).