Photo of Anna Middleton, Catherine Galloway, Richard Milne

New centre to foster global conversations about ethical issues raised by science

Date: 10 December 2021

The Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science and the Public will explore ethical implications of scientific discovery and its impact on society.

University of Cambridge and Wellcome Connecting Science announce the launch of the Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public, to engage publics and scientists with the ethical implications of scientific discovery and its impact on society.

Major scientific breakthroughs deepen our understanding of nature and ourselves. Such discoveries have the potential to transform our everyday lives.

Yet the same science that holds promise for progress often raises concerns and questions for society.

Who bears responsibility for the societal and ethical implications of scientific discoveries? When and how should wider public views be brought into discussion about the direction of scientific research, its benefits and risks? How can members of the public, ethicists and scientists be empowered to take part in meaningful and constructive dialogue? And what can we do to help researchers negotiate a path through these complexities?

The new Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public at the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with Wellcome Connecting Science, will tackle these critical questions.

Professor Anna Middleton, inaugural Director of the Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public at the University of Cambridge and Associate Director for Engagement and Society in Wellcome Connecting Science, said: “From the discovery of DNA to the development of the first artificial intelligence, and to the sequencing of 20 per cent of the world’s covid virus today, Cambridge is at the cutting edge of science, and has been for centuries. This is truly a place where the big questions get explored. Through collaboration with experts in popular culture we will find the evidence base to drive conversations with everyday people around the ethical issues raised by science, so that all of us can share in decision making around the implications of science for society.”

The Kavli Centre will foster global conversations and pursue fundamentally new ways to build and create new spaces and mechanisms for interaction on the ethical issues associated with scientific discovery. It will create a programme of innovative research and public engagement on broad scientific domains, initially focusing on three rapidly changing fields: genome editing, artificial intelligence and big data.

The Centre is a unique collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Wellcome Connecting Science, with funding from The Kavli Foundation. Building on the close relationship between the University and Wellcome Connecting Science, it will work with international partners and have a global view.

Cynthia Friend, President of the Kavli Foundation, said: “This is an exciting and innovative endeavour. Ensuring the public is meaningfully involved in ethical considerations born from scientific discovery is important. The vision, creativity, and global community of the Cambridge team impressed us.”

Alongside inaugural Director Professor Anna Middleton, the Kavli Centre will be supported by Dr Richard Milne as Deputy Director and Lead for Research, and Dr Catherine Galloway as Lead for Innovation and Translation.

The Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public will be hosted within the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education as its primary base, with a physical presence at Wellcome Connecting Science premises on the Wellcome Genome Campus near Cambridge.

Professor Julian Rayner, Director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research and Director of Wellcome Connecting Science, said: “I am delighted that Wellcome Connecting Science has been able to collaborate with the University of Cambridge on this new initiative. We are in an era of unprecedented scientific innovation, and it is more important than ever to understand public perspectives in order to build trust, and ensure that all communities are able to benefit equitably from research.

Dr Julia Wilson, Associate Director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “There is a huge need for robust social sciences research that is informed by and shaped by science. Bringing together ethical and scientific research, as we do with the Sanger Institute and Connecting Science, ensures that ethical or social challenges that may emerge from our science can be worked on in partnership. The Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public will result in further meaningful dialogues between scientists and the public across a much wider range of science disciplines. This is increasingly important, as although we have seen public trust in scientists increase during the covid-19 pandemic, we need to build on this trust and find ways to engage others who may want to be part of the debate.”

Visit the Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public website for regular updates.

Read more about the Kavli centre launch on Cambridge Independent and Business Wire.